Frederick Douglass

1936 WORDS

Frederick Douglass
"Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward
throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of
deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds...relying upon the power of
truth, love, and justice, for success in my...efforts and solemnly pledging
myself anew to the sacred cause, I subscribe myself." (76) With these words,

Frederick Douglass ended one of the greatest pieces of propaganda of the 19th
century. Douglass wrote his autobiography as an abolitionist tool to shape his
northern audience’s view of southern slaveholders. Through personal anecdotes,

Douglass drew an accurate picture of the life of a slave. At the same time,
these events were chosen for how they would affect the northern audience’s
opinion of southern slaveholders. By using the written word, Douglass and fellow
abolitionists targeted educated northern whites because they were the only group
who could change the status quo. Illiterate northern whites and free northern
blacks could not vote while white southerners would not vote because they did
not want change. Therefore, Douglass used his life story as a tool to promote
abolition among literate northern whites. Frederick Douglass used family
relationships, starting with his birth to tug at the heartstrings of his
targeted audience. He never knew the true identity of his father, but it was"whispered" (2) that it was his master. Douglass mentioned this to show how
the "slave holder in (many) cases, sustains to his slaves the double relation
of master and father." (2) This was so commonplace that it was "by law
established that the children of women shall in all cases follow the condition
of their mother." (2) This meant that these bastard children were to be slaves
despite their paternal heritage because their mother was a slave. The effect was
to shock and offend the morals of the conservative northern whites. People
involved in adulteress and interracial relationships were scorned by northern
society. By portraying these southerners as immoral and adulteress, Douglass
wanted his audience to have an unfavorable opinion of southern slaveholders.

Keeping with the theme of family values, Douglass touched on the topic of the
basic family unit. Their master separated Douglass and his mother when he was an
infant, for what reason "(Douglass) does not know." (2) No reason was ever
given to Douglass because this was the accepted way of life on plantations.

Douglass wanted his northern white readers to be horrified that slave families
were regularly torn apart for no apparent reason. Northerners would be upset by
this because the family was the basis for their close-knit communities. Multiple
generations and extended families lived together or within close proximity to
each other. It would be unimaginable to the readers that a society existed that
took children away from their mothers without a reason. Anyone who was part of
such a society would be thought of as a heartless monster. Douglass wanted the
northern whites to lash out against these heartless monsters and abolish
slavery, thereby ending the callous practices associated with slavery. Another
example of how Douglass used family values as propaganda against southern
slaveholders was in the treatment of his grandmother. When Douglass’s master
decided that his grandmother was too old and no longer useful, "they took her
to the woods, built her a little hut...and then made her welcome to the
privilege of supporting herself in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning
her out to die." (28) This showed the lack of decency or gratitude on the part
of slave holders toward slaves that had faithfully, their entire lives, served
their masters. The mistreatment of elders in this manner would enrage the
readers, especially those with close-knit families, because the aged were to be
taken care of and respected until death. The usefulness of older people went
beyond physical attributes because they had a wealth of knowledge and experience
to share. The fact that slave masters could show so little regard and respect
for Douglass’s grandmother would be loathsome and despicable, and Douglass
hoped this would help influence the northern whites against the institution of
slavery. Furthermore, Douglass wanted to show the hypocrisy in the behavior of
these masters. They considered their slaves to be less than human, yet they
still desired and slept with their female slaves. This would prove to northern
whites the invalidity of southern claims that "horses and men, cattle and
women, and pigs and children all (held) the same rank in the scale of being."
(27) If slaves were truly of less rank than animals, why would a slaveholder

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