Study Guide

The Hypocrisy of American Slavery Compare and Contrast

By Frederick Douglass

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  • Josiah Wedgwood, "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" Medallion

    You might know the name Wedgwood from your grandma's china cabinet, but Josiah Wedgwood, who is best known for making fancy British pottery, was also heavily into the abolition movement. In 1787, he took the logo and catchphrase from the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade and used his sculpting skills to turn it into a medallion. (Source)

    These medallions got crazy popular and ended up everywhere: in jewelry and on household goods, for instance, in both Great Britain and the United States. It's probably the most famous anti-slavery symbol, and it was originally intended to strike at the conscience. Douglass references this catchphrase when he refuses to argue whether or not slaves are people.

  • John Greenleaf Whittier, Anti-Slavery Poetry

    Poetry is not just for Valentine's Day cards. It can also be about political change.

    Whittier is best known today as one of the Fireside Poets, a group of New England poets who wrote cozy verses about home and family. However, in his younger, wilder, social activism days, Whittier was a staunch abolitionist who used his pen for political purposes.

    His first published poem, "The Exile's Departure" (1826), attracted the attention of William Lloyd Garrison, who encouraged Whittier to use his writing skills in the service of abolition. During the 1830s, Whittier wrote and spoke against slavery. In 1837, he published Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, Between the Years 1830 and 1838.

    In the 1840s, Whittier broke with radical abolitionists like Garrison (as Douglass had) and decided to turn to political action to end slavery.

    In the end, abolition required the pen, the vote, and the sword.

  • The Compromise of 1850

    If there's one thing opposing sides love, it's compromise, right?

    So wrong.

    The Compromise of 1850 was a group of five legislative measures aimed at relieving sectional tensions over the expansion (or not) of slavery into new states and territories acquired in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

    Let's take it checklist-style:

    • California admitted as a free state
    • The Texas-New Mexico boundary settled in favor of Texas (a slave state)
    • The new territories of Utah and New Mexico allowed to determine slave- or free-state status by popular sovereignty (the popular vote)
    • The slave trade ended in the District of Columbia
    • The Fugitive Slave Law strengthened, allowing slaveholders to more easily recover escaped slaves

    The Compromise of 1850 attempted to placate both slave and free states by splitting new territory equally. But it didn't work. The newly strengthened Fugitive Slave Law especially rubbed abolitionists and even moderate Northerners the wrong way, as it required free states to become complicit in returning escaped individuals to slavery and even provided for federal officers to participate in the process. You can bet Douglass had the Fugitive Slave Law in mind when he gave "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery."

    And probably every other day of his life.

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

    This book wins first place in the "Book That Sounds Like a Fun Kid's Story But Is Actually a Searing Treatise on Slavery" awards. And the most famous anti-slavery novel was written by a white female abolitionist in response to the strengthened Fugitive Slave Law.

    And not only was this book super popular, it did its job, too—it really got folks riled up about slavery, and combined with the Fugitive Slave Law, it helped push moderate Northerners into the anti-slavery camp.

    Frederick Douglass' Paper didn't officially review the book, but it published a letter to the editor praising the book and published the minutes of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, which discussed it.

  • "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" by Frederick Douglass

    Frederick Douglass was still talking about the Fourth of July on the 5th of July.

    The day after he presented "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery" at the Rochester celebrations, he presented a speech that incorporated much of "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery" but expanded on those ideas. Invited to speak by the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, he spoke at the city's Corinthian Hall.

    It's easy to get these two speeches confused as they're a) very similar and b) were given only a day apart in the same city. To make things even more confusing, this second speech is sometimes called "The Meaning of July 4th for the N****."

    We don't blame Douglass for repeating his ideas, though. It's the kind of thing listeners needed to hear more than once.

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