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“The Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass” Autobiography Analysis


The Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass is an autobiography that draws attention to the struggle during the emancipation, civil rights, and citizenship of African Americans following the Civil War. Douglass’s autobiography leaves his childhood narrative unchanged, as described in earlier texts. The memoir describes enslavement and Douglass’s life after bondage. It is hard to imagine a more incredible story of personal advancement and determination than Douglass’s life.

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Douglass is famous and celebrated due to the courage and caliber of his job as an orator, memoirist, journalist, and activist. Because of his accomplishments, eloquence, desperate striving, and imagination, Douglass proves his nationalistic spirit. Nationalism refers to the attitudes that citizens of a country have when they care about identity as the nation’s members. Furthermore, nationalism can refer to actions taken by a nation’s members to achieve a political sovereignty form.1 Frederick Douglass is depicted as a nationalist because of his commitment to ending slavery, advocacy for civil rights, and concern for the government’s direction and actions.

The Desire and Commitment to End Slavery

The desire and commitment to end slavery shows Douglass’s nationalistic spirit. Douglass makes a vigorous argument against slavery to demonstrate that it is unjust, immoral, ungodly, unnatural, and cruel. Firstly, he rejects the claim that blacks are beasts and argues that slavery brutalizes them. Douglass shows the hypocrisy of apologists who prohibit the free action of slaves rebelling against their masters. In addition, American slaveholders banned blacks from accessing education and demanded to profit from their development and learning in skilled trades. Furthermore, apologists argued that slaves were incapable of responsible, independent behavior and bestial. On the other hand, slave masters promoted the Christianization of slaves but forbade religious gatherings. Douglass argued that the guilty knowledge affirmed such hypocrisy that blacks were bestial that they were human.2 Additionally, the wild accusations undermined the obvious humaneness of blacks through their brutalization and to the innocent whites affected by the wicked institution of slavery.

Secondly, Douglass argued that since blacks were humans, they were entitled to natural rights mandated in the constitution and recognized in the United States. In such a regard, Douglass affirms that slavery is an issue that undermined the natural rights of African Americans by brutalizing and subjugating them, which involved taking people and turning them into beasts against the will of God. Douglass cited interpretations from famous abolitionists and biblical passages to show how slavery contradicted the law of God. Douglass is a nationalist because he affirms that slavery does not resonate with the highest ideals of America’s founding principles.

In retrospect, slavery undermined the fundamental ideals of American history. In other words, America was wrong on the question of slavery. American slavery is not benevolent, as evidenced by Douglass’s experiences and other slaves’ encounters. Slavery had devastating effects on ordinary people as it brutalized blacks and subjected them to debilitating and murderous violence like rape.3 As a result, Douglass sought to end enslavement because of the nation’s interests.

Continued Interest in Public Affairs

Douglass’s continued interest in public affairs, such as Negroes’ civil rights, depicts his devotion to U.S. interests. In his autobiography, Douglass describes the active role he played in the protection of Negroes’ civil rights. As a result, the United States appointed several Negro representatives to non-colored countries. Douglass acknowledges that Garfield planned to handle the “so-called Negro problem” but expressed his profound regret regarding the death of Garfield, which hindered the President’s wise intentions to U.S. citizens. In addition, Douglass played a significant role in the early labor movement of Negroes.

For instance, Douglass affirms that the national government provides common-school education to poor students with extensive resources. Furthermore, Douglass urged the “South abandon the system of mortgage labor and cease to make the Negro a pauper, by paying him dishonest script for his honest labor.”4 Finally, Douglass declared that the land’s organic law must be honestly obeyed and sustained and the importance of political parties living up to their campaign declarations.

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Douglass’s Second Marriage

The nationalistic nature of Douglass is demonstrated through the account of his second marriage. After his first wife’s death, Douglass married a white woman and was criticized by blacks and whites for marrying Helena in 1884. Despite the reproaches from blacks and whites, President Cleveland never complained about the marriage. While whites were accepted to marry blacks, the idea of a black man marrying a white woman was shocking and ostracized by both blacks and whites. However, Cleveland ignored the foolish, inconsistent, and unjust accusations and treated Douglass with the respect accorded to his office in the District of Columbia.

