Skip to main content
Select Source:

Douglass, Frederick

DOUGLASS, FREDERICK

A very influential African American leader of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass used his exceptional skills as an orator, writer, journalist, and politician to fight for the abolition of slavery and for an end to racial discrimination. He helped to shape the climate of public opinion that led to the ratification of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which were created in large measure to protect, respectively, the freedom, citizenship, and voting rights of ex-slaves. His Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) is a classic account of the dehumanizing effects of slavery for slave and slaveholder alike.

According to his own calculations, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in February 1817, on a plantation west of the Tuckahoe River in Talbot County, Maryland. (As an adult, he celebrated his birthday on February 14.) His mother was a black slave, and his father most likely her white owner. Douglass was separated from his mother at an early age, and at age 7 he was sent to Baltimore to work for a family. He later regarded this change from the plantation to the city as a great stroke of fortune because in Baltimore he was able to begin educating himself. His master's wife taught him the alphabet, and Douglass, under the tutelage of young boys on the streets and docks, proceeded to teach himself how to read and write. Even when he was very young, his limited reading convinced him of the evils of slavery and the need to seek his freedom.

Douglass continued to suffer under slavery. At times during the 1830s, he was sent back to the plantation to endure its scourges, including beatings and whippings. He briefly attempted to teach fellow slaves to read and write, but his efforts were quickly put to an end by whites.

In 1838, living again in Baltimore and caulking ships, Douglass escaped north and won his freedom. He married a free African American woman, Anna Murray, and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By then a fugitive slave, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass in order to avoid capture. Douglass quickly became a respected member of the community in New Bedford. However, he was disappointed to find that racism was prevalent in the North as well as in the South.

Shortly after his arrival in the North, Douglass became an avid reader of the Liberator, a newspaper published by a leading abolitionist, william lloyd garrison. He became involved in abolitionist campaigns and soon earned a reputation as an eloquent speaker for the cause. In 1841, he met Garrison and was recruited to speak for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Throughout his life, he would travel all over the United States on speaking engagements, becoming a famous and sought-after orator.

"No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."
—Frederick Douglass

In part to refute those who did not believe that someone as eloquent as he had once been a slave, Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845. The book became a bestseller and made Douglass into a celebrity. It also made known his status as a fugitive slave, and he was forced to flee to the British Isles for safety in 1845. During his travels, he was greatly impressed by the relative lack of racism in Ireland, England, and Scotland. English friends purchased his legal freedom in 1846, paying his old master $711.66.

Upon his return to the States in 1847, Douglass settled in Rochester, New York, and founded his own abolitionist newspaper, the North Star. In its pages, he published writers and focused on achievements. He also wrote highly influential editorials for the paper. Douglass published a series of newspapers, including Frederick Douglass' Weekly, until 1863.

Douglass continued to lecture widely and became sympathetic to other reformist causes of the day, including the temperance, peace, and feminist movements. By the 1850s and 1860s, he increasingly came to doubt that slavery could be ended by peaceful means. He became friends with the militant abolitionist john brown, although he did not join Brown in his ill-fated 1859 military campaign against slavery at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

During the Civil War (1861–65), Douglass fought hard to make the abolition of slavery a Union goal, and he also lobbied for the enlistment of blacks into the Union armed forces. In public speeches and even in private meetings with President abraham lincoln, Douglass made his case forcefully. Aided by rising sentiment against slavery in the North, both of Douglass's goals became a reality. Lincoln's 1863 emancipation proclamation sent a strong signal that the North would seek the abolition of slavery in the South, and in 1865, the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution formally ended the institution of slavery in the United States. By the end of the war, nearly 200,000 African Americans had enlisted in the Union armed forces. Douglass personally helped to enlist men for the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiments and served as a leading advocate for the equal treatment of African Americans in the military.

After the Thirteenth Amendment had been ratified in 1865, some abolitionists pronounced their work finished. Douglass argued that much more remained to be done, and he continued to struggle for the rights of blacks. He called for voting rights for blacks, the repeal of racially discriminatory laws, and the redistribution of land in the South. Although disappointed that land redistribution was never achieved, he was encouraged by the passage of the Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments, which, respectively, protected against the infringement of constitutional rights by the states and established the right of all citizens to vote.

