Douglass, Frederick (Paper II)

Douglas, an escaped slave, was a powerful orator and writer, protesting slavery and debating the theory of social adjustment for continuing slavery. He was the only man to take a prominent part in the proceedings of the equal rights for women convention, and was a featured speaker at celebrations of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Biographical Highlights

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) was a leader in the abolitionist movement. He became a spokesperson for racial equality. He was on a first name basis with prominent leaders both of the country and of the anti-slavery movement. Frederick Douglass is best known as a former slave turned anti-slavery leader (

He wrote books and published a newspaper. To Douglass the problems of social adjustment if the slave were freed were nothing, the property rights of the masters were nothing, and states’ rights were nothing. He simply refused to discuss these matters. As he viewed it, his function was to shake people out of their lethargy and goad them into action, not to discover reasons for sitting on the fence (Douglass p.xxi). Douglass had an attitude that transcended the awkwardness of fear, and procrastination. He not only strove to be free, but to help millions of other slaves to be free. Aside from its literary merit, Douglass’ autobiography was, in many respects, symbolic of the Negro’s role in American life. The book’s central theme is struggle. The narrative is a clear and passionate utterance both of the Negro’s protest and of his aspiration. The book was written, as Douglass states in the closing sentence, in the hope that it would “do something toward hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds” (Douglass p. xviii).

In 1848 Douglass was the only man to take a prominent part in the proceedings of the equal rights for women convention held at Seneca Falls, New York, in July, a meeting, which formally inaugurated the woman’s rights movement in America (Douglass p. xxv-xxvi).

And in 1870 Douglass was featured speaker at celebrations of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the greatest of which was held in Baltimore in mid-May (Douglass p. xxvi). This action can be seen as the catalyst for other civil rights movements.

Historic Roots

Frederick Douglass was born February 1818, near Easton, Maryland. He died from a heart attack February 20, in 1895. Frederick was a man that experienced the life he spoke about so eloquently. Separated as an infant from his slave mother (he never knew his white father), Frederick lived with his grandmother on a Maryland plantation until, at age eight, his owner sent him to Baltimore to live as house servant with the family of Hugh Auld, whose wife defied state law by teaching the boy to read (Encyclopedia Britannica). What follows is a timeline of events in Douglass’ life.

Chronology of Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895

I. “Perpetual Unpaid Toll” (1818 – 1837) (Douglass p.xxv).

1818 - Born a slave (exact date unknown) in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

1825 - Sent to Baltimore where he worked as a houseboy and an unskilled laborer.

1833 - Sent to St. Michaels in Talbot County and fell out with his master, Thomas Auld. (“My master and myself had quite a number of differences”) (Douglass p.xxv).

1834 - Hired out to a professional slave-breaker, Edward Covey.

1836 -Sent to Baltimore after an unsuccessful attempt to escape; put to work in shipyards.

1838 - Escaped from slavery by borrowing a Negro sailor’s “protection” papers and impersonating him.

II. “Allow Me to Speak Plainly” (1837 – 1865) (Douglass p.xxv-xxvi).

1841 - At abolitionist meeting at Nantucket, Massachusetts, asked to speak of his slavery experiences. Was then hired as a full-time antislavery lecturer.

1845 -Published his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

1845 –1847 Toured the British Isles, making speeches on abolition of slavery and abstinence from drink.

1847 - Moved to Rochester, New York, where he began to publish a reformist weekly, The North Star.

1848 - Was the only man to take a prominent part in the proceedings of the equal rights for women convention held a Seneca Falls, New York, in July, a meeting which formally inaugurated the woman’s rights movement in America.

1858 - Entertained John Brown for three weeks as a houseguest during time when Brown was laying plans for Harpers Ferry raid.

1863 - Recruited Negro troops for Union armies.

1864 - Had second White House audience with Lincoln concerning Negro soldiers.

III. “This Struggle Will Go On” (1865 – 1895) (Douglass p xxvi).

1866 - Led a delegation of Negroes to visit President Johnson to ascertain his views on matters relating to the recently freed slave.

1870 - Was featured speaker at celebrations of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the greatest of which was held in Baltimore in mid- May.

1876 - At Washington, D. C., on April 14 was orator of the day at unveiling of the freedmen’s memorial monument to Abraham Lincoln, for which Negroes had raised more than $16,000.

1877 - Appointed by President Hayes as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.

1881 - Appointed by President Garfield as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.

1883 - Led the chorus of condemnation of the Supreme Court for declaring unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

1891 - Appointed by President Harrison as Minister- Resident and Consul-General to the Republic of Haiti, and Charge d’Affaires for Santo Domingo.

1895 - Died of a heart attack at Washington, D. C., on February 25, upon returning home after speaking at a woman’s rights meeting.


At a Nantucket, Massachusetts, antislavery convention in 1841, Douglass was invited to describe his feelings and experiences under slavery. These extemporaneous remarks were so poignant and naturally eloquent that he was unexpectedly catapulted into a new career as agent for the Massachusetts Anti- Slavery Society. From then on, despite heckling and mockery, insult and violent personal attack, Douglass never flagged in his devotion to the abolitionist cause (Encyclopedia Britannica).

To counter skeptics who doubted that such an articulate spokesman could ever have been a slave, Douglass felt impelled to write his autobiography in 1845, revised and completed in 1882 as Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Encyclopedia Britannica). To avoid recapture by his former owner, whose name and location he had given in the narrative, Douglass left on a two-year speaking tour of Great Britain and Ireland. Abroad, Douglass helped to win many new friends for the abolition movement and to cement the bonds of humanitarian reform between the continents (Douglass, Frederick). Douglass would return with funds to purchase his freedom and also to start his own antislavery newspaper, The North Star (later Frederick Douglass’s paper), which he published from 1847 to 1860 in Rochester, New York (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Unlike William L. Garrison, Douglass favored the use of political methods and thus became a follower of James G. Birney, who was a candidate for President in the 1840 and 1844 elections. 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 (