Frederick Douglass (c. 1818 – 20 February 1895) was an African American abolitionist, orator, author, editor, reformer, women's rights advocate, and statesman who was born a slave as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.
- 1 Quotes
- 1.1 1840s
- 1.2 1850s
- 1.3 1860s
- 1.4 1880s
- 1.5 1890s
- 2 Misattributed
- 3 Quotes about Douglass
- 4 External links
- They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me…
- Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.
- Douglass' chosen motto for his weekly publication The North Star. It appeared on the first issue. As quoted in Maurice S. Lee (2009), The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass. Cambridge University Press, p. 50; Thomson, Conyers & Dawson (2009). The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 149; & Connie A. Miller. Frederick Douglass American Hero: And International Icon of the Nineteenth Century. Xlibris Corporation. p. 144
- I dwell mostly upon the religious aspects, because I believe it is the religious people who are to be relied upon in this Anti-Slavery movement. Do not misunderstand my railing—do not class me with those who despise religion—do not identify me with the infidel. I love the religion of Christianity—which cometh from above—which is a pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, and without hypocrisy. I love that religion which sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of those who have fallen among thieves.
By all the love I bear such a Christianity as this, I hate that of the Priest and the Levite, that with long-faced Phariseeism goes up to Jerusalem to worship and leaves the bruised and wounded to die. I despise that religion which can carry Bibles to the heathen on the other side of the globe and withhold them from the heathen on this side—which can talk about human rights yonder and traffic in human flesh here.... I love that which makes its votaries do to others as they would that others should do to them. I hope to see a revival of it—thank God it is revived. I see revivals of it in the absence of the other sort of revivals. I believe it to be confessed now, that there has not been a sensible man converted after the old sort of way, in the last five years.
- As quoted in The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass (2009), by Maurice S. Lee, Cambridge University Press, p. 68-69.
- The man who is right is a majority. We, who have God and conscience on our side, have a majority against the universe.
- I know there is a hope in religion; I know there is faith and I know there is prayer about religion and necessary to it, but God is most glorified when there is peace on earth and good will towards men
- As quoted in The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass (2009), by Maurice S. Lee, Cambridge University Press, p. 70.
- Your wickedness and cruelty committed in this respect on your fellow creatures, are greater than all the stripes you have laid upon my back or theirs. It is an outrage upon the soul, a war upon the immortal spirit, and one for which you must give account at the bar of our common Father and Creator.
- Letter to His Old Master. To my Old Master Thomas Auld.
- I knew that however bad the Republican party was, the Democratic party was much worse. The elements of which the Republican party was composed gave better ground for the ultimate hope of the success of the colored man's cause than those of the Democratic party.
- As quoted in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1941), chapter 47, p. 579.
- Men have their choice in this world. They can be angels, or they may be demons. In the apocalyptic vision, John describes a war in heaven. You have only to strip that vision of its gorgeous Oriental drapery, divest it of its shining and celestial ornaments, clothe it in the simple and familiar language of common sense, and you will have before you the eternal conﬂict between right and wrong, good and evil, liberty and slavery, truth and falsehood, the glorious light of love, and the appalling darkness of human selﬁshness and sin. The human heart is a seat of constant war… Just what takes place in individual human hearts, often takes place between nations, and between individuals of the same nation.
- As quoted in Maurice S. Lee (2009), The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass. Cambridge University Press, p. 50; Thomson, Conyers & Dawson (2009). The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 84
- His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light, his was as the burning sun. Mine was bounded by time. His stretched away to the silent shores of eternity. I could speak for the slave. John Brown could fight for the slave. I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for the slave.
- Regarding John Brown, as quoted in A Lecture On John Brown.
- Under his rule and inspiration we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves…battered to pieces…in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln…penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States.
- Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery.
- I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.
- Speech, "Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country", Syracuse, New York (September 24, 1847)
- Since the light of God’s truth beamed upon my mind, I have become a friend of that religion which teaches us to pray for our enemies — which, instead of shooting balls into their hearts, loves them. I would not hurt a hair of a slaveholder’s head. I will tell you what else I would not do. I would not stand around the slave with my bayonet pointed at his breast, in order to keep him in the power of the slaveholder.
- Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country (October 22, 1847), Delivered at Market Hall, New York City, New York.
- Vainly you talk about voting it down. When you have cast your millions of ballots, you have not reached the evil. It has fastened its root deep into the heart of the nation, and nothing but God’s truth and love can cleanse the land. We must change the moral sentiment.
- Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country (October 22, 1847), Delivered at Market Hall, New York City, New York.
- I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.
- Ch. 2
- Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.
- Ch. 2
- I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery. Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity. I have ever regarded it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many favors. I regarded the selection of myself as being somewhat remarkable. There were a number of slave children that might have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore. There were those younger, those older, and those of the same age. I was chosen from among them all, and was the first, last, and only choice.
I may be deemed superstitions, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise.
- Ch. 5
- Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read.
- Ch. 6
- The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.
- Ch. 7
- I was broken in body, soul and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!
- Ch. 10
- You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.
- Ch. 10
- My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.
- Ch. 10
- I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes - a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, — a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, — and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.
- Ch. 10
- To make a contented slave it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken the moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.
- Ch. 10
- Let us render the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the light by which he can trace the footprints of our flying brother.
- Ch. 11
- I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
- We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls! The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand.
Letter to William Lloyd Garrisson (1846)
- I am now about to take leave of the Emerald Isle, for Glasgow, Scotland. I have been here a little more than four months. Up to this time, I have given no direct expression of the views, feelings and opinions which I have formed, respecting the character and condition of the people in this land. I have refrained thus purposely. I wish to speak advisedly, and in order to do this, I have waited till I trust experience has brought my opinions to an intelligent maturity. I have been thus careful, not because I think what I may say will have much effect in shaping the opinions of the world, but because whatever of influence I may possess, whether little or much, I wish it to go in the right direction, and according to truth. I hardly need say that, in speaking of Ireland, I shall be influenced by prejudices in favor of America. I think my circumstances all forbid that. I have no end to serve, no creed to uphold, no government to defend; and as to nation, I belong to none. I have no protection at home, or resting-place abroad. The land of my birth welcomes me to her shores only as a slave, and spurns with contempt the idea of treating me differently. So that I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth.
- In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky — her grand old woods — her fertile fields — her beautiful rivers — her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery and wrong, — when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing.
- The truth is, the people here know nothing of the republican Negro hate prevalent in our glorious land. They measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the color of their skin. Whatever may be said of the aristocracies here, there is none based on the color of a man's skin.
- The ground which a colored man occupies in this country is, every inch of it, sternly disputed.
- Speech at the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting, New York City (May 1853)
- I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong.
- Lecture, The Anti-Slavery Movement (1855)
- In one point of view, we, the abolitionists and colored people, should meet [the Dred Scott] decision, unlooked for and monstrous as it appears, in a cheerful spirit. This very attempt to blot out forever the hopes of an enslaved people may be one necessary link in the chain of events preparatory to the downfall and complete overthrow of the whole slave system.
- We deem it a settled point that the destiny of the colored man is bound up with that of the white people of this country. … We are here, and here we are likely to be. To imagine that we shall ever be eradicated is absurd and ridiculous. We can be remodified, changed, assimilated, but never extinguished. We repeat, therefore, that we are here; and that this is our country; and the question for the philosophers and statesmen of the land ought to be, What principles should dictate the policy of the action toward us? We shall neither die out, nor be driven out; but shall go with this people, either as a testimony against them, or as an evidence in their favor throughout their generations.
- Essay in North Star (November 1858); as quoted in Faces at the Bottom of the Well : The Permanence of Racism (1992) by Derrick Bell, p. 40.
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (1852)
- Speech, Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York (5 July 1852). Full text at Wikisource.
- The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation's history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
- This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
- I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave's point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;" I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
- At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
- What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
- You profess to believe "that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth," and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you "hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, "is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose," a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.
My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
- I say nothing of father, for he is shrouded in a mystery I have never been able to penetrate. Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation.
