Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Truth Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
After all, I shall read your book with trembling for you. Some years ago, when you were beginning to tell me your real name and birthplace, you may remember I stopped you, and preferred to remain ignorant of all. With the exception of a vague description, so I continued, till the other day, when you read me your memoirs. I hardly knew, at the time, whether to thank you or not for the sight of them, when I reflected that it was still dangerous, in Massachusetts, for honest men to tell their names! (Letter.7)
Wendell Phillips wants to remind us that Douglass's decision to tell the truth about his experience (and to publish under his own name) is a very courageous one. Even for freed slaves, telling the truth about their lives was dangerous precisely because it was so powerful. Not only would Douglass's enemies try to find him and kidnap him back into slavery, but identifying himself in print made it easier for them to do it.
Such will try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholding cruelty which are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but they will labor in vain. Mr. Douglass has frankly disclosed the place of his birth, the names of those who claimed ownership in his body and soul, and the names also of those who committed the crimes which he has alleged against them. His statements, therefore, may easily be disproved, if they are untrue. (Preface. 10)
William Lloyd Garrison knows that Douglass's enemies will try to claim that Douglass's narrative wasn't true. (And they did.) Pro-slavery debaters would try to deny or downplay the horrors of slavery, so Garrison understood that all Douglass really had to do was tell the truth. By encouraging Douglass's opponents to try to disprove him, he showed that he and Douglass had nothing to fear from the truth.
You remember the old fable of 'The Man and the Lion,' where the lion complained that he should not be so misrepresented 'when the lions wrote history.' I am glad the time has come when the 'lions write history.' (Letter.1-2)
Phillips is reminding his audience of an old fable about a lion who complains that when humans write stories, they always make the lion into the villain. His point is simple: since history books are always written by the winners, the only people who had ever written books about slavery were white people – mostly white southerners who owned slaves. Douglass's book is significant because it's one of the most important examples of a black slave writing about his own experience of slavery.