HUP’s first edition of the , published in cloth in 1960

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The swept Douglass into the mainstream of the antislavery movement. It was a noteworthy addition to the campaign literature of abolitionism; a forceful book by an ex-slave was a weapon of no small caliber. Naturally the was a bitter indictment of slavery. The abolitionists did not think much of the technique of friendly persuasion; it was not light that was needed, said Douglass on one occasion, but fire. The Garrison–Phillips wing did not subscribe to a policy of soft words, and Douglass’ volume indicated that he had not been a slow learner.


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Douglass was a prolific writer; speeches, personal letters, formal lectures, editorials, and magazine articles literally poured from his pen. Most of this output has been brought together in a massive four-volume work by Philip Foner, (New York, 1950–55). Not included in Foner’s collection, because of their length, are Douglass’ most sustained literary efforts, his three autobiographies. The in 1845 was the first of these; we may note its distribution, reserving for a moment comment on its general nature and its influence.


Frederick Douglass and the Use of Irony – Introduction …

So profoundlyignorant of the nature of slavery are many persons, that they arestubbornly incredulous whenever they read or listen to any recital ofthe cruelties which are daily inflicted on its victims. They do notdeny that the slaves are held as property; but that terrible factseems to convey to their minds no idea of injustice, exposure tooutrage, or savage barbarity. Tell them of cruel scourgings, ofmutilations and brandings, of scenes of pollution and blood, of thebanishment of all light and knowledge, and they affect to be greatlyindignant at such enormous exaggerations, such wholesalemisstatements, such abominable libels on the character of thesouthern planters! As if all these direful outrages were not thenatural results of slavery! As if it were less cruel to reduce ahuman being to the condition of a thing, than to give him a severeflagellation, or to deprive him of necessary food and clothing! As ifwhips, chains, thumb-screws, paddles, blood-hounds, overseers,drivers, patrols, were not all indispensable to keep the slaves down,and to give protection to their ruthless oppressors! As if, when themarriage institution is abolished, concubinage, adultery, and incest,must not necessarily abound; when all the rights of humanity areannihilated, any barrier remains to protect the victim from the furyof the spoiler; when absolute power is assumed over life and liberty,it will not be wielded with destructive sway! Skeptics of thischaracter abound in society. In some few instances, their incredulityarises from a want of reflection; but, generally, it indicates ahatred of the light, a desire to shield slavery from the assaults ofits foes, a contempt of the colored race, whether bond or free. Suchwill try to discredit the shocking tales of slaveholding crueltywhich are recorded in this truthful Narrative; but they will labor invain. Mr. Douglass has frankly disclosed the place of his birth, thenames of those who claimed ownership in his body and soul, and thenames also of those who committed the crimes which he has allegedagainst them. His statements, therefore, may easily be disproved, ifthey are untrue.

Documenting the American South: North American …

It is always easy to stir up sympathy for people in bondage, and perhaps Douglass seemed to protest too much in making slavery out as a “soul-killing” institution. But the first-hand evidence he submitted and the moving prose in which he couched his findings and observations combine to make his one of the most arresting autobiographical statements in the entire catalogue of American reform.

Narrative nonfiction - Writers and Editors

It was at oncedeeply impressed upon my mind, that, if Mr. Douglass could bepersuaded to consecrate his time and talents to the promotion of theanti-slavery enterprise, a powerful impetus would be given to it, anda stunning blow at the same time inflicted on northern prejudiceagainst a colored complexion. I therefore endeavored to instil hopeand courage into his mind, in order that he might dare to engage in avocation so anomalous and responsible for a person in his situation;and I was seconded in this effort by warm-hearted friends, especiallyby the late General Agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society,Mr. John A. Collins, whose judgment in this instance entirelycoincided with my own. At first, he could give no encouragement; withunfeigned diffidence, he expressed his conviction that he was notadequate to the performance of so great a task; the path marked outwas wholly an untrodden one; he was sincerely apprehensive that heshould do more harm than good. After much deliberation, however, heconsented to make a trial; and ever since that period, he has actedas a lecturing agent, under the auspices either of the American orthe Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In labors he has been mostabundant; and his success in combating prejudice, in gainingproselytes, in agitating the public mind, has far surpassed the mostsanguine expectations that were raised at the commencement of hisbrilliant career. He has borne himself with gentleness and meekness,yet with true manliness of character. As a public speaker, he excelsin pathos, wit, comparison, imitation, strength of reasoning, andfluency of language. There is in him that union of head and heart,which is indispensable to an enlightenment of the heads and a winningof the hearts of others. May his strength continue to be equal to hisday! May he continue to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge ofGod," that he may be increasingly serviceable in the cause ofbleeding humanity, whether at home or abroad!