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Frederick Douglass views on slavery.

Frederick Douglass views on slavery

How would you compare Phillis Wheatley’s views on slavery to Frederick Douglass views on slavery?

Within the three narratives, regarding his amazing a good number of content posts, speeches, and words and phrases, Douglass vigorously stated against slavery. He sought to demonstrate that it was cruel, unnatural, ungodly, immoral, and unjust. He laid out his arguments first in his speeches while he was with Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society, and then in his first autobiography, the Narrative. As the U.S. Civil War drew closer, he expanded his arguments in many speeches, editorials, and in his second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom.

In his personal words he worked to pour out a “scorching irony” to expose the satanic of slavery (1852b, FDLW v.2: 192). His rebellion against slavery began, as he recounted, while he was a slave. In his narratives, this depiction of early recognition, and general recognition among blacks and some whites, of the injustice, unnaturalness, and cruelty of slavery is a major element of his argument.

It marks his initial discussion against slavery. Some of the apologists for slavery claimed that blacks were beasts, subhuman, or at least a degenerated form of the human species. These arguments go back to at least Sepulveda’s arguments in the fifteenth century, which Bartolomé de las Casas famously countered (1552; see also, Frederickson’s review of the early history of racism [2002]), and were common in the American British Colonies and then the United States; for example, Thomas Jefferson famously intimates this point in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785: Query 14). Douglass argued that blacks were fully rational humans, and mocked slavery’s apologists for its hypocrisies and contradictions when it claimed otherwise. In his Fourth of July Address, he derides the very idea that he would even need to argue this point (1852b).

Against the declare that blacks have been beasts, he suggested that rather slavery had brutalized them. He pointed to the obviousness of the humanity of blacks, and to the hypocrisy of the apologists for slavery in America on this question: why should there be special laws prohibiting the free actions of blacks, such as rebelling against the master or any other white person, if slaves were bestial and incapable of independent, responsible behavior? Why, indeed, had slave masters encouraged their slaves’ Christianization, and then forbade their religious gatherings? Along with this hypocrisy, American slaveholders feared and banned the education of blacks, while demanding and profiting from their learning and development in the skilled trades. Thus, Douglass argued the accusation that blacks were beasts was predicated on the guilty knowledge that they were humans. Additionally, it subverted not only the natural goodness of blacks by brutalizing them, but it also did so to white slaveholders and those otherwise innocent whites affected by this wicked institution. Slavery, Douglass pointed out, making reference to Jefferson’s anxieties in Query 18 of the Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), that slavery was a poison in the body of the republic.

Second, since blacks were mankind, Douglass argued these were entitled to the natural privileges that normal law mandated and therefore america identified in their Proclamation of Self-sufficiency and Constitution. Slavery subverted the natural rights of blacks by subjugating and brutalizing them: taking men and turning them, against God’s will and nature, into beasts. Third, as an affront to natural law, slavery contradicted God’s law. Douglass cited biblical passages and interpretations popular with abolitionists. As a witness and participant of the second Great Awakening, he took seriously the politicized rhetoric of Christian liberation from sin, and, as with other abolitionists, saw it intrinsically wrapped up with liberation from slavery, and indeed national liberation. Fourth, he argued that slavery was inconsistent with the idea of America, with its national narrative and highest ideals, and not just with its founding documents. Fifth, drawing on the ideas of manifest destiny, as well as the idea of natural law realized in historical progress, he argued that slavery was inconsistent with development: moral, political, economic, social, and ultimately historical. America was on the wrong side of history on the question of slavery.

To defend slavery, a number of its apologists drew on the idea of traditional development to give the protection that slavery was actually a benevolent and paternal process for that common benefit of whites and blacks. Douglass countered by drawing on his experiences, and the experiences of other slaves, that American slavery was in no way benevolent. It brutalized blacks, subjecting them to debilitating, murderous violence; to rape; to the splitting up of families (another crime against nature); to denying them education and self-improvement; and to the exploitation of their labor and denying them access to their natural right to property. Black slaves were not happy Sambos benefiting from the largesse of kind, gentile white masters—they were brutalized against all justice and reason. Neither were they lacking in agency or self-respect, nor were they, for all intents and purposes socially and morally dead, subjected to natal alienation.[6] They were moral beings, fully aware of the rights and capabilities they were unjustly deprived of, and most of all they wanted freedom, independence, the recognition of their full personhood, and their rights as U.S. citizens (McGary and Lawson 1992).

Howard McGary and Bill E. Lawson’s Between Slavery and Freedom: Philosophy and American Slavery (1992), is an indispensable source for philosophical analyses of these arguments, and the engagement of normative philosophy with historical and sociological theories of U.S. slavery, and Nicholas Buccola’s The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass: In Pursuit of American Liberty (2012), provides an excellent analysis of how Douglass’s critical examination of slavery fits into his liberalism and dominant conceptions of liberty of his time. An early, key contributor to the philosophical literature on Douglass, and to American philosophical literature on Douglass was Angela Davis, who of course is a key figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of both the black power movement and black feminism since the 1960s. Her groundbreaking essay on Douglass, “Unfinished Lecture on Liberation-II”, argued for an active rather than static conception of liberty, drew on and criticized Rousseau’s conception of slavery, and applied her analysis to the Civil Rights struggles she was involved in during the late 1960s and early 1970s ([1971] 1983).[7]

As was pointed out in the above area, Douglass drew on the concept of normal rights and the all-natural law custom in their argument against slavery. Douglass was an Enlightenment thinker and a nineteenth century modernist (Moses 1978; Martin 1984; Myers 2008). As such, he had a firm faith in the progress of man, civilization, and Western Christendom; hence, he saw American slavery as a brutal backwardness that ran counter to the progress of history. God and the forward march of history, Douglass believed, would bring the realization of truth, justice, and the brotherhood of man.