Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
How we cite our quotes:
You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom's swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing! Alas! betwixt me and you, the turbid waters roll. Go on, go on. O that I could also go! Could I but swim! If I could fly! O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I'll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing. (10.8)
This is one of the most famous passages in the book. There is a lot going on here, but one of the most important is that it's Douglass's crisis of faith, where he demands to know how God can exist if He allows Douglass to be a slave. But instead of turning against God, Douglass turns the problem around: since there is a God, he reasons, God will help him become free. From this point on, Douglass is sure that it's only a matter of time until he gains his freedom.
I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man, whose name I deem it imprudent to mention; for should it be known, it might embarrass him greatly, though the crime of holding the school was committed ten years ago. I had at one time over forty scholars, and those of the right sort, ardently desiring to learn. They were of all ages, though mostly men and women. I look back to those Sundays with an amount of pleasure not to be expressed. They were great days to my soul. The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other, and to leave them at the close of the Sabbath was a severe cross indeed. When I think that these precious souls are to-day shut up in the prison-house of slavery, my feelings overcome me, and I am almost ready to ask, 'Does a righteous God govern the universe? and for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the spoiler?' (10.23)
Douglass ends by questioning how a righteous God (a God who does the right things) can really rule the universe, since He allows terrible things like slavery to exist. Yet he still continues to teach the other slaves to read (and to read the Bible). Perhaps Douglass's sense of right and wrong isn't simply limited to his belief in God?
He seemed to think himself equal to deceiving the Almighty. He would make a short prayer in the morning, and a long prayer at night; and, strange as it may seem, few men would at times appear more devotional than he. The exercises of his family devotions were always commenced with singing; and, as he was a very poor singer himself, the duty of raising the hymn generally came upon me. He would read his hymn, and nod at me to commence. I would at times do so; at others, I would not. My non-compliance would almost always produce much confusion. To show himself independent of me, he would start and stagger through with his hymn in the most discordant manner. In this state of mind, he prayed with more than ordinary spirit. Poor man! such was his disposition, and success at deceiving, I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God" (10.4)
Douglass has no time for slave owners who think they are Christians, and Mr. Covey (whom Douglass is talking about here) is a good example. Even though he seems like one of the most devoted Christians around, it's all an act. But here's the thing: even Covey is fooled! He isn't just a hypocrite, he actually thinks he is a Christian. And so, when Douglass doesn't want to pray with a man who believes owning slaves is a righteous thing to do, Covey is completely confused.