The Life of Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895

Frederick Douglass is still remembered as the most renowned abolitionists ever recorded history. Apart from this enviable title, Douglas was also an exceptional orator and prolific orator who used his skills to clamor for social reform in the United States during the antebellum period. Having escaped the shackles of slavery in Maryland, Douglass was best suited for his role owing to his first-hand experience. From a young age, he had always been curious about this “peculiar” institution that allowed certain members of society to own others as property. Blacks were placed at the lowest rung of racial hierarchy during this period and subjected to unimaginable horrors under servitude. Douglas, therefore, questioned the authenticity and rationale behind such an institution since it went against what the ideology that was in use during the inception of the United States of America. For instance, Thomas Jefferson had authored the Declaration of Independence that stated that all men were born equal, yet this self-evident truth was not applied in the United States. Thus, Frederick Douglass sought to remind the American society of the unalienable privileges that all individuals have and the right to liberty in the pursuit of happiness.

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There are a number of key facts about the life of Frederick Douglas that shaped his outlook and perception of the American society. He was born in 1818, the son of a slave in a field slave in Talbot County (Frederick Douglass Papers | Digital Edition). Although his father’s identity still remains a mystery, historians strongly believe that it was the plantation owner Aaron Anthony. The young Frederick Douglas was soon separated from his birth mother as an infant and placed under the care of his maternal grandmother. Douglas was keen on self-improvement and bettering his condition, even though he acknowledged his status as a slave. It was this knack that led him to secretly learn how to read and write while working in Baltimore at the age of 12. He stole local newspapers and books, which he would then read in private when he was sure no one was watching. Nevertheless, a discovery was soon made of his activities which prompted his master in Baltimore, Hugh Auld, to send him to a “slave-breaker”. It was here that Douglass first experienced the brutality of slavery (Douglass 40). He was whipped regularly and abused psychologically. After two failed attempts to flee, he finally succeeded on September 3, 1838 using fake identification papers. He adopted the surname “Douglass” on arriving in New York and married Anna Murray, a free woman who had helped him escape. They later had five children before Murray-Douglass passed on in early 1882. Douglass went on to re-marry; a union that saw him enjoined with Helen Pitts who was a leading female rights activist.

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Douglass played a significant role in the abolition of slavery. He was a self-taught eloquent man who had been subjected to servitude and was therefore the best individual to bring the issue into perspective at the time. His life story describes America’s stained history at a time when ideas of liberty were sweeping across the northern hemisphere. The United States was a country founded on clear ideals of freedom and equality for all, yet this was yet to be realized. The white majority still owned slaves while the blacks were subjected to a wide array of abuses under this system. Douglass’s 1845 autobiography titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave provides a window into slavery like never before. His authentic account begins with a forced separation between mother and infant. It was a standard practice that was aimed at ensuring that slaves were immediately put back to work and reminded of their position in the grand scheme of events. Enslaved people worked in the farms, households and industries all across the antebellum South. Although they interacted regularly with whites, slaves were always reminded of that they were propertied and were treated so. The ownership of slaves was held in high esteem. Typically, slave owners were privileged individuals who flaunted their wealth through the number of slaves that they owned. They felt superior to their yeoman farmer counterparts since this manpower was used to produce different types of crops that were on demand across the Atlantic (Douglass 29). Douglass’s account was, thus, an important in fueling the abolitionist movement that was growing in the South. Most white abolitionists were oblivious of the brutality of slavery in this particular region. It was only after reading this moving account that they were able to drum up support for a cause that would change the course of history. It is, however, important to note that Frederick Douglass did not support radical abolitionists such as John Brown and William Garrison due to their extreme stance.

Frederick Douglass’s career after his escape from bondage would soon focus primarily on ending slavery and the development of antebellum reform movements. From the onset, Douglass was aware of the importance of freedom and was determined to obtain it by any means. His arrival in New York as a free man introduced him to a life that he never thought possible for a person of his stature and skin color. The perks of this new found freedom was in determining his destiny and the course which he wanted his life to take. Marriage and starting a family was one such step which allowed to him to now enjoy life with his family while still pursuing his abolitionist goals (“Frederick Douglass’s Original New York Times Obituary From 1895”). The sheer success of his 1845 autobiography also meant that a great deal of individuals across the globe read his account. As a result, an outpouring of support came from Ireland and Britain where he gave lectures on slavery and its cruelty. It was also while on his two year European tour that he managed to raise funds that would help him buy his freedom from Hugh Auld. He only returned to the United States when he was assured of his status as a free man. In addition to this, Frederick Douglass was also actively involved in the women suffrage movement that lobbied for women’s rights in the United States.  He partnered with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in calling for the emancipation of all those living in bondage, while still calling for equality. Humanism informed Frederick Douglass’s life view that sought to transform attitudes and better society through milestone transformations.

In conclusion, Frederick Douglass is still remembered as one of the most important figures who contributed to ending slavery. His autobiographical account describes life in slavery and the horrors that African Americans had to endure during this period. Douglass was a key figure in introducing societal changes in the United States that included the abolition of slavery and equal rights for all.

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