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Frederick Douglass: From Slave to Leader - ABOLITIONIST LITERATURE

 

Detail from a larger illustration - "A Slave Father Sold Away from His Family" - published in The Child's Anti-Slavery Book: Containing a Few Words about American Slave Children ... (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1859).  Image online, courtesy Library of Congress.

 

Both sides (for and against slavery) used the Bible to justify divergent positions. The Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention (held in Philadelphia on December 4, 1833) includes many Biblical quotes (from the King James Version), urging resistance to government-sanctioned slavery. For example:

He that stealeth a man, and selleth him...shall surely be put to death (Exodus 21 verse 16.)

Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose, in one of thy gates where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him. (Deuteronomy 23 verses 15 and 16.)

The American Anti-Slavery Society also produced The Slave's Friend, a monthly pamphlet of abolitionist poems, songs, and stories for children. Reading it, children learned about the evils of slavery.

In one 1836 issue (Volume II, page 3), the coffle-yoke (used to chain slaves together) is the springboard for a discussion between a white girl and her father. Shocked that people were actually treated thus, Ellen says:

I will never boast of our liberty while there is a slave in this land.

Abolitionist opponents published their own pamphlets, urging Americans to support the rights of slave holders and slave states. An 1837 handbill illustrates the depth of pro-slavery feelings:

An abolitionist, of the most revolting character is among you, exciting the feelings of the North against the South. A seditious Lecture is to be delivered THIS EVENING, at 7 o’clock, at the Presbyterian Church in Cannon-street. You are requested to attend and unite in putting down and silencing by peaceable means this tool of evil and fanaticism. Let the rights of the States guaranteed by the Constitution be protected. The Union forever!

Abolitionist materials, aimed at women, often appealed to their sympathetic feelings - as fellow wives and mothers - for the plight of black women separated from their husbands or children.

The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book was intended to help children see the evils of slavery at an early age. It included ten illustrations, reinforcing the message that black children ought to have the same rights as white children, including:

Because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, escaped slaves who were caught in the North could be tried, convicted of running away, and returned to their Southern owners. Wendell Phillips, fiery orator and friend of Frederick Douglass, led an April 11, 1851 Boston protest regarding the city’s trial of Thomas Sims.

The agitation did little good. Federal marshals put Sims on a ship to Savannah after he lost the case. Barely off the boat in Georgia, Sims was publicly whipped.

By 1859, as this Susan B. Anthony speech indicates, four million African-Americans were in bondage. Frederick Douglass, now internationally famous, discussed their plight with his high-ranking friends, including Abraham Lincoln.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: May 21, 2015


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