Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Truth Quotes
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Mr. Gore acted fully up to the maxim laid down by slaveholders, -- "It is better that a dozen slaves should suffer under the lash, than that the overseer should be convicted, in the presence of the slaves, of having been at fault." No matter how innocent a slave might be -- it availed him nothing, when accused by Mr. Gore of any misdemeanor. To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished; the one always following the other with immutable certainty. (4.2)
As Mr. Gore's conduct demonstrates, the rule for slaves is simple: the slave is always wrong and the master is always right. Douglass is showing us that slavery doesn't operate according to any principles of justice or fairness but is, instead, simply about power.
I remained firm, and, according to my resolution, on the third day of September, 1838, I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind. How I did so,--what means I adopted,--what direction I travelled, and by what mode of conveyance,--I must leave unexplained, for the reasons before mentioned. (11.5)
When Douglass escapes, he is still bound to a certain kind of secrecy. If he tells the truth about what happened and how he escaped, it could get the friends who helped him into trouble.
The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim, that a still tongue makes a wise head. They suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family. (3.6)
Because slaves can be punished for telling the truth when it isn't what their masters want to hear, they learn to keep quiet, lying if they have to. It's the slave master's inhumanity that forces the slave to lie; Douglass emphasizes that the slaves are only doing what is natural for normal people: staying out of trouble.