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Nationalism In Frederick Douglass’s Memoir “The Life and Times”

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass is an autobiographic narrative and a classic American literary work that tells a slave’s journey to freedom. Frederick Douglass became President Lincoln’s adviser and U.S. diplomatic representative to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The memoir recounts Douglass’s birth, escape from slavery, and ascension to appointments in governmental positions. Ultimately, Douglass’s memoir portrays his struggles and achievements as he sought to express himself freely. Its first part provides an account of Douglass’s early life in slavery, while the second part explains his escape from enslavement and life in freedom. The autobiography’s final part reports his later life and history until death.1 Douglass’s autobiography raises the question of whether he was a nationalist and the meaning of America’s nationalism. It is crucial to explore the concept of nationalism based on Frederick Douglass’s achievements and struggles, such as suffrage, commitment to abolish enslavement, and Negroes’ rights.

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Women’s And African American Men’s Suffrage

Douglass argued that white and black women and African American men should vote freely in the elections. He was interested in party politics and expressed his support for every citizen’s equal rights in regards to voting. Douglass advocated for the development of a nation that respected the rights of all persons. As a result, he encouraged suffrage of all people that were not involved in voting. Although Douglass knew that most blacks suffered due to slavery’s inhumaneness, he still engaged in a universal fight for voting rights. Douglass did not want to derail efforts towards suffrage of black males to tackle the problem of voting for women.2 As a result, he thought it was best to advocate for the protection of black Americans and continue fighting for the suffrage of white and black women.

In addition, Douglass opposed the fifteenth amendment because unless all people were granted voting rights, they would continue living in unfavorable conditions. Douglass argued that to better the conditions of the freedman, he “should cease to be merely a freedman and should become a citizen.”3 He insisted that women and black men with no voting rights were unsafe and should be given liberty to “have the ballot.”4 Furthermore, Douglass affirmed that all classes of people depend on voting to flourish and live in the United States. Therefore, Douglass felt compelled to fight for the elections to involve everyone regardless of gender and race. He envisioned a government form where civil rights such as voting were obtained, maintained, and enjoyed freely by people of all classes.5 Although the women’s and black men’s suffrage was opposed on many grounds, Douglass’s intent to influence voting for all persons is patriotic and an act of nationalism.

Commitment To Abolish Slavery and The Mandate of Natural Law

Douglass’s desire to foresee the end of enslavement portray depicts him as a nationalist. He argued that slavery was cruel, ungodly, and immoral. For instance, Douglass reported that he “worked like a beast and flogged into submission.”6 Furthermore, Douglass argued that his slave masters denied his hard earnings and sent him to prison. Generally, all slaves, including Douglass, were traded for sale, whipped, and forbidden to acquire higher education. Such acts show that slavery is indeed inhumane and immoral. People who argued that slaves were irresponsible and dependent on others were hypocritical. Slaves had their education banned, but their slave masters still wanted to profit from the skills of the enslaved. As a result, Douglass that slavery supporters often found fault with the slaves because of their guilty conscience.7 He affirmed that blacks were rational and responsible and mocked the hypocrisy of slavery’s apologists.

Douglass further argued that slaves should enjoy the natural rights mandated by the natural law of the United States because they were human. Slavery brutalized men and turned them into helpless servants. In addition to its inhumanness, Douglass argued that slavery was a contradiction to the law of God. Slavery was not consistent with the American ideals indicated in the country’s founding documents. Based on natural law and manifest destiny ideas, Douglass affirmed that slavery did not resonate with the moral, historical, social, economic, and political America, showing the nation’s wrong side of history.8 By openly condemning slavery for its cruelty and injustice, Douglass showed concern for U.S. interests, showing his spirit of nationalism.

Negroes’ Government Representation, Property, And Labor Rights

Douglass actively contributed to the various issues affecting Negroes, such as property and labor rights and government representation. Negroes were not allowed to own properties, and they were largely excluded from politics and religion. Douglass says, “for all the people were the property of one man, and they could themselves own no property.”9 Furthermore, most slaves were exploited in terms of their labor services as the pay was unattractive. Douglass argued that the South should “abandon the system of mortgage labor and cease to make the Negro a pauper, by paying him dishonest script for his honest labor.”10 Douglass played a crucial role in the labor movement of slaves. In addition, he campaigned for inclusion and equity in the provision of education for all poor people.11 He affirmed that the national government could unite the American people by providing the benefits of common-school education to create an excellent education system.

