Essay: Thoreau, Stowe, Melville and Douglas

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[. . .] As a child Douglass saw these beatings often, and the memory would stick with him throughout his life. As a young boy he was sent to Baltimore to be a house servant, where he learned to read and write with the assistance of his master's wife. He escaped from slavery in 1838 and went to New York City, where he married Anna Murray, a free colored woman whom he had met in Baltimore and soon changed his name to Frederick Douglass. In 1841 he addressed a convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Nantucket and so greatly impressed the group that they immediately employed him as an agent. His oratory skills were so impressive that many doubted if he had ever been a slave. In response he wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845. He went on to write two more autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom in1855 and Life and Times of Fredrick Douglass in 1881.


Each of these authors makes a solid case against slavery. Thoreau, Stowe and Melville all point out the social and moral injustices of the institution. Stowe's work in particular had a widespread effect on bringing the matter to the forefront of the American conscience. However, I feel Douglass makes the most compelling anti-slavery argument.

The story of his rise to prominence is remarkable and inspiring for many reasons. The obstacles he was able surmount, slavery, illiteracy, prejudice and the rest serve as a testament to the fortitude of the man. Furthermore, Douglass more than the others actively participated in bring an end to slavery. During the Civil war, while the North was fighting to preserve the Union, the South was fighting for the right to secede and establish a nation that guaranteed a person's right to own slaves. Douglass saw the war was a battle to end slavery. Douglass set two goals for the Union, emancipation for all slaves in the Confederacy and the Union Border States, and the right of blacks to enlist in the armies of the North. Toward these ends he traveled on the lecture circuit calling for Lincoln to grant slaves their freedom. Douglass insisted in his speeches and newspaper editorials that the aim of the war must be to abolish slavery and that blacks must be allowed to join in the battle for their freedom.

In the summer of 1862 Lincoln decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass next turned his attention to the struggle of blacks to be allowed to fight for their freedom. In 1863, Congress authorized black enlistment in the Union army. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment was the first black unit to be formed and the governor of the state asked Douglass to help in the recruitment. Douglass agreed and wrote an editorial that was published in the local newspapers. Douglass's recruitment speeches promised black soldiers equality in the Union Army. However, they were paid 1/2 of what the white soldiers received and were given inferior weapons and inadequate training. Blacks were not allowed to become officers. Furthermore, black soldiers who were captured by Confederate troops were often shot. Douglass stopped his recruitment efforts when he learned of these conditions, published his complaints, and then requested to meet with the president. His request was granted in the summer of 1863 and Douglass expressed his concerns about the way black soldiers were being treated by Union officers and Confederate captors. President Lincoln did give Douglass some encouragement that changes might be made in the future. Although Douglass was not entirely satisfied with Lincoln's response, he decided to begin recruiting again. More than 200,000 blacks enlisted in the Union army and 38,000 were killed or wounded in Civil War battles. Comprising about 10% of the North's troops, the black soldiers made their numbers felt on the battlefields and distinguished themselves in many engagements. Douglass lived under the whip and overcame; his whole life was a powerful statement against slavery and bigotry.

Works Cited

Douglass, Fredrick. Douglass: Autobiographies. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty, Vol. 2, 3rd Ed. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print

Melville, Herman. "Benito Cereno." The American Short Story. Thomas K. Parkes (ed.). New York: Budget Books Inc., 1994. Print.

Stowe, Harriet Beacher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Thoreau, Stowe, Melville and Douglas.  (2012, November 9).  Retrieved May 21, 2019, from

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"Thoreau, Stowe, Melville and Douglas."  November 9, 2012.  Accessed May 21, 2019.