Frederick Douglass:  Escaped Slave, Author, & Public Speaker

Frederick Douglass: Escaped Slave, Author, & Public Speaker

10 minute read

Who was Frederick Douglass?

Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who ended up being a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He ended up being a leader in the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the practice of slavery, prior to and during the Civil War. After that dispute and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, he continued to promote equality and human rights until his death in 1895.

Douglass' 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, explained his time as an enslaved worker in Maryland. It was one of 5 autobiographies he penned, together with lots of noteworthy speeches, regardless of receiving very little official education.

An advocate for women's rights, and specifically the right of females to vote, Douglass' tradition as an author and leader lives on. His work functioned as an inspiration to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in or around 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. Douglass himself was never ever sure of his precise birth date.

His mother was of Native American ancestry and his daddy was of African and European descent. He was really born Frederick Bailey (his mother's name), and took the name Douglass just after he ran away. His full name at birth was "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey."

After he was separated from his mom as a baby, Douglass lived for a time with his maternal granny, Betty Bailey. Nevertheless, at the age of 6, he was moved away from her to live and work on the Wye House plantation in Maryland.

From there, Douglass was "given" to Lucretia Auld, whose other half, Thomas, sent him to deal with his sibling Hugh in Baltimore. Douglass credits Hugh's partner Sophia with first mentor him the alphabet.

From there, he taught himself to read and write. By the time he was hired to work under William Freeland, he was teaching other enslaved people to check out using the Bible.

As word spread of his efforts to inform fellow enslaved people, Thomas Auld took him back and moved him to Edward Covey, a farmer who was known for his harsh treatment of the enslaved individuals in his charge. Roughly 16 at this time, Douglass was regularly whipped by Covey.

Escape from Slavery
After several stopped working attempts at escape, Douglass finally left Covey's farm in 1838, first boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. From there he traveled through Delaware, another servant state, prior to showing up in New York and the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles.

As soon as settled in New York, he sent for Anna Murray, a complimentary Black lady from Baltimore he fulfilled while in captivity with the Aulds. She joined him, and the two were married in September 1838. They would have 5 kids together.

From Slave to Abolitionist Leader
After their marriage, the young couple relocated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where they met Nathan and Mary Johnson, a married couple who were born "totally free persons of color." It was the Johnsons who influenced the couple to take the surname Douglass, after the character in the Sir Walter Scott poem, "The Lady of the Lake."

In New Bedford, Douglass started going to meetings of the abolitionist movement. Throughout these conferences, he was exposed to the works of abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison.

The two males ultimately met when both were asked to speak at an abolitionist conference, throughout which Douglass shared his story of slavery and escape. It was Garrison who encouraged Douglass to become a speaker and leader in the abolitionist movement.

By 1843, Douglass had become part of the American Anti-Slavery Society's "Hundred Conventions" task, a six-month trip through the United States. Douglass was physically attacked a number of times throughout the tour by those opposed to the abolitionist motion.

In one particularly harsh attack, in Pendleton, Indiana, Douglass' hand was broken. The injuries never ever completely recovered, and he never restored complete use of his hand.

In 1858, extreme abolitionist John Brown stayed with Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, as he prepared his raid on the U.S. military toolbox at Harper's Ferry, part of his attempt to establish a stronghold of previously enslaved individuals in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. Brown was captured and hanged for masterminding the attack, providing the following prophetic words as his final declaration: "I, John Brown, am now quite particular that the criminal activities of this guilty land will never ever be purged away but with blood."

Story of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Two years later, Douglass released the very first and most popular of his autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. (He also authored My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass).

In it Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he wrote: "From my earliest recollection, I date the home entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its nasty accept; and in the darkest hours of my profession in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom."

He likewise kept in mind, "Thus is slavery the enemy of both the slave and the slaveholder."

Frederick Douglass in Ireland and Great Britain
Later on that very same year, Douglass would take a trip to Ireland and Great Britain. At the time, the former country was simply entering the early stages of the Irish Potato Famine, or the Great Hunger.

While overseas, he was impressed by the relative freedom he had as a male of color, compared to what he had actually experienced in the United States. During his time in Ireland, he would meet the Irish nationalist Daniel O'Connell, who would end up being an inspiration for his later work.

