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Fredrick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass

The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass gives a first person perspective on the life of a slave n the rural south and the city. Frederick Douglass was able to read and think about the evils of slavery and the reasons for its abolishment. Throughout his autobiography Frederick Douglass talks of the many ways a slave and master would be corrupted by the labor system. The master justified his actions through a self-serving religion and a conscience belief that slaves were meant to be in their place. Frederick Douglass noticed that in order to maintain the slaves belief in this system the master had to resort to trickery of a slaves body and mind.

According to Douglass, the treatment of a slave was worse than an animal. Not only was he valued as an animal but also a slave was reduced to an animal when he was as much a man as his keeper. The mental faculty a slave had was diminished through the forbidden nature of reading and learning, as well as the constant drunkenness imposed on the slaves during holidays.

Frederick Douglass had moved into a new mistresses home who had never known of slavery. While she had initially taught him to read, fed him well, and looked upon him like an equal human being, she eventually forbade him from reading and whipped him at her husband’s request. The kind woman he had known became inhumane and degrading because that was required to maintain the unwarranted power over slaves.

As time progressed Henry also thought of the injustice in working and paying the wages he had earned to a master who had no entitlement to them whatsoever. In slavery he had been unable to question anything of his masters doing. He was unable to have rage, sadness, or even sickness, for he would be beaten. Small acts of disobedience had resulted in the murder of many slaves he had known firsthand. These savage acts that occurred to him and around him without the hint of a care for a black slave demanded abolishment.

Douglass points out all the horrid acts slavery allowed, and slaves endured, to show the evils of slavery that show it should be abolished at whatever cost. He then depicts the nature of slavery that requires a master to take away the physical and mental rights of a slave, to show that if rightfully left to their own accord a slave would be as proper a man as any white master. Finally, Douglass also makes the point that the north was better off than the south despite its lack of slave labor. This stressed that although the slaveholders felt they had to hold on tight to slaves for it was their only means of economic survival, the economy could and needed to be successfully restructured to provide freedom for slaves.

He uses examples from his own life to prove each point about the institution’s corruption. A fugitive at the time, Douglass risked his life to present the true nature and name of the villains and oppressors. The sacrifice of his security in order to present the facts makes him a courageous writer. Douglass not only presents the names of his old masters, but the traits which slavery caused in them. His most important contribution to the subject of slavery lies in his evaluation of oppression’s psychological effects. He presents this new subject matter with a creativity and originality deserving inclusion in the American canon. Although My Bondage and My Freedom elaborates upon the subject matter of the first autobiography, it hardly contains any new material.

In his early years, Douglas lived on a farm where he watched many slaves receive harsh beatings and whippings. For example, one of his masters whipped his Aunt Hester because she was not there when he desired her presence. At the time she was in the company of another man, which was something that Colonel Lloyd, her master, told her not to do. As Douglas witnessed the whipping, he saw Lloyd take his aunt into the kitchen of the house and strip her naked. He then told her to cross her hands and as he tied them together and hung her on a hook, leaving her body totally open. Lloyd then began whipping her with a cow skin until she began to bleed. “I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dare not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over” . As a result of witnessing many beatings such as this, Douglas was able to put much feeling and heart into his works.

Douglass grew into adolescence in Baltimore, and soon grew to hate slavery, because of his further education in the evils of the institution. Douglass read The Colombian Orator, a collection of anti-slavery speeches, and found them remarkably similar to his line of thought. After discovering in late 1831 that a group of white people, called abolitionists, shared his views, he resolved to escape. After catching Douglass reading, his new master demanded to know how taught him. Not only did educating a slave “unfit him to be a slave” said his new master, the act also broke the law. Master Auld sent Douglass to a Negro breaker to quell his rebellious spirit. However, Douglass emerged from the transaction physically scarred but not mentally beaten. The next few years he spent saving money for his escape in 1838. After finding several low key jobs in the North to support himself and his new wife, abolitionists invited Douglass to speak at a meeting. From here, Douglass launched into a career as an ardent abolitionist. He escaped farther north into NYC in 1839, and there he discovered The Liberator, an abolitionist weekly edited by William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison’s paper, and the speeches he heard him give at various churches, encouraged Douglass himself to speak out against the evils of slavery he experienced. To culminate a series of speeches about his past, he published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, and Written by Himself, in 1845. After the publishing of this book, Douglass became embroiled in the world of abolitionism, and he and Garrison split on several key issues, such as segregation. He left the US temporarily because of his fugitive status, and successfully campaigned in Ireland, England, and Scotland for his white counterparts back in America. By 1855, Douglass and Garrison were completely embittered and battled over religion, rights,

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