Although these constitutional amendments appeared to guarantee the civil rights of blacks, the actual laws and practices of states and localities continued to discriminate against blacks. Blacks were also harassed by violence from private groups. The ku klux klan waged a campaign of terror against those who sought to exercise their civil rights, and white lynch mobs killed hundreds of men each year. Douglass spoke out against these forms of terrorism and called for federal laws against lynching.

Douglass was a loyal spokesman for the republican party and vigorously campaigned for its candidates. His support helped to gain hundreds of thousands of black votes for

Republicans. As a result of such work, several Republican presidents rewarded him with political offices. In 1871, President ulysses s. grant named him assistant secretary to the Santo Domingo Commission. Later, Republican presidents appointed him marshal (1877–81) and recorder of deeds (1881–86) for the District of Columbia. In 1888, President benjamin harrison appointed Douglass minister resident and consul general to Haiti, the first free black republic in the Western Hemisphere. He resigned the position in 1891 over policy differences with the Harrison administration. Although such positions did not afford Douglass great political power in themselves, they provided a comfortable living as well as some recognition for his significant contributions to the public life of the country.

Douglass was also the first African American ever to be nominated for the vice presidency. He declined the nomination, which had come from the little known Equal Rights Party in 1872.

Until the end of his life, Douglass continued to lecture and write for the cause of freedom. He died on February 20, 1895, in Washington, D.C., after attending a meeting of the National Council of Women.

further readings

Chesnutt, Charles. 2002. Frederick Douglass. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover.

Douglass, Frederick. 2003. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, his Escape from Bondage, and his Complete History. New rev. ed. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover.

McKivigan, John R., ed. 2004. Frederick Douglass. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press.

Mieder, Wolfgang. 2001. "No Struggle, No Progress": Frederick Douglass and His Proverbial Rhetoric for Civil Rights. New York: P. Lang.

Miller, Douglas T. 1988. Frederick Douglass and the Fight for Freedom. New York: Facts on File.

Moses, Wilson Jeremiah. 2004. Creative Conflict in African American Thought: Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

cross-references

Celia, a Slave; Civil Rights Acts; Civil Rights Cases; Dred Scott v. Sandford; Jim Crow Laws; Prigg v. Pennsylvania.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

"Douglass, Frederick." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

Douglass, Frederick

Douglass, Frederick 1818-1895

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Born into chattel slavery on February 14, 1818, in Tuckahoe on the eastern shores of Maryland, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, later known as Frederick Douglass, created in his time and for future generations one of the most remarkable personalities in American history. As a public figure, Douglass rose through the brutalities of slavery to become at the time of his death on February 20, 1895, the most famous black American in the world and black Americas foremost intellectual voice.

Douglasss preeminence in American history is gleaned from his direct contacts with the antebellum abolitionist leadership of William Lloyd Garrison (18051879), the suffragist leadership of Susan B. Anthony (18201906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (18151902), the militancy of John Brown (18001859) and Martin Delany (18121885), his meetings with U.S. presidents from Abraham Lincoln (18091865) to James Garfield (18311881), and his government assignments as U.S. representative to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. However, there is a private side, of which too little is made, to Douglasss determination to engage the forces of evil, as he saw them, and to form alliances only when it was necessary for him to be heard by more people, read by more citizens, or at times, to present himself to another country, as he did on several occasions on his visits to the British Isles.

Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838. As his biographers have noted, in 1841 the former slave joined the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society under the leadership of Garrison, then leader of the radical wing of abolitionism and editor of the successful abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. Douglass clearly modeled some of his behavior on Garrison. Both recognized the fiery spirit in each other, and both were orators connected by a passion to eliminate slavery. Through Garrisons group, Douglass earned money as a speaker, widened his circle of abolitionist acquaintances, and traveled to new places. The most compelling event in 1845 from an abolitionists perspective was the publication of Douglasss first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. Garrison, in fact, wrote the preface. Douglass later wrote My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and in 1881 he published Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, his final autobiography.

The Narrative made Douglass famous and started a long and distinguished career for this brave man, prolific writer, and articulate democratic voice. In page after page, he details the painful and violent experiences slaves faced as they were raped, murdered, bought, and sold away from their families. Douglass not only named the murdered, he named the murderers who went unpunished as well, thus providing graphic proof that no law protected slaves against these crimes. Furthermore, his writing critiqued the structure of authority by slicing through the rhetoric of the state to expose slaveholders, especially those professing religious faith, in their role as personal agents in a system of slavery allowed to exist simultaneously with the ideals of a free republic. The Narrative established him as a reliable and serious source for presenting any of the issues of his day requiring instruction and correction, most of them related to slavery.