In England, Douglass likewise provided what would later on be deemed one of his most popular speeches, the so-called "London Reception Speech."

In the speech, he said, "What is to be considered a country boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humankind, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three countless individuals denied by law the right of marriage? ... I need not lift up the veil by giving you any experience of my own. Every one that can put 2 ideas together, need to see the most fearful arise from such a state of things ...".

Frederick Douglass' Paper.
When he went back to the United States in 1847, Douglass started releasing his own abolitionist newsletter, the North Star. He also became involved in the movement for women's rights.

He was the only African American to participate in the Seneca Falls Convention, a gathering of ladies's rights activists in New York, in 1848.

He spoke forcefully during the conference and stated, "In this rejection of the right to take part in government, not merely the deterioration of woman and the perpetuation of a terrific injustice takes place, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the ethical and intellectual power of the federal government of the world.".

He would later include protection of women's rights concerns in the pages of the North Star. The newsletter's name was changed to Frederick Douglass' Paper in 1851, and was released until 1860, right before the start of the Civil War.

Frederick Douglass Quotes.
In 1852, he provided another of his more popular speeches, one that later became called "What to a slave is the 4th of July?".

In one area of the speech, Douglass kept in mind, "What, to the American servant, is your 4th of July? I respond to: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and ruthlessness to which he is the continuous victim. To him, your event is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and uncaring; your denunciations of autocrats, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-- a thin veil to cover up criminal offenses which would disgrace a country of savages.".

For the 24th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1886, Douglass delivered a rousing address in Washington, D.C., during which he stated, "where justice is rejected, where hardship is imposed, where ignorance dominates, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and deteriorate them, neither persons nor home will be safe.".

Frederick Douglass During the Civil War.
Throughout the ruthless conflict that divided the still-young United States, Douglass continued to speak and worked relentlessly for the end of slavery and the right of freshly freed Black Americans to vote.

Although he supported President Abraham Lincoln in the early years of the Civil War, Douglass would fall into disagreement with the politician after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which effectively ended the practice of slavery. Douglass was dissatisfied that Lincoln didn't utilize the pronouncement to approve formerly enslaved people the right to vote, especially after they had battled fearlessly along with soldiers for the Union army.

It is said, though, that Douglass and Lincoln later reconciled and, following the latter's assassination in 1865, and the passage of the 13th amendment, 14th modification, and 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which, respectively, banned slavery, given formerly enslaved individuals citizenship and equivalent defense under the law, and safeguarded all citizens from racial discrimination in ballot), Douglass was asked to speak at the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Park in 1876.

Historians, in fact, suggest that Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, bequeathed the late-president's preferred walking stay with Douglass after that speech.

In the post-war Reconstruction era, Douglass served in many official positions in federal government, consisting of as an ambassador to the Dominican Republic, thereby becoming the first Black man to hold high workplace. He also continued speaking and advocating for African American and women's rights.

In the 1868 presidential election, he supported the candidateship of former Union general Ulysses S. Grant, who assured to take a hard line against white supremacist-led revolts in the post-war South. Grant significantly likewise oversaw passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which was developed to reduce the growing Ku Klux Klan movement.

Frederick Douglass: Later Life and Death.
In 1877, Douglass consulted with Thomas Auld, the man who as soon as "owned" him, and the two supposedly fixed up.

Douglass' better half Anna died in 1882, and he wed white activist Helen Pitts in 1884.

In 1888, he became the very first African American to get a vote for President of the United States, during the Republican National Convention. Ultimately, however, Benjamin Harrison got the celebration election.

Douglass stayed an active speaker, writer and activist up until his death in 1895. He died after suffering a cardiac arrest on his method home from a meeting of the National Council of Women, a women's rights group still in its infancy at the time, in Washington, D.C.

His life's work still serves as a motivation to those who look for equality and a more just society.

Frederick Douglass was an escaped servant who became a prominent activist, author and public speaker. He became a leader in the abolitionist motion, which looked for to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War. He was actually born Frederick Bailey (his mom's name), and took the name Douglass only after he ran away. His full name at birth was "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey."

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