In 1841 Fredrick Douglas attended an antislavery convention in Nantucket, Massachusetts and his role in the abolitionist movement would forever be sealed. The Narrative of the life of Fredrick Douglas, an American slave was written by Douglas in 1845 to give fuel to the abolitionist movement. Though it was revised many years later and appeared in final form, in 1882 under the title Life and Times of Fredrick Douglas the message had already been given. The narrative was written in a way that stunned the souls of the people who read it, whole lives were forever altered by its power.
I believe this was Douglas’ intention when writing the narrative. Some people would argue that Douglas simply needed to portray the life he had fled from, and that his story was for the lives of slaves everywhere; but when examining Douglas’ life after 1841 it is clear that his intentions had to be directed towards his cause. Douglas’ name became a symbol for freedom and achievement. His shills as a speaker were amazing for a man of his history. In fact so impressive were Douglas’ oratorical and intellectual abilities that opponents refused to believe he had ever been a slave and alleged that he was an imposter.
A sympathetic force displayed to the public by the abolitionists. This allegation is what actually compelled Fredrick to write his narrative. If anyone wanted to doubt the scars on his back, Fredrick would give the world a detailed description of how he got them. And it was this description of his oppression and the horrors he had witnessed which made Fredrick a hero of his people, and raised the abolitionist movement to a fevered state. Fredrick Douglas was born Fredrick Augustus Washington Bailey in about 1817 in Tuckahoe, Maryland.
Fredrick never knew exactly when he was born because most slaves were never told of their birth date and were not allowed to inquire as such. Douglas says “it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorantI was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and evidence of a restless spirit. ” This use of power to keep slaves ignorant was the main tool slaveholders had to hold control over their slaves.
Slaveholders knew that knowledge and literacy were the biggest dangers they had toward a rebellion of a people, which in some religions outnumbered their white masters nine to one. This was one of the many ways slaveholders used slavery itself as a means of a social control. To keep a slave illiterate and ignorant of the socio-political movements of the north; a slaveholder could easily control thousands with very few. Simply because the slaves did not know there was anything else for them.
Of course there were rumors and tales of the wonders and freedoms of the north, but more powerful were the realities slaves witnessed of those who tried to flee and were unsuccessful. Examples were made for every case leading to dissention. Often, slaves were whipped and beaten for nothing else but to keep fear in them. Another use of this control was the use of spies and trickery to keep slaves from revealing the horrors of their bondage. Douglas writes of a slave who one day came in contact with his master Colonel Lloyd whom he had never seen.
This was common at the times since many masters owned over a thousand slaves and neither always knew each other by face. In this instance though Colonel Lloyd asked the to whom he belonged, the slave replied “Colonel Lloyd sir. ” Colonel Lloyd then asked the slave if he was treated well, the slave replied “no sir”; the Colonel then asked if he was worked too hard, the reply was “yes sir. ” Two or three weeks later the slave was chained, handcuffed and sold to a Georgia trader. He was stripped from his family and friends; this was the penalty for telling the truth.
This led slaves to adopt the maxim of “A still tongue makes a wise head. ” This is primarily the reason that the movement for abolition moved so slowly and slaves were reluctant to reveal the truth of their bondage. Douglas reveals this in two quotes from his narrative. It is partly in consequence of such facts, that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kindThey suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it.
These accounts of oppression are what Fredrick felt needed to be told in his narrative and he knew the outcome could only help the fight for abolition. Fredrick purposely wrote on the most sensitive issues of slavery. He knew it was his duty, as a former slave to give the truth while thousands of others dared not. One of the most controversial opinions given by Douglas was his accusation of the church. Douglas’ hatred for the hypocrisy of those men and women who claimed themselves pious is evident in his writing.
Douglas’ contempt at these people is mentioned all through his narrative. An appendix was even added simply to address this issue, for Douglas knew his narrative needed to describe and address these crimes in the name of God; but he also knew publicly attacking the church would harm his cause more than help it. So Fredrick Douglas included his appendix to both justify his hatred for the Christianity he had witnessed and to speak of his love for the pure, just, Christianity he knew was right.
Fredrick knew some might believe him opposed to all religion so he writes of the differences of the slaveholding religion and of the wondrous Christianity of Christ. Douglas relates his feelings when he writes What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference-so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.
He calls the southern religion “the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. ” Douglas in his narrative gives many examples of so called pious masters savagely beating his slaves in the name of God. Douglas says of his master Captain Auld after experiencing religion “If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all ways; for I believed him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before.
These words of Douglas’ were powerful and caused many that read them to feel the same as he. Douglas knew his narrative was going to be the new voice of abolitionism. Sympathetic people upon hearing of the brutal beatings and killings of slaves, ungodly living conditions, and religious corruption had to feel more disturbed and impatient than ever. The written word was powerful and he knew this since it was the writings in “The Colombian Orator” which immediately caused a change in his life.
Fredrick must have remembered the anger and drive to be free he felt after reading the “Orator. ” This is why I say Douglas’ narrative must have been written to move people against slavery. A book forever changed his life and I believe Fredrick hoped his book would do the same for others. This seems true since after 1841 and up to his death in February of 1895 Douglas’ whole life was dedicated to abolition of slavery and gaining of right and freedoms for all blacks.