Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was a slave who escaped to the North, lived during the Civil War and not only found himself directly advising President Abraham Lincoln, later becoming Ambassador to Haiti, but also became a great public figure advocating for equality and justice through his journal “The North Star” using a printing press which he founded and managed, and was instrumental in the success of the Underground Railroad.

Despite suffering overwhelming sadness and injustice growing up as a slave, Douglass never allowed himself to despair. Even as a child, Douglass was aware that he had the right to learn how to read, and managed to teach himself. When he was older he found himself starting a secret Sunday school to teach the other slaves how to read, namely, the Bible, which they were willing to work on despite a six day work week of hard labour, 16 hours or more per day. By the time Douglass was a young adult, he had accomplished what was the worst fear of his slave master, and displays without a doubt that he is a superior man to his “master”.

Despite being told his whole life that he was just a beast, Douglass knew and thus chose to act like a man, revealing his “master” to be the true beast in his desire to subvert this innate truth. Douglass thus exemplifies the idea that we all have access to a divine nature within us, and that no matter the state and condition into which we are born and raised, nothing can take that away from us.

Another incredible account of Frederick Douglass was his interaction with Lincoln. It was a truly chaotic time where it was not even known whether the U.S. would be successful in staying whole. Part of this crisis was economical, in that the South wanted to protect their right to own human beings (which was the foundation of their economy). However, no matter what angle you look at it, the Civil War, as Douglass also describes, was always at its core about the emancipation from slavery and the freedom and sovereignty of the individual to live the best life they could choose for themselves. Economy had a large part to play in this, since the North had at that point a very large and capable machine tool industry. Douglass remarks himself that one machine did a better and quicker job of a task than forty men. There was therefore no justification for the use of slavery from an economic basis. The threat to the future existence of the United States depended on how they would ultimately choose to answer the question, “Are all men born equal?”, Douglass understood this, and furthermore, identified that Lincoln also understood this to be the most important aspect of the Civil War that would ensure a future for the United States.

Autobiography: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass