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The Reasoning Behind Frederick Douglass’ Personal Narrative

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Slavery in America has existed since the early colonization of the now eastern continental United States. Every part of the original colonies, in some way or form, contributed to this villainous trade. Whether by the physical exchanging of slaves or the forceful enslavement thereof; it makes no difference. The country was willing to continue the practice in the name of profit yet boast about men being created equal in the newfound republic. In due time, the stain of slavery will be put into question through the eventual war that would settle the matter permanently. Until then, Frederick Douglass’ account of his experiences within slavery only add more justification for its abolishment. His purpose was not only to detail the horrors he experienced, but also bring to light the hypocrisy between Christianity in the United States as well as the morals of those involved in the slave trade.

Firstly, the horrors of slavery must be mentioned. One of the reasons why slavery continued for centuries is because of certain laws regarding the status of slave children. The children of enslaved women follow the status of their mother which satisfies both pleasure for the enslaver as well as profit for future slaving endeavors. (Douglass, 16) The rationale behind this certain practice is quite disturbing. Not only are slave owners raping their slaves for personal satisfaction but are impregnating them in hopes to bring about a new, free slave. Free being a slave at no cost but of the pregnancy of the female victim. Depressingly, this new slave is also the child of their father; a free, white man who knowingly created this life for them to work for his personal gain. The father is both the parent as well as the master of his own slaves.

Next, the brutality of slavery. Slavery is all about control and slave owners would use fear and intimidation to keep their “property” in line. At times it would be whipping and lashing as a warning for slaves, but unfortunately slaveowners would go further by outright killing slaves to prove a point. These slaveowners have this justification by the early laws written in October 1669. This act, ACT 1, states,” If any slave resist his master (or other by his masters order correcting him) and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted ffelony.” (“Virginia Slave Laws”, 2) With this law enacted, any and all slaveowners could end a life if they so desired, for any reason at all. Mr. Gore gave three warnings to Demby and with no added warning, shot Demby in the face, killing him. (Douglass, 29) These slaveowners had no remorse and were completely willing to get rid of a human life by killing them as if they were not human at all.

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Equally important is the matter of education of slaves. Amazingly, Frederick Douglass managed to get by and learn how to read and write from his time in Baltimore without being caught. That is a blessing because if he were to get caught, he would “at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.” (Douglass, 37) For slaveowners, having educated and enlightened slaves would only lead to rebellion and disaster. By removing any form of education for the enslaved, slaveowners would not need to worry about slaves learning the reality of their situation and the dehumanizing aspects of slavery. With no education, slaves are stuck inside a bubble of the cruel world of slavery.

With all this in mind, Frederick Douglass was adamant on his stance on Christianity in the United States. In his experiences within slavery, Frederick found that the more religious a slaveowner was, the more egregious their character. As an example, Captain Auld in Mr. Douglass’ narrative was known to be heinous, but not as firm in his commands as others. (Douglass, 50) However, Captain Auld went to a Methodist meeting one day and was converted. (Douglass, 50) This only deepened his cruelty and used his version of Christianity as justification for his crimes. As evidence, Captain Auld would quote biblical texts such as “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes” while whipping a slave. (Douglass, 52) By using the Bible as justification, people like Mr. Auld find justice in their behavior. Additionally, this creates a skewed interpretation of what Christianity meant for slaves. For the most part, the majority may have accepted their situation as if it were indeed God’s will for them to exist the way that they are. Realistically, they knew no better because the were raised in a system for them not know the truths of the world. Luckily, Frederick Douglass witnessed and read about the inconsistencies between Christianity and Southern slavery while growing up and solidified his opinion on the matter. “Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.” (Douglass, 93) What Mr. Douglass is eluding to is the actuality of the state of Christianity in America. All Americans were to believe that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” yet allow the wicked practice of enslavement to continue within the nation. As Frederick Douglass put it, “They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Douglass, 96) The hypocrisy and inaction of the American people would only increase tensions between those who slave and those that do not.

In conjunction with what has been said, both the North and the South had very different outlooks on matters of social reforms in the antebellum. These differing viewpoints only highlight the further hypocrisy in the South. The North were largely incredibly proactive in the movements for social reform. Some include temperance, women’s suffrage, and the one still in its infancy, abolition. Abolition may not have had the largest following of supporters in the North early on, but the fact that Northerners were considering pushing for this movement with the support of a man, Frederick Douglass, only clearly shows that the North was aware of it’s societal problems and were willing to correct them. This would put pressure on the South to reconstruct their views on the institution of slavery. Sadly, the South would try to spin the narrative to show how “positive” the practice of slavery is for not only the South, but for the rest of the nation. The peoples of western Europe and those of the North would starve form the lack of cheaper products produced by slavery. (Fitzhugh, “Blessings of Slavery”, 358) Mr. Fitzhugh argues that if slavery would to be removed, the economies of the US and Europe would struggle with inflated prices from the lack of cheaper alternatives from slavery. Not surprisingly, religion is also used by southern slaveowners to defend their stance. “Human and divine authority do seem in the general to concur, in establishing the expediency of having masters and slaves of different races.” (Fitzhugh, “Blessings of Slavery”, 357) With this said, Southerners can harness the Bible as a sense of power to continue the practice. Plus, this evidence shows concrete proof that slavers are using racial supremacy language to add to their argument. In short, the South were resolute on their stance and were willing to defend their way of life by any means possible.

The debate over slavery is a long and bloody one. For centuries the original colonies utilized slavery as a way of life to make an income without any regards to those who worked tirelessly their whole lives. Overtime, the consciousness of the nation would put the practice of slavery into question and recognize the hypocrisy between it and the founding principles of the United States. With the help of Frederick Douglass, the nation became aware and the people of the United States of America would no longer accept the problem at their doorstep. The nation would fight to ensure that all of mankind can experience what it means to truly be an American. One that is free and equal where all can take advantage of the American dream that our forefathers fought to obtain.

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The Reasoning Behind Frederick Douglass’ Personal Narrative. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“The Reasoning Behind Frederick Douglass’ Personal Narrative.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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