Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave` as a vehicle of abolition
Abolitionism was a widely known political movement that called out for the dissolution of slavery all over the world—predominantly in the United Stated and the British West Indies during the 18th and the 19th century. David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet and Frederick Douglass were considered as the founders and widely known as ‘Abolitionists.’
Frederick Douglass was the infamous author who wrote “A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” which, was published on 1845. From then on, the book spawned various literature or manuscripts that essentially critiqued and supported the bold and unassuming narrative of the life of a slave that clearly echoed a multitude of racial issues to the least and that eventually prompted and even provoked everyone, even the educated and learned individuals to act upon, founding the Anti-Slavery Movement.
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As mentioned that F. Douglass’s book gave birth to varied manuscripts relative to the anti-slavery movement and slavery issues during that time. The Black Hearts of Men (Stauffer, 2001), Frederick Douglass and the Black Liberation Movement (Wu, 2000), Black Abolitionists (Quarles, 1969) and Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity (Levine, 1997) are some of the books that stemmed from this movement and from the narrative.
All four books mentioned above clearly converged with the ideology of abolishing and putting a stop to the demeaning, insulting and heartless practice of slavery.
But all the books presented had different ideas on how to motivate men to stop the process and cycle of slavery. Particularly, excerpts from the article, “To the Publick,” but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead (Garrison, 1831).
Clearly, the piece above presents a ‘radical’ form of action among men to impede slavery. But, to give Garrison credit, he had a very noble ambition but a bit problematic—some even deemed it hypocrisy. With this:
“Together with the Moderates, they agreed on one fundamental point: Both believed that blacks were less equal to whites. In arguing for gradualism and colonization, the moderates of the American Colonization Movement assumed that African Americans could not fully integrate into American society — they were just not as able, as equal. In arguing for increased rights for African Americans, Garrison made clear that he believed in legal equality, but not social equality (Oliver, 2008/ Quarles, 1969).
He believed that the only way to solve the problem of slavery was to emancipate the slaves immediately and unconditionally (Wu, 200). This was not the case for the owners and the whites, they clearly treated slaves as one of their possessions and the only way to release them was payment to which, most of the slave-owners did not even consider. This stemmed a lot of uproar among them. In one lecture, when the 4th of July was nearing, F. Douglass used an analogy between the Revolution and the Abolitionism, “…to him your celebration is sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license;…your denunciations of tyrants , brass fronted impudence ; your shouts of liberty and equality , hollow mockery (Levine, 1997).”
A clamor by F. Douglass to the Whites, to be more aware of its historical awareness—for what is truly revolutionary and true to the idea of independence.
While, The Black Hearts of Men noted that:
The abolitionists, namely Gerrit Smith, James McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown what was realistic. They did not entertain the concept of radical change. They did, however, represent what was possible: they occupied an endpoint on the spectrum of identity formation, and their self conceptions and hopes for America depending on their success in blurring and breaking down distinctions of race, religion, class, and gender…their reform rhetoric resembled the poetic rhetoric of a number of romantic writers such as Walt Whitman (Stauffer, p.3, 2001).
This form of action apparently was more subtle, concise, and almost peaceful which, differs from Garrison’s objective.
Also, one important component of this movement was the speech made by Sojourn Truth, ‘Ain’t I a Woman (1851)?’; It was a short but very poignant piece; an aggressive demand for change, not only for the abolition of slavery but, also for the equality of gender: male and female and; relatively stereotyping which, evidently, demonstrates the belief presented in ‘The Black Hearts of Men,’ the current emphasis on gender and race is limited, for it downplays the diverse aspects of identity and personal behavior (Stauffer, 2001). Clearly, with all the belligerence going on, the women were being left behind when, ever since there has been the major issue of inequality—gender-inequality.
Generally, both books/manuscripts clearly have a very unique argument towards the abolition of slavery: to stop all form of racial, gender, and political discrimination—total and unconditional emancipation bypassing what ever ethnicity, race or gender one is. And to finally embrace the concept that all men are created equal.
Levine, Robert. “Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative
Identity.” USA: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Quarles, Benjamin. “Black Abolitionists.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Oliver, Susan. “Challenging the Meaning of Freedom: Black Abolitionists in Antebellum
America.” Claifornia: Cerritos College, 2008.
To contact author: [email protected]
Stauffer, John. “The Black Hearts of Men.” USA: First Harvard University Press, 2001
Wu, Jin-Ping. “Frederick Douglass and the Black Liberation Movement.” New York: Garland
Publishing, Inc., 2000