Furthermore, Douglass fought for the inclusion of Negroes in government positions. The United States had become interested in Negroes’ rights after President Benjamin Harrison took office. Douglass’s interest and concern for Negroes’ welfare and rights caused exposure to Negroes, making the appointment of few Negroes, such as Clifton Wharton, to diplomatic positions easy. Douglass argued that “in recent years, the United States has appointed a few Negro diplomats to non-colored nations.”12 Although President Garfield intended to send some people of color as diplomats in foreign nations, he never lived long enough to implement his ideas. The active participation of Douglass in Negroes’ labor and property rights as well as government representation shows his nationalistic side.

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Egypt Visit and Role as A Haitian Minister Resident

Douglass’s visit to Europe and Egypt and his role as a diplomat in Haiti show his nationalistic nature. Douglass recounted that Egypt was an expansive place filled with loneliness and quietness. However, Douglass argued that he had “the habit of carrying the burdens on the head”13 during the journey while feeling inferior like fellow Negroes. To his surprise, in Egypt, Douglass felt proud that he could be recognized as a U.S. citizen without questioning his color or identity. Douglass visited many places such as the Nile, which reaffirmed his American identity.14 The feeling of pride in one’s country is nationalism, and it is depicted in his joy when he can travel without the worry of being black.

Following the appointment of Douglass as a diplomatic representative to Haiti, he assumed roles to work for U.S. interests. Americans were constantly prejudiced against Haitian people, and Douglass’s appointment was seen as an attempt to send a person who could resonate with the Haitian people. Douglass fulfilled all his duties as a U.S. liaison to Haiti despite criticisms and prejudice from the media. Although he got the minister resident’s position to sympathize with the Haitian people, he was not ashamed of the responsibility nor neglected his official duties.15 Acting in the best interests of the United States despite pressure from the media is an act of nationalism.

Nationalism Is Advocating for The Best U.S. Interests

From Douglass’s autobiography, nationalism means identification with a person’s country and supporting its interests. The concept of nationalism indicates that a person is patriotic and feels proud about his American identity. Therefore, if U.S. citizens are nationalists, they are inclined to support causes that benefit their country. For instance, despite constant pressure, Douglass argued for the inclusion of women and black men in voting.16 Douglass knew that lack of representation in voting showed that only certain classes of people could decide who to elect, which was not suitable for the United States.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is critical to review nationalism in the context of Frederick Douglass’s struggles and achievements, such as suffrage, labor and property rights, and diplomatic duties. It is hard to imagine a single man influencing the society of his time like Douglass. Douglass was interested in multiple causes like fighting to abolish enslavement due to its cruelty. Furthermore, Douglass advocated for the rights of Negroes and was proud to travel the world with no questioning. Douglass’s autobiography depicts nationalism as supporting a country’s interests. Douglass’s life is criticized for many reasons; however, such polemic should not hide his good deeds.

Bibliography

Douglass, Frederick, and Rayford Logan. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Courier Corporation, 2003.

Footnotes

  1. Frederick Douglass and Rayford Logan, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Boston: Courier Corporation, 2003), 7.
  2. Douglass and Logan, The Life of Frederick Douglass, 350.
  3. Douglass and Logan, 351.
  4. Douglass and Logan, 351.
  5. Douglass and Logan, 352.
  6. Douglass and Logan, 409.
  7. Douglass and Logan, 424.
  8. Douglass and Logan, 276.
  9. Douglass and Logan, 40.
  10. Douglass and Logan, 13.
  11. Douglass and Logan, 12.
  12. Douglass and Logan, 13.
  13. Douglass and Logan, 521.
  14. Douglass and Logan, 536.
  15. Douglass and Logan, 557.
  16. Douglass and Logan, 352.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Nationalism In Frederick Douglass’s Memoir “The Life and Times”." November 1, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/nationalism-in-frederick-douglasss-memoir-the-life-and-times/.

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