History

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Orator, Abolitionist, Editor and Statesman

Douglass 1880s Autograph Quotation from Arlington, Virginia

Early Years

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February 1818, Douglass started his life in Talbot County, Maryland, under master Aaron Anthony. The identity of his white father remained unknown, and Douglass never saw his mother, Harriet Bailey, after the age of seven. Anthony died when Douglass was twelve, and he was sent to work for Thomas Auld, the brother-in-law of his new owner (McKivigan 14). In Baltimore, Auld's wife treated him like a son and illegally taught him to read. Douglass later reflected, "Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity" ("People").

Escape from slavery

After seven years with Auld, Douglass was rented in January 1834 to Edward Covey, a poor farmer known as an expert "slave breaker" (Thomas). The unbearable year under Covey left Douglass resolved to gain his freedom. Despite a kinder master, Douglass plotted and failed to escape in spring 1836. Douglass worked again for Thomas Auld, this time as a ship caulker in Baltimore. There, he fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman. On September 3, 1838, Douglass fled for New York City under the alias of a free black sailor. Taking the new name Frederick Douglass, he married Murray and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The Makings of an Abolitionist

Douglass began attending abolitionist meetings and subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's weekly journal, The Liberator. After giving his first speech for the Anti-Slavery Society in 1841, Douglass lectured full time for the abolitionist group. To maintain credibility, Douglass published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in May 1845. After a speaking tour of the British Isles, Douglass moved to Rochester, New York, in 1847 to publish a weekly paper, The North Star, with the motto, "Right is of no sex - Truth is of no color - God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren" (Thomas).

Civil War

As the Civil War began, Douglass was one of the most famous black men in the world, known internationally for his anti-slavery and women's suffrage orations (Blight 18). Through editorials and speeches Douglass insisted that the Civil War's primary focus be eliminating slavery and allowing blacks to personally fight for their freedom. Following the Emancipation Proclamation and interview with Lincoln, Douglass wrote the editorial "Men of Color, To Arms!" urging black men to join the Union Army (Breiseth 92). Douglass continued to support Lincoln by providing advice at the end of the war and attending his 1865 inauguration ceremony (Breiseth 96).

Reconstruction Era

After the Civil War, Douglass continued to advocate for black rights saying, "Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot." Following the Fifteenth Amendment ratification on March 30, 1870, Douglass held several political appointments, including U.S. ambassador to Haiti, U.S. Marshal, and Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia (Thomas). He continued lecturing in the U.S. and abroad and in 1882 published his third autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Following a speech at the February 20, 1895, National Council of Women meeting in Washington, D.C., Douglass died in his home at age 77 of a heart attack.

Works Cited

  • Blight, David W. Introduction. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. By Frederick Douglass. Bedford: St. Martin's, 2003. Print.
  • Breiseth, Christopher N. "Douglass and Lincoln." Frederick Douglass. John R. McKivigan. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Print.
  • McKivigan, John R. "Introduction." Frederick Douglass. By McKivigan. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Print.
  • "People and Events: Frederick Douglass." PBS.org. PBS Online, n.d. 26 July 2010.
  • Thomas, Sandra. "Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist and Editor, a Biography of the Life of Frederick Douglass." U of Rochester, n.d. Web. 27 July 2010.