Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing.
Frederick Douglass. It was enough for the 'Register' to print the name with no further identification. Everyone knew who he was: an escaped slave, an infamous abolitionist, easily the most prominent black man in the United States.
[His] mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. ... [His] father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all [he] ever heard speak of [his] parentage. The opinion was also whispered that [his] master was [his] father; but of the correctness of this opinion, [he knew] nothing.
"I was A SLAVE - born a slave and though the fact was incomprehensible to me, it conveyed to my mind a sense of my entire dependence on the will of somebody I had never seen; and, from some cause or other, I had been made to fear this somebody above all else on earth."
In the history of his life in bondage, we find, well developed, that inherent and continuous energy of character which will ever render him distinguished. What his hand found to do, he did with his might; even while conscious that he was wronged out of his daily earnings, he worked, and worked hard.
Douglass recalled being fascinated by the relationship between the words coming from her mouth and the marks on the pages of the book she held. He was curious about "this mystery of reading" and "frankly, asked her to teach me to read." Sophia, drawn to his quick mind, and perhaps intrigued by the thought of testing the educability of an African child, began to do so.
"In ['The Columbian Orator'], I met with one of Sheridan's mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. ... The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery."
He had seen slavery at its most violent and its most benign, yet all of it made his resentment grow. By the time he ran away, when he was twenty years old, the young man already knew what an "abolitionist" was and knew that he was one. From a very young age Frederick Douglass had dared imagine that one day he would be free, just as he dared imagine that he would one day be a senator.
Most of what we can learn about him is what Frederick Douglass chose to tell us in his three unidentical autobiographies. 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass' (1845) is the brief, pungent declaration of freedom of a runaway slave writing a powerful antislavery tract. In 'My Bondage and My Freedom' (1855) a mature writer gives deeper reflections on slavery... 'Life and Times of Frederick Douglass' (1881, revised 1892) is the memoir of a famous man relishing his honors while smarting from those denied him.
[In meeting with Douglass] Lincoln immediately went on the defensive. .. He referred to a speech Douglass had given in Boston in early 1862, widely published in which Douglass had said that the "most disheartening feature" of the war was not the military disasters but "the tardy, hesitating, and vacillating policy of the President," especially Lincoln's policies on freeing and arming blacks. Lincoln admitted that he had sometimes been slow to act, but he denied vacillating: "when I have once taken a position, I have never retreated from it."
Like most other black and white abolitionists, Douglass saw the end of the war as the endpoint of an era and of his life's work. It also marked the end of his continual self-making. .. The great joy he felt in helping end slavery "was slightly tinged with the feeling of sadness. I felt that I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life; my school was broken up, my church disbanded, and the beloved congregation dispersed, never to come together again."