Quotes by Frederick Douglass
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Wikipedia Summary for Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1817 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. Accordingly, he was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders' arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Likewise, Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave.
Douglass wrote three autobiographies, notably describing his experiences as a slave in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). Following the Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and wrote his last autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. First published in 1881 and revised in 1892, three years before his death, the book covers events both during and after the Civil War. Douglass also actively supported women's suffrage, and held several public offices. Without his approval, Douglass became the first African-American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and Vice Presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Douglass believed in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, as well as in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto "No Union with Slaveholders", criticized Douglass' willingness to engage in dialogue with slave owners, he replied: "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace.
No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
People might not get all that they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all that they get.
Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
You are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip! You are freedom's swift-winged angels, that fly round the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free!
Poverty, ignorance and degradation are the combined evils, these constitute the social disease of the free colored people of the US.
In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world.
Slavery is indeed gone, but its shadow still lingers over the country and poisons more or less the moral atmosphere of all sections of the republic.
Our community belongs to us and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered in shame, we cannot but share its character and destiny.
Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, 'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.
They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man's slave was deemed a disgrace indeed!
A smile or a tear has not nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.
I knew that however bad the Republican party was, the Democratic party was much worse. The elements of which the Republican party was composed gave better ground for the ultimate hope of the success of the colored mans cause than those of the Democratic party.
The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.
A great man, tender of heart, strong of nerve, boundless patience and broadest sympathy, with no motive apart from his country.
The Constitution of the United States knows no distinction between citizens on account of color. Neither does it know any difference between a citizen of a state and a citizen of the United States.
Experience demonstrates that there may be a wages of slavery only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.
A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it.
Let us render the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the light by which he can trace the footprints of our flying brother.
My great and exceeding joy over these stupendous achievements, especially over the abolition of slavery (which had been the deepest desire and the great labor of my life), was slightly tinged with a feeling of sadness.
I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.
Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty.
What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.
What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. ... All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! ... Your interference is doing him positive injury.
In a composite nation like ours, as before the law, there should be no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no white, no black, but common country, common citizenship, equal rights and a common destiny.
In a composite Nation like ours, made up of almost every variety of the human family, there should be, as before the Law, no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no black, no white, but one country, one citizenship equal rights and a common destiny for all.
A government that cannot or does not protect the humblest citizen in his right to life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be reformed or overthrown, without delay.
Having despised us, it is not strange that Americans should seek to render us despicable; having enslaved us, it is natural that they should strive to prove us unfit for freedom; having denounced us as indolent, it is not strange that they should cripple our enterprises.
I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
Shields Green was not one to shrink from hardships or dangers. He was a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character.
Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man -- too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.
Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.
Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.
I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity…a shelter under…which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.
I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, -- a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, -- a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, -- and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of the slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.
Self-Made Men are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.
I have no protection at home, or resting place abroad. ... I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth. I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were.
Money is the measure of morality, and the success or failure of slavery as a money-making system, determines with many whether...it should be maintained or abolished.
In studying the character and works of a great man, it is always desirable to learn in what he is distinguished from others, and what have been the causes if this difference.
Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic.
Immense wealth, and its lavish expenditure, fill the great house with all that can please the eye, or tempt the taste. Here, appetite, not food, is the great desideratum.
The Constitution is a glorious liberty document. Read its preamble, consider it purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? it is neither.
Heaven's blessing must attend all, and freedom must soon be given to the pining millions under a ruthless bondage.
We are free to say that in respect to political rights, we hold women to be justly entitled to all we claim for men.
It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of slavery. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.
Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.
These were choice documents to me... They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.
I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.
There is a class of people who seem to think that if a man should fall overboard into the sea with a Bible in his pocket it would hardly be possible to drown. I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling and action of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending and maintaining that liberty.
My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.
There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.
I have observed this in my experience of slavery, that whenever my condition was improved, instead of increasing my contentment; it only increased my desire to be free, and set me thinking of plans to gain my freedom.
I have observed this in my experience of slavery, -- that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.
Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man.
Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.
Man's greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.
America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.
A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.
To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.
A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.
Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
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