Frederick Douglas

Casey Connealy

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave was written by Frederick
Douglass himself. He was born into slavery in Tuckahoe, Maryland in approximately 1817. He has,
"…no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it" (47). He
became known as an eloquent speaker for the cause of the abolitionists. Having himself been kept as a
slave until he escaped from Maryland in 1838, he was able to deliver very impassioned speeches about
the role of the slave holders and the slaves. Many Northerners tried to discredit his tales, but no one was
ever able to disprove his statements.
Frederick Douglass does offer a biased review of slavery, as he was born into it, yet even in his
bias he is able to detect and detail the differences in the slave holders cruelty and that to which he was
subjected. From being whipped and humiliated daily, "a very severe whipping… for being awkward"
(101), to being able to find his own work and save some money, "I was able to command the highest
wages given to the most experienced calkers" (134), he is able to give the reader a more true picture of
slavery. His poignant speeches raised the ire of many Northerners, yet many still felt the slaves deserved
their position in life. Douglass, for his own safety, was urged to travel to England where he stayed and
spoke until 1847 when he returned to the U.S. to buy his freedom. At that point, he began to write and
distribute an anti-slavery newspaper called "The North Star". Not only did he present news to the slaves,
but it was also highly regarded as a good source of information for those opposed to slavery.
During the Civil war, Douglass organized two regiments of black soldiers in Massachusetts to
fight for the North. Before, during and after the war he continued his quest to free all the slaves. He
became known as a fair and righteous man and was appointed as the U.S. Minister of Haiti after holding
several government offices.
Frederick Douglass has woven many themes into his narrative, all being tied with a common
thread of man’s inhumanity towards man. Children were uprooted from the arms of their mothers,
"before the child has reached it’s twelfth month, it’s mother is taken from it" (48) and sold to other slave
holders. Brutal whippings occurred for even the smallest imagined offense, "a mere look, word, or
motion" (118), women were treated as no better than common concubines and the slaves were forced into
living quarters, "on one common bed… cold, damp floor" (55) worse than some of the farm animals. The
slaves were not allowed even the most meager portion of food, "eight pounds of pork and one bushel of
corn meal" (54) to last a month. Clothes were scarce and illness was never tolerated. It was unthinkable
for the slaves to practice any type of religion, hold any gatherings, become literate to any degree,
"unlawful… unsafe, to teach a slave to read" (78) or even make the simple decision of when to eat and
One of the themes that the book dealt with is society and it’s handling of slavery under the guise
of Christianity. Those who professed to being the most Christian i.e., the minister who lived next door,
was actually the most cruel. Douglass stated adamantly that religion was, "a mere covering for the most
horrid of crimes, --- justifier of… barbarity --- sanctifier of… hateful fraud, --- …protection for the slave
holder" (117). "Religious slave holders are the worst" (117) because they thought it was their duty to
"whip his slaves" (118). While being in the community of religious leaders, Douglass was subjected to the
"meanest… most cruel" (117) of acts of one human being towards another. The slaves were kept down,
belittled and whipped into submission all under the tenets of Christianity. The Rev. Weeden, Rev.
Hopkins and Mr. Freeland felt it was not only their right to own slaves, but also their God-given right to
take these ‘human beings’ and turn them into hard workers. The imagined acts of transgression and the
punishments mettled out smacked of Puritanism of the 1600’s. If they,