- Chapter 3: Parentage
- I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South — as I have observed it and proved it — is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes; a justifier of the most appalling barbarity; a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds; and a dark shelter, under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal abominations fester and flourish. Were I again to be reduced to the condition of A slave, next to that calamity, I should regard the fact of being the slave of a religious slaveholder, the greatest that could befall me.
- ch. 18: New Relations and Duties
- The slave is a man, "the image of God," but "a little lower than the angels;" possessing a soul, eternal and indestructible; capable of endless happiness, or immeasurable woe; a creature of hopes and fears, of affections and passions, of joys and sorrows, and he is endowed with those mysterious powers by which man soars above the things of time and sense, and grasps, with undying tenacity, the elevating and sublimely glorious idea of a God. It is such a being that is smitten and blasted. The first work of slavery is to mar and deface those characteristics of its victims which distinguish men from things, and persons from property. Its first aim is to destroy all sense of high moral and religious responsibility. It reduces man to a mere machine. It cuts him off from his Maker, it hides from him the laws of God, and leaves him to grope his way from time to eternity in the dark, under the arbitrary and despotic control of a frail, depraved, and sinful fellow-man. As the serpent-charmer of India is compelled to extract the deadly teeth of his venomous prey before he is able to handle him with impunity, so the slaveholder must strike down the conscience of the slave before he can obtain the entire mastery over his victim.
- The Nature of Slavery. Extract from a Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester, December 1, 1850
- While this nation is guilty of the enslavement of three millions of innocent men and women, it is as idle to think of having a sound and lasting peace, as it is to think there is no God to take cognizance of the affairs of men. There can be no peace to the wicked while slavery continues in the land. It will be condemned; and while it is condemned there will be agitation. Nature must cease to be nature; men must become monsters; humanity must be transformed; Christianity must be exterminated; all ideas of justice and the laws of eternal goodness must be utterly blotted out from the human soul—ere a system so foul and infernal can escape condemnation, or this guilty republic can have a sound, enduring peace.
- The Nature of Slavery. Extract from a Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester, December 1, 1850
- I have shown that slavery is wicked—wicked, in that it violates the great law of liberty, written on every human heart—wicked, in that it violates the first command of the decalogue—wicked, in that it fosters the most disgusting licentiousness—wicked, in that it mars and defaces the image of God by cruel and barbarous inflictions—wicked, in that it contravenes the laws of eternal justice, and tramples in the dust all the humane and heavenly precepts of the New Testament.
- Inhumanity of Slavery. Extract from A Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester. December 8, 1850
- Old as the everlasting hills; immovable as the throne of God; and certain as the purposes of eternal power, against all hinderances, and against all delays, and despite all the mutations of human instrumentalities, it is the faith of my soul, that this anti-slavery cause will triumph.
- The Anti-Slavery Movement. Extracts from a Lecture before Various. Anti-Slavery Bodies, in the Winter of 1855.
West India Emancipation (1857)
- 'An address on West India Emancipation (3 August 1857), according to Frederick Douglass : Selected Speeches and Writings, p. vi ; other sources give 4 August 1857. Other citation source: Frederick Douglass, West India Emancipation Speech, Delivered at Canandaigua, New York (Aug. 4, 1857), in 2 The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass 437 (Philip S. Foner ed., 1950).
- The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. [...] Men might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.
- The American people and the Government at Washington may refuse to recognize it for a time but the inexorable logic of events will force it upon them in the end; that the war now being waged in this land is a war for and against slavery.
- On the American Civil War (1861); as quoted in Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry, by Richard A. Long.
- The destiny of the colored American … is the destiny of America.
- Speech at the Emancipation League (12 February 1862), Boston.
- More than twenty years of unswerving devotion to our common cause may give me some humble claim to be trusted at this momentous crisis. I will not argue. To do so implies hesitation and doubt, and you do not hesitate. You do not doubt. The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the place of common equality with all other varieties of men.
- Men of Color, To Arms! (21 March 1863)
- The relation between the white and colored people of this country is the great, paramount, imperative, and all-commanding question for this age and nation to solve.
- Speech at the Church of the Puritans, New York City (May 1863).
- Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.
- Speech, "Should the Negro Enlist in the Union Army?", National Hall, Philadelphia (6 July 1863); published in Douglass' Monthly, August 1863
- In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us... I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don't disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot box, let him alone, don't disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, — your interference is doing him positive injury.
