Study Guide

The Hypocrisy of American Slavery Timeline

By Frederick Douglass

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Adoption Announcement: the U.S. Constitution

The new U.S. Constitution declared enslaved people to be three-fifths of a free person and included a clause providing for the return of fugitive slaves to their masters. Why the weird three-fifths thing? It had to do with how much representation based on population each state was entitled to.

February 1818

Birth Announcement: Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland and named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.

Circa 1826-1827

Reading Lessons

At 8 or 9 years old, Frederick Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live with the Auld family, relatives of his original owners, as a companion to their youngest child. Sophia Auld, mistress of the house, taught him to read until her husband stopped her. However, Douglass had already learned enough to continue teaching himself.

Circa 1831

Book Recommendation: The Columbian Orator 

Sometime between learning to read and escaping from slavery, Douglass discovered The Columbian Orator, a 1797 textbook by Caleb Bingham that contains speeches and arguments against slavery.

The book was Douglass' introduction to the abolitionist movement, and it was so precious to him that it was among the few things he took with him when he escaped slavery.

September 3rd, 1838

Prison Break: Douglass Escapes Slavery

Although he had tried and failed before, Douglass succeeded in escaping from Baltimore to New York in less than 24 hours by disguising himself as a sailor and using false papers. The money for the disguise and papers was provided by his fiancée, Anna Murray, a member of a free Black family in Baltimore.


Read All About It: Douglass Subscribes to The Liberator

While living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass subscribed to William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper. The ideas expressed led him to become active in the abolitionist movement.


Speaking Out: Douglass Delivers at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society

After speaking off the cuff at a meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass was asked to speak at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Nantucket a few days later. He was then hired as an anti-slavery lecturer.


On the Road: the 100 Conventions Tour

Maintaining a rock star-level touring schedule, Douglass spoke to fellow abolitionists at meetings in New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.


Book Recommendation: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

In response to haters who thought there was no way this great speaker could ever have been a slave, Douglass threw down his first autobiography.


On the Road Again: Douglass Goes on Tour in Great Britain and Ireland

Douglass took his mad oratory skills international, earning enough cash to finally buy his freedom and purchase a newspaper.


From the Editor: Douglass Publishes The North Star and Frederick Douglass' Paper

Douglass settled in Rochester, New York, where he published an abolitionist newspaper called The North Star. In 1851, The North Star merged with another paper to become Frederick Douglass' Paper. (Source)

July 4th, 1852

The Reason We're Here: "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery"

Invited to speak at their Independence Day celebrations by the leading citizens of Rochester, New York, Douglass threw down on celebrating freedom while living in a country that permitted slavery.

July 5th, 1852

Quoting Himself: "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"

The day after he gave "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery," Douglass incorporated parts of it into a much longer speech, which he presented to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society.


Book Recommendation: My Bondage and My Freedom

Douglass' second autobiography continued a theme of "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery," telling white Northerners they weren't all that and a bag of chips. He discussed the racial injustice and prejudice he experienced in both the South and the North.

April 12th, 1861

Friendly Fire: Confederate Troops Fire on Fort Sumter

After a lot of hemming and hawing after Lincoln's election in November 1860, South Carolina's secession in December 1860, and the creation of a new Confederate government in February 1861, Confederate troops fired on the Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

January 1st, 1863

Freeing the Slaves: the Emancipation Proclamation

While this date is often highlighted as the end of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation had minimal practical effect because it freed slaves only in those parts of the country that were in rebellion—areas held by Confederate forces that didn't acknowledge the oversight of the U.S. federal government.

Frederick Douglass was a fan, although many people didn't think the Emancipation Proclamation went far enough. The real effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was in the battle for hearts and minds: it clearly made emancipation a Union war goal and provided hope that true abolition would soon be achieved.

April 9th, 1865

Beginning of the End: Appomattox Courthouse

While the official end of the war didn't come until late May, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in April, and everybody knew it was just a matter of time. Lee's surrender is generally recognized as the end of the Civil War.

January 31st, 1865

Lucky 13: Congress Passes the 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially outlawed slavery in the United States. However, it left a frequently exploited loophole through which it was legal to enslave people who had been convicted of a crime.


The Diplomatic Life: Douglass Serves in the Federal Government

For his second act, Douglass served as the U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti.


Book Recommendation: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

In his third and final autobiography, Douglass talked about his life as an activist. He considered the progress that had been achieved and what remained to be done. Hint: a lot.

February 20th, 1895

The End: Death Comes for the Arch-Activist

Douglass died with his boots on. Between a meeting for the National Council of Women and a planned speaking engagement, he went home and suffered a massive heart attack or stroke. He died as he lived: busy changing the world.

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