By 1847, as the editor of the second black-owned newspaper in the United States, the North Star, Douglass had found that the uses of history enabled him to move back and forth between his private and public worlds. Douglasss use of history permitted him to speak about the signs of the times; it served, furthermore, to help him to judge civilizations behaviors for failing to subject the nations moral faults to critical reflection. In this way, Douglass used history to critique reason. For him, the realities of slavery placed the present and the future of the United States in an untenable position: The country could not survive if it remained both slave and free. The purpose of Douglasss legacy to America and to the world is to uphold the principle of freedom as an inalienable human right.

Although supportive of each other, Douglass and Garrison split over the issue of the Constitution as a document that supported the institution of slavery. As early as 1851, the relationship between the two became strained as Douglass, having studied the debate over the Constitution, rejected Garrisons position that the Constitution was proslavery, whereas Douglass gradually saw the document as having the potential to eradicate slavery. Biographers have portrayed the breakup in Freudian terms as Douglasss rejection of Garrison as a father figure and his search for his own identity. It is also important to note that freedom for Douglass encompassed a deep, multilayered view of the self that had more to do with being self-made than with being a collaborator. His understanding of the Constitution, ultimately, had less to do with what Garrison asserted than with what Douglass realized through his own complex social and historical understanding of the place of all humankind, black and white, male and female, in a democratic social order.

Having been a slave, Douglass instinctively understood the political rights of women. Their demand for equal citizenship and the right to vote found him using his considerable oratorical gifts and intellect on their behalf. As one of the few men to attend the 1848 convention on the rights of women in Seneca Falls, New York, the editor of the North Star added to the masthead of the paper his now-famous conviction, formed at this political gathering: Right is of no sex; truth is of no color; God is the father of us all and we are all brethren. He understood that the criticisms leveled against women in their pursuit of freedom against male supremacy were the very same arguments used against the freeing of slaves. While his dedication to womens political rights never wavered, Douglass did not always support the feminist leadership of Anthony and Stanton. They all supported civil war, but differed on other questions; for example, Douglass supported the Fifteenth Amendment giving black men the right to vote. Anthony and Stanton did not support this amendment because it did not offer the same rights to women.

In 1882 Frederick Douglass, now sixty-four-years old and known as the sage of Anacostia after the Washington, D.C., neighborhood where he lived, buried Anna Murray Douglass, his wife of forty-five years, who had long suffered from rheumatism. It was a considerable shock to the world when in 1884 he married Helen Pitts, forty-six, a white woman from a New York abolitionist family with deep roots in radical politics. The interracial marriage eliminated any distinction between private and public worlds: It clashed with social norms. Most whites and blacks, particularly members of the couples own families, looked upon the marriage as a violation, and neither family fully embraced them. Nevertheless, Douglass and Pitts lived happily and traveled to the great cities of Europe and to Egypt. After his death, and in the face of opposition from his children, she lectured and secured donations to preserve Cedar Hill, their home in Anacostia. The couple is buried in the family plot in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

SEE ALSO Slavery

BIBLIOGRAPHY

McFeely, William. 1991. Frederick Douglass. New York: Norton.

Quarles, Benjamin. [1948] 1968. Frederick Douglass. New York: Atheneum.

C. James Trotman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/douglass-frederick

"Douglass, Frederick." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/douglass-frederick

Douglass, Frederick

Frederick Douglass

Born: February 1817 Maryland
Died: February 20, 1895
Washington, D.C.

African American abolitionist and publisher

The most important African American abolitionist (opponent of slavery) in preCivil War America, Frederick Douglass was the first nationally known African American leader in U.S. history.

Growing up without freedom

Frederick Douglass was born in February 1817 on the eastern shore of Maryland. His exact date of birth remains unknown. His mother, from whom he was separated at an early age, was a slave named Harriet Bailey. She named her son Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He never knew or saw his father. Frederick took the name Douglass much later. As a slave, Douglass was not allowed to have much of a childhood. He was separated from his parents, and he was forced to work hard and suffered cruel treatment while working on the property of Captain Aaron Anthony. In 1825 Anthony, who often hired his slaves out to others, decided to send Douglass to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with a man named Hugh Auld and his family.