- I assure you, that this inestimable memento of his Excellency will be retained in my possession while I live — an object of sacred interest — a token not merely of the kind consideration in which I have reason to know that the President was pleased to hold me personally, but as an indication of his humane interest in the welfare of my whole race.
- Letter to Mary Todd Lincoln (17 August 1865).
- A man's rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.
- Speech (15 November 1867).
- Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day — you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt " God bless you " has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown — of sacred memory — I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
- Letter to Harriet Tubman (29 August 1868), as quoted in Harriet, the Moses of Her People (1886) by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, p. 135.
- James A. Garfield must be our President. I know. Colored man, he is right on our questions, take my word for it. He is a typical American all over. He has shown us how man in the humblest circumstances can grapple with man, rise, and win. He has come from obscurity to fame, and we'll make him more famous. Has burst up through the incrustations that surround the poor, and has shown us how it is possible for an American to rise. He has built the road over which he traveled. He has buffeted the billows of adversity, and tonight, he swims in safety where Hancock, in despair, is going down.
- Meeting of Colored Citizens (25 October 1880), Cooper Institute, New York.
- His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine - it was as the burning sun to my taper light - mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.
- Regarding John Brown, address at the 14th anniversary of Storer College (30 May 1881).
- Despite of it all, the Negro remains … cool, strong, imperturbable, and cheerful.
- Speech on the twenty-first anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1883)
- In all the relations of life and death, we are met by the color line.
- Speech at the Convention of Colored Men, Louisville, Kentucky (24 September 1883).
- Social equality does not necessarily follow from civil equality, and yet for the purpose of a hell black and damning prejudice, our papers still insist that the Civil Rights Bill is a Bill to establish social equality. If it is a Bill for social equality, so is the Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men have equal rights; so is the Sermon on the Mount, so is the Golden Rule, that commands us to do to others as we would that others should do to us; so is the Apostolic teaching, that of one blood God has made all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth; so is the Constitution of the United States, and so are the laws and customs of every civilized country in the world; for no where, outside of the United States is any man denied civil rights on account of his color.
- Speech at the Civil Rights Mass-Meeting Held at Lincoln Hall (October 22, 1883), as quoted in The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).
- No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
- Speech at Civil Rights Mass Meeting, Washington, D.C. (22 October 1883)
- The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.
- Speech on the twenty-third anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1885)
- Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
- Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1886).
- "Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the uttermost, but it never failed…we were at times stunned, grieved, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled.
- About Abraham Lincoln, speech on the 21st anniversary of Lincoln's assassination (1886).
- Whatever the future may have in store for us, one thing is certain — this new revolution in human thought will never go backward. When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world. Such a truth is woman’s right to equal liberty with man. She was born with it. It was hers before she comprehended it. It is inscribed upon all the powers and faculties of her soul, and no custom, law, or usage can ever destroy it. Now that it has got fairly fixed in the minds of the few, it is bound to become fixed in the minds of the many, and be supported at last by a great cloud of witnesses, which no man can number and no power can withstand.
- Speech to the International Council of Women (31 March 1888).
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881)
- On this inauguration day, while waiting for the opening of the ceremonies, I made a discovery in regard to the vice president — Andrew Johnson. There are moments in the lives of most men, when the doors of their souls are open, and unconsciously to themselves, their true characters may be read by the observant eye. It was at such an instant I caught a glimpse of the real nature of this man, which all subsequent developments proved true. I was standing in the crowd by the side of Mrs. Thomas J. Dorsey, when Mr. Lincoln touched Mr. Johnson, and pointed me out to him. The first expression which came to his face, and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion. Seeing that I observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance; but it was too late; it was useless to close the door when all within had been seen. His first glance was the frown of the man, the second was the bland and sickly smile of the demagogue. I turned to Mrs. Dorsey and said, 'Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race.
- p. 355.
- It is not uncommon to charge slaves with great treachery toward each other, but I must say I never loved, esteemed, or confided in men more than I did in these. They were as true as steel, and no band of brothers could be more loving. There were no mean advantages taken of each other, as is sometimes the case where slaves are situated as we were, no tattling, no giving each other bad names to Mr. Freeland, and no elevating one at the expense of the other. We never undertook to do any thing of any importance which was likely to affect each other, without mutual consultation. We were generally a unit, and moved together. Thoughts and sentiments were exchanged between us which might well be called incendiary had they been known by our masters.
- The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), Part 1, Chapter 18: New Relations and Duties
- Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man — too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.
- The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), Part 2, Chapter 12: Hope for the Nation
- From the first I saw no chance of bettering the condition of the freedman until he should cease to be merely a freedman and should become a citizen.
- The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), Part 2, Chapter 13: Vast Changes
Quotes about Douglass
- If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the time the north shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that? It is not a supposable case. War will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth. We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa or Saint Domingo. Join the north and what will become of you? They will hate you and your institutions as much as they do now, and treat you accordingly. Suppose they elevate Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevate Fred Douglass, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.
- Those damned sons of bitches thought they had me in a trap! I know that damned Douglass; he's just like any nigger, and he would sooner cut a white man's throat than not.
- In contrast to the contemporary Black Americans, the Black Americans, in that era, were in solid support of the Republican Party. This was the party that fought the Northern and Southern Democrats to pass the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Although President Andrew Johnson tried to bamboozle Frederick Douglass to the Democrat side by making false or empty promises, he did not succeed. Douglass was no fool and was not going to let Johnson use him to gain the support of the Negroes in his effort to be 'elected' president. Frederick Douglass and other prominent Blacks threw their support to Ulysses S. Grant for president.
- If our moral duty is to come to the aid of victims of criminal assault, if we are able to do so, then the moral duty of northerners was to come to the aid immediately of enslaved human beings in the south, just as John Brown and Frederick Douglass originally thought. But if it was the duty of true abolitionists to take up arms, it would be perverse not to do so just because the political rationale at large was otherwise somewhat morally confused. Thus, even if other northerners fought to 'save the Union' rather than to free the slaves, that could have been accepted, as it was by Douglass, as sufficient for the commission of the proper purpose.
- Frederick Douglass, who had nearly been arrested as an accomplice of John Brown, and who was impatient with Lincoln at first, ended up in some awe at what was finally accomplished. Lincoln, in short, may simply have been a superb Machiavellian politician, using the necessary and sufficient means to achieving the good and just end. Lincoln freed the slaves and, by the way, saved the Union.
- Kelley L. Ross, as quoted in The Great Republic: Presidents and States of the United States (2012).
- Neither Hume nor Jefferson had the opportunity to meet a black man of the intelligence, education, self-taught!, and eloquence of Frederick Douglass. Lincoln did, and historical events made a difference in people's opinion in this respect. Where Hume may have appealed in vain, as he thought, for examples of black valor, in Lincoln's era the matter was settled on July 18, 1863, when the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first black unit raised in the North for the Union Army, assaulted Fort Wagner outside Charleston harbor. Other black units had been organized in the South from escaped slaves, and one had originally been raised in Louisiana by free blacks for the Confederate Army and then went over to the Union! This was a foolish frontal assault, common in the Civil War, that resulted in the regiment being shot to pieces and a great many of its men, including its white colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, the son of Abolitionists, killed.
- At one time Mr. Douglass was travelling in the state of Pennsylvania, and was forced, on account of his colour, to ride in the baggage-car, in spite of the fact that he had paid the same price for his passage that the other passengers had paid. When some of the white passengers went into the baggage-car to console Mr. Douglass, and one of them said to him: "I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner," Mr. Douglass straightened himself up on the box upon which he was sitting, and replied: "They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me…"
- Frederick Douglass at Project Gutenberg
- American Memory : Frederick Douglass at the Library of Congress
- Timeline of Frederick Douglass and family
- Frederick Douglas Papers
- Online Books Page (University of Pennsylvania)
- Fourth of July Speech
- Frederick Douglass NHS - Douglass' Life at the National Park Service
- Frederick Douglass - Western New York Suffragists
- Cultural Tourism DC - African American Heritage Trail
- Frederick Douglass and the term "Band of Brothers"
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass quotes analyzed; study guide and teaching resources