© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.


Frederick Douglass in Abolitionists

Frederick Douglass (c.1817-1895), born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, was a runaway slave, a supporter of women's rights, and probably the most prominent abolitionist and human rights leader of the nineteenth century. A renowned orator, Douglass favored the use of political tactics to work for abolition. During the Civil War, he advised President Lincoln to let former slaves fight for the North, and helped organize two black regiments in Massachusetts. Douglass worked zealously to make the war a direct confrontation with slavery.

A literate runaway slave, Douglass began his renowned speaking career in 1841, when he delivered some extemporaneous remarks on his experiences under slavery at a Massachusetts antislavery convention. Abolitionist activists quickly recognized his talent and made him an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845, he wrote his autobiography—Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself—in part as a response to critics who argued that such a well-spoken man could never have been a slave. While Douglass spent time abroad, English supporters purchased his freedom for him (for the sum of $710.96). After returning to America, he entered into a debate with his white counterparts in the Anti-Slavery Society. They thought that he should simply tell his dramatic story, not comment on the racism that he encountered in the North. Douglass also began to argue that the Constitution was not necessarily a pro-slavery document, and that the lofty aims stated in its preamble could be consistent with the abolitionist cause. His position, in direct contrast to that of William Lloyd Garrison, caused a break with the Garrisonian faction of the abolitionist movement in 1851. Like Douglass, other black abolitionists experienced similar problems in emancipating friends and family members while articulating their views and commanding respect.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...