In addition, President Cleveland invited Douglass and his wife to dine at his place despite their political differences. Furthermore, Douglass acknowledges that President Cleveland never treated him less courteous and cordial than other guests because of his marriage.5 Douglass sought to unite the nation and show that everyone should mingle and marry despite their color differences. Douglass’s autobiography helped to promote oneness and defy racial stereotypes in the best interests of the U.S.

Concern Towards the Administration’s Direction

Douglass’s concern towards the administration’s direction highlights his nationalistic thinking. After the demise of the 1879 reconstruction enforced by the federal government, Douglass became concerned about the company’s wrong direction. He described the increased weakness of the Republic Party, which permitted the nation to drift towards a much greater chasm of slavery. The death of Garfield allowed Chester Arthur to become president and failed to prevent the decline of the Republican Party.6 The party’s decline was caused by the neglect of opportunity, indifference, and self-indulgence of Arthur, who failed to solve President Hayes’ errors.

Criticism Of The 1883 Civil Rights Cases Ruling

Douglass severely criticized the U.S. supreme court for the ruling on the 1883 Civil Rights Cases, showing concern for U.S. interests. The controversial 1883 ruling held that Congress was not authorized to implement the Fourteen Amendment against individuals and private parties. The decision caused irreparable effects on African Americans. For instance, the Supreme Court reversed the government’s action, defeated the constitution’s manifest purpose, nullified the Fourteen Amendment, and placed itself as an epitome of persecution, proscription, and prejudice. To sum it up, the court had bent and twisted the law to benefit slave power. Douglass indicates that “when the black man’s arm was needed to defend the country, his rights were well considered.”7 The nation that blacks had served in the fight against adversaries had betrayed them.

Douglass’s Visit to Egypt and Role as A Haitian Minister Resident

Douglass’s visit to Egypt and his role as a Haitian minister resident depict him as a nationalist. Nationalism is a feeling of being loyal and proud of one’s country. He described Egypt as a lonely, quiet, and expansive place where he could be recognized as a citizen of the U.S. without being questioned. Douglass visits sites like the pyramids and the Nile, and such adventures reaffirm his American identity.8 When Douglass became a minister resident in Haiti, he strived his best to represent U.S. interests despite facing constant criticisms in the media. Douglass says that he was “charged with sympathy for Haiti. I am not ashamed of that charge, but no man can say with truth that my sympathy with Haiti stood between me and my honorable duty that I owed to the United States or to any citizen of the United States.”9 Douglass helped the United States to control the extension of its influence and power during slavery.

Nationalism Is Acting in The U.S. Best Interests

Nationalism indicates the Americans’ feeling of pride and desire to act in the U.S. best interests. Douglass felt proud of his American identity during his visit to Egypt and elated because he could walk around the world unquestioned due to his color. Douglass’s autobiography depicts a nationalist as an individual who uses his influence to champion issues that affect society. For example, Douglass campaigned against slavery and used his literary expertise to condemn enslavement through a first-hand account.10 Therefore, nationalism can be understood as doing something in the interest of one’s country and without self-gain.


In conclusion, it is essential to review Frederick Douglass’s nationalistic spirit regarding his commitment to end slavery, concern for the government’s direction and actions, and advocacy for civil rights. Nationalism in Douglass’s autobiography is shown through the instances Douglass championing for equality and slavery abolition. Furthermore, Douglass’s travels make him proud of his country. Douglass’s autobiography helped promote oneness and defy racial stereotypes in the best interests of the United States. Although Douglass’s life is not perfect, his nationalistic spirit is a crucial indicator of his achievements.

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


  1. Frederick Douglass and Rayford Logan, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Boston: Courier Corporation, 2003), 10.
  2. Douglass and Logan, The Life of Frederick Douglass, 32.
  3. Douglass and Logan, 352.
  4. Douglass and Logan, 13.
  5. Douglass and Logan, 633.
  6. Douglass and Logan, 497.
  7. Douglass and Logan, 659.
  8. Douglass and Logan, 713.
  9. Douglass and Logan, 557.
  10. Douglass and Logan, 15.

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