Douglass's life improved somewhat while working for the Aulds. Mrs. Auld was a northerner, and northern slaveholders generally did not treat their slaves as badly as people in the South did. She even taught young Douglass the basics of reading and writing until her husband stopped her. Even though things were a little better than they had been, Douglass was still unhappy with his situation and began to think of ways to change it.

Escape from slavery

After the death of Captain Anthony, Douglass became the property of Anthony's son-in-law. He was then hired out to a professional slave breaker, a man who would beat and mistreat slaves until they gave up and did whatever they were told. After weeks of being whipped, Douglass finally fought back; after that the whippings stopped. The Aulds then brought him back to Baltimore and put him to work in the shipyards. There in 1838 he borrowed the identification papers of an African American sailor. By passing himself off as the sailor, he was able to escape to New York. He adopted the name Douglass and married a free African American woman from the South. They settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where several of their children were born.

Douglass tried to make a living doing manual labor, and he quickly became involved in the antislavery movement that was gaining strength in the North. In 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, he delivered a moving speech about his experiences as a slave and was immediately hired by the Massachusetts Antislavery Society to give lectures. Douglass was an eloquent speaker; that is, his speeches were well thought out and forceful, and he was able to inspire those who heard him. Some Harvard students who had heard him speak were so impressed that they persuaded him to write an autobiography (the story of his life). The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in 1845. (Ten years later an enlarged autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, appeared. His third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published in 1881 and enlarged in 1892.) Publishing the book was a dangerous move for Douglass, since it called attention to him and placed him in danger of being recaptured and returned to slavery.

Fearing capture, Douglass fled to Britain, staying from 1845 to 1847 to speak on behalf of abolition and to earn enough money to purchase his freedom once he returned to America. Upon his return Douglass settled in Rochester, New York, and started a newspaper, North Star, which called for an end to slavery. The paper would continue to be published under various names until 1863. In 1858, as a result of his fame and position as the voice of African Americans, Douglass was sought out by abolitionist John Brown (18001859). Brown asked Douglass to help him in an attack on an arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which he thought would help the antislavery cause. Douglass, however, could see no benefit from Brown's plan and refused to lend his support.

Civil War and Reconstruction

With the beginning of the Civil War (18611865), a war between Northern and Southern states in which the main issues were slavery and the Southern states' decision to leave the Union and form an independent nation, Douglass insisted that African Americans should be allowed to fight. After all, they would be fighting for their own freedom. In 1863, as a result of Douglass's continued urging, President Abraham Lincoln (18091865) asked him to recruit African American soldiers for the Union (Northern) army. As the war proceeded, Douglass had several meetings with Lincoln to discuss the use and treatment of African American soldiers by the Union forces. As a result, the role of African American soldiers was upgraded each time, making them a more effective force in the fight.

The end of the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves did not mean that Douglass was able to rest. The Reconstruction period, as the years after the Civil War came to be known, presented a new set of challenges for the country. While slavery had ended, the racism (unequal treatment based on race) that went along with slavery was still in place. Some Southerners even went to court to try to overturn the slaves' emancipation (freedom). In 1870 Douglass and his sons began publishing the New National Era newspaper in Washington, D.C. He used the newspaper to make statements on these issues.

Later years

In 1877 Douglass was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes (18221893) to the post of U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia. From this time until approximately two years before his death Douglass held a succession of offices, including that of recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia and minister to the Republic of Haiti. He resigned his assignment in Haiti when he discovered that American businessmen were taking advantage of his position in their dealings with the Haitian government.

Frederick Douglass died in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 1895. He had played a major role in changing history. After reaching his goal of escaping slavery, he could have lived out his days as a free man. Instead he risked it all by speaking out in favor of freedom and improved treatment for all African Americans.

For More Information

Blight, David W. Frederick Douglass' Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Douglass, Frederick. Escape From Slavery. Edited by Michael McCurdy. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Hartford, CT, Park Publishing, 1881. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Candace Press, 1996.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1855. Reprint, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Anti-slavery Office, 1845. Reprint, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997.

McFeeley, William S. Frederick Douglass. New York: Norton, 1991.

Russell, Sharman. Frederick Douglass. New York: Chelsea House, 1992.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick-1

"Douglass, Frederick." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick-1

Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)

Sources

Reformer, lecturer, and journalist

Youth. Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland. He often lamented that he did not know the exact date on which he was born. His father, it was whispered, was his white master, and his mother was Harriet Bailey, whom he barely knew because she was sent to work on a plantation twelve miles away. When he was seven his mother stopped coming for her irregular nighttime visits (the only time she could get away from her work), and he was later informed that she had died. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger, he wrote in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). At the age of eight he was sent to Baltimore, where he served as a houseboy and in a shipyard. His mistress also began to teach him to read and write, but when her husband found out, he told her, within Douglasss hearing, Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now, if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. This warning made a deep impression. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom, Douglass wrote. He learned to read and write by enlisting the unwitting aid of his white playmates in the Baltimore streets.

Escape. When he was returned to the Maryland plantation in 1832, Douglass made up his mind to escape. His first attempt was unsuccessful, and his master again sent him to Baltimore in 1836, where Douglass became a skilled craftsman in the shipyards. On 3 September 1838 Douglass borrowed the uniform and papers of a free black sailor and sailed north to freedom. On 15 September he married Anna Murray, a free black woman he had met in Baltimore. Together they moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Douglass hoped to find work in the shipyards but instead had his first lesson in Northern prejudice. Unable to find work in his field, he and his wife lived on the meager wages of a day laborer. All the while, though, Douglass was an avid reader of William Lloyd Garrisons The Liberator and attended antislavery meetings.

Reformer. In August 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Douglass was asked to ascend the platform and talk about his experiences as a slave. Thus began his new career as a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Douglass traveled the lecture circuit for four years, becoming the most prominent black figure in America. But his exceptional skill as an orator led many white audiences to question his slave upbringing and hence the veracity of his stories condemning slavery. In response he published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, one of the few slave narratives that was not ghostwritten. It explained his early life and how he came to gain his extensive knowledge and oratorical skills. But his narrative also put him in danger because its publication revealed his whereabouts to his master. As a result Douglass traveled to England, where he met many sympathetic abolitionists who helped him raise the money to buy his freedom. He also was given enough money to begin his own abolitionist newspaper, which he did when he returned to America in 1847, calling it the North Star. The paper championed the abolitionist cause as well as civil rights for free blacks. It was published, under various names, until 1863. Throughout this period Douglass was also active in other reform movements, including temperance and womens rights. He participated in the 1848 Seneca Falls convention and argued for womens equal participation in African American abolitionist societies, but he always felt that the abolition of slavery had to be his first cause. In an 1855 speech to a womens abolitionist group he categorized the split of the American Anti-Slavery Society over the side issue of womens active participation as a serious weakening of the abolitionist movement. The battle of Womens Rights should be fought on its own ground, he told the audience.

Legacy. Douglass devoted his life to the cause of racial uplift in all aspects, seeking justice as well as freedom for African Americans in the North and the South. He helped more than four hundred slaves reach freedom through his printing shop (which was a stop on the Underground Railroad), campaigned against the discrimination that kept African Americans out of jobs as skilled laborers, challenged racial segregation on public transportation and in businesses, and encouraged free blacks to adopt the middle-class values of industry, thrift, and temperance as the path to American success. Douglass also became politically active in his fight to abolish slavery, supporting the Republican Party and rejecting Garrisonian abolitionisms sole reliance on moral suasion. Douglass came to support violent uprisings among slaves, violent resistance to enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and direct involvement in politics to create a party that could oppose the concessions Congress was making to powerful Southern legislators. Even as the abolitionist movement came to an end, Douglass continued his fight for equality. During the Civil War, Douglass fought for the inclusion of black soldiers in the Northern ranks. After the war he focused his efforts on voting rights. Slavery is not abolished, he said, until the black man has the ballot. Throughout Reconstruction he actively pursued his commitment to civil rights for African Americans. After the failure of Reconstruction, Douglass rejected migration to the North as an escape from the often violent prejudice of the South and insisted that African Americans be fully protected by the law everywhere in America. The unrelenting Douglass lectured to the National Council of Women on the day that he died, 20 February 1895.

Sources

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in Classic Slave Narratives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Mentor, 1987);

Nathan Irvin Huggins, Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/douglass-frederick-1817-1895

"Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)." American Eras. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/douglass-frederick-1817-1895

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

The foremost African American abolitionist in antebellum America, Frederick Douglass (ca. 1817-1895) was the first African American leader of national stature in United States history.

Frederick Douglass was born, as can best be determined, in February 1817 (he took the 14th as his birthday) on the eastern shore of Maryland. His mother, from whom he was separated at an early age, was a slave named Harriet Bailey. She named her son Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; he never knew or saw his father. (Frederick adopted the name Douglass much later.) Douglass's childhood, though he judged it in his autobiography as being no more cruel than that of scores of others caught in similar conditions, appears to have been extraordinarily deprived of personal warmth. The lack of familial attachments, hard work, and sights of incredible inhumanity fill the text of his early remembrances of the main plantation of Col. Edward Lloyd. In 1825 his masters decided to send him to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld.

Mrs. Auld, Douglass's new mistress and a Northerner unacquainted with the disciplinary techniques Southern slaveholders used to preserve docility in their slaves, treated young Douglass well. She taught him the rudiments of reading and writing until her husband stopped her. With this basic background he began his self-education.

Escape to Freedom

After numerous ownership disputes and after attempting to escape from a professional slave breaker, Douglass was put to work in the Baltimore shipyards. There in 1838 he borrowed a African American sailor's protection papers and by impersonating him escaped to New York. He adopted the name Douglass and married a free African American woman from the South. They settled in New Bedford, Mass., where several of their children were born.

Douglass quickly became involved in the antislavery movement, which was gaining impetus in the North. In 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Mass., he delivered a moving speech about his experiences as a slave and was immediately hired as a lecturer by the Massachusetts Antislavery Society. By all accounts he was a forceful and even eloquent speaker. His self-taught prose and manner of speaking so inspired some Harvard students that they persuaded him to write his autobiography. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was published in 1845. (Ten years later an enlarged autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, appeared. His third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published in 1881 and enlarged in 1892.) The 1845 publication, of course, meant exile for Douglass, a fugitive slave.

Fearing capture, Douglass fled to Britain, staying from 1845 to 1847 to speak on behalf of abolition and to earn enough money to purchase his freedom when he returned to America. Upon his return Douglass settled in Rochester, N.Y., and started publishing his newspaper, North Star (which continued to be published under various names until 1863).

In 1858, as a consequence of his fame and as unofficial spokesman for African Americans, Douglass was sought out by John Brown as a recruit for his planned attack on the Harpers Ferry arsenal. But Douglass could see no benefit from what he considered a futile plan and refused to lend his support.

Civil War and Reconstruction

The Civil War, beginning in 1861, raised several issues, not the least of which was what role the black man would play in his own liberation—since one of the main objectives of the war was emancipation of the slaves. Douglass kept this issue alive. In 1863, as a result of his continued insistence (as well as of political and military expediency), President Abraham Lincoln asked him to recruit African American soldiers for the Union Army. As the war proceeded, Douglass had two meetings with Lincoln to discuss the use and treatment of African American soldiers by the Union forces. In consequence, the role of African American soldiers was upgraded each time and their military effectiveness thereby increased.

The Reconstruction period laid serious responsibilities on Douglass. Politicians differed on the question of race and its corresponding problems, and as legislative battles were waged to establish the constitutional integrity of the slaves' emancipation, Douglass was the one African American with stature enough to make suggestions.

In 1870 Douglass and his sons began publishing the New National Era newspaper in Washington, D.C. In 1877 he was appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to the post of U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia. From this time until approximately 2 years before his death Douglass held a succession of offices, including that of recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia and minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti, as well as chargé d'affaires to Santo Domingo. He resigned his assignments in Haiti and Santo Domingo when he discovered that American businessmen were taking advantage of his position in their dealings with the Haitian government. He died in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 1895.

Further Reading

Douglass's writings can be found in The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, edited by Philip S. Foner (4 vols., 1950-1955). Frederick Douglass, edited by Benjamin Quarles (1968), contains excerpts from Douglass's writings, portrayals of him by his contemporaries, and appraisals by later historians.

Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (1948), is a well-written, scholarly biography. See also Philip S. Foner, Frederick Douglass: A Biography (1964), and Arna Bontemps, Free at Last: The Life of Frederick Douglass (1971). There is a biographical sketch of Douglass in William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (1887; repr. 1968). Works that discuss Douglass at length are John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes (1947; 3d ed. 1967); Louis Filler, The Crusade against Slavery, 1830-1860 (1960); and Martin Duberman, ed., The Antislavery Vanguard: New Essays on the Abolitionists (1965). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Frederick Douglass." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Frederick Douglass." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frederick-douglass

"Frederick Douglass." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frederick-douglass

Douglass, Frederick

Douglass, Frederick (1818–1895), abolitionist, journalist, and orator.Born in bondage on the eastern shore of Maryland, Douglass worked for several different slaveholders in both eastern Maryland and Baltimore between 1818 and 1838. During his youth, Douglass became proficiently literate by reading the Bible and classic orations and listening to the sermons of antislavery black preachers and Quakers. These experiences later contributed to his unyielding abolitionism and fierce egalitarianism. In 1838, while a ship caulker's apprentice, Douglass acquired free seaman papers and escaped to New York City. He then moved to Massachusetts and became involved in antislavery activism, under the tutelage of William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually rejecting the apolitical nature of Garrisonian abolitionism, Douglass moved to Rochester, New York, and founded his own abolition journal, The North Star. Between 1847 and 1863, he edited that journal and subsequently the Douglass Monthly.

A tireless abolitionist, Douglass campaigned for the Liberty, Free Soil, and Republican parties in the 1840s and 1850s, although he opposed a nonextension, gradualist approach to slavery. His activist approach to abolition contributed to his hawkish position once the slaveholding states seceded in 1860 and 1861. Douglass stressed the importance of black loyalty during the Civil War and actively recruited Northern blacks—including his two sons, who volunteered for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry—for the Union effort. His egalitarianism, however, led to his criticism of the discriminatory pay and promotion practices of the Federal army. Nevertheless, Douglass's investment in assimilation through self‐help and racial uplift undergirded his conviction that the rights of citizenship would accompany black military participation—a rationale that, according to one of his intellectual biographers, anticipated W. E. B. Du Bois's “Close Ranks” argument concerning World War I and the “Double Victory” campaign of the black press during World War II.
[See also Colored Troops, U.S.]

Bibliography

David W. Blight , Frederick Douglass' Civil War, 1989.
William S. McFeely , Frederick Douglass, 1991.

Martin Summers

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

"Douglass, Frederick." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

Douglass, Frederick

Frederick Douglass (dŭg´ləs), c.1817–1895, American abolitionist, b. near Easton, Md. The son of a black slave, Harriet Bailey, and an unknown white father, he took the name of Douglass (from Scott's hero in The Lady of the Lake) after his second, and successful, attempt to escape from slavery in 1838. At New Bedford, Mass., he found work as a day laborer. An extemporaneous speech before a meeting at Nantucket of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1841 was so effective that he was made one of its agents. Douglass, who had learned to read and write while in the service of a kind mistress in Baltimore, published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845. Fearing capture as a fugitive slave, he spent several years in England and Ireland and returned in 1847, after English friends had purchased his freedom. At Rochester, N.Y., he established the North Star and edited it for 17 years in the abolitionist cause. Unlike William L. Garrison, he favored the use of political methods and thus became a follower of James G. Birney. In the Civil War he helped organize two regiments of Massachusetts African Americans and urged other blacks to join the Union ranks. During Reconstruction he continued to urge civil rights for African Americans. He was secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), marshal of the District of Columbia (1877–81), recorder of deeds for the same district (1881–86), and minister to Haiti (1889–91). Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1962) is a revised edition of his autobiography, which has also been published as My Bondage and My Freedom.

See also biographies by B. T. Washington (1907), P. Foner (1964), B. Quarles (1968), A. Bontemps (1971), and W. McFreely (1991); E. Fuller, A Star Pointed North (1946); P. S. Foner, ed., Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (4 vol., 1950–55).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

"Douglass, Frederick." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

Douglass, Frederick

Douglass, Frederick (1817–95) African-American abolitionist and social reformer. An escaped slave, he was a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and managed to buy his freedom. He published an abolitionist paper, North Star (1847), and recruited African American soldiers for the Union side in the American Civil War. He later held several government posts, such as minister to Haiti (1889–91).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Douglass, Frederick." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Douglass, Frederick." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick

"Douglass, Frederick." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/douglass-frederick