Based on evidence from his Narrative, discuss how Frederick Douglass would have responded to the following claims by George Fitzhugh.Your answer should:
Introduce both authors.
Contextualize their ideas by incorporating what you have learned in the course so far.
Provide specific examples to back up your claims. Provide appropriate citations.
Be 3-5 paragraphs in length.
“The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care or labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, no more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with so much of license and abandon, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the gretest of human enjoyments. “Blessed be the man who invented sleep.” ‘Tis happiness in itself-and results from contentment in the present, and confident assurance of the future. We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so; for, whilst they sleep, the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploit them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty and not a single right. . . . “George Fitzhugh, “The Blessings of Slavery,” (1857)
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Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:
He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than
I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more
shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept
over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before
me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I
know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust,
however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would
much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in
country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.
The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly
sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to
speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence.
But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems
to free me from embarrassment.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave
plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in
getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me,
a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in
what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high
sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw
my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous
indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National
Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the
emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your
great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that
day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and
reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens,
that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a
mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for
individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you
are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of
childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much
needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is
met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at
the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her
existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give
direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the
reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its
prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great
streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may
sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and
fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury,
and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship.
They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as
ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind
but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the
sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.
Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about
this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British
subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not
then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English
Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home
government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the
exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints,
burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.
But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of
government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home
government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and
restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of
government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be
quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures
fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would
not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might
have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was
right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less
than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the
American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce
against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did
so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men.
To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the
oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others,
seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory
in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.
Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like
men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and
remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was
wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves
treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were
not the men to look back.
As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the
cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure.
The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of
the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the
unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red
Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.
The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the
lesson is wholly lost on our present ruler.
Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go
mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of
grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is
always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies
from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of
time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of
course, shocked and alarmed by it.
Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this
planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to
be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision
as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change!
Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.
These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably,
conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less
euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.
Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all
their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea
moved on, and the country with it.
On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease,
and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national
sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions,
drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds
and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought
to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British
Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and
ought to be, dissolved.”
Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the
fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly
celebrate this anniversary. 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.
From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy
billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks!
That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its
principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But,
besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent
of this republic an event of special attractiveness.
The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.
The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three
millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and
scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert
and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to
order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under
these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and
independence and triumphed.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of
the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great
enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time,
such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is
not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less
than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and
the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the
highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is
exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his
country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives,
their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of
liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage.
They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They
showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the
order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice,
liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the
memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood
stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the
politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and
stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and
set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their
cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to
heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they
were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the
fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious
patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep
the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur
Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with
demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the
breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp
on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the
ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons
are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and
multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast
continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest — a nation’s jubilee.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary.
Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them.
That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your
speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have
never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at
your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and
are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and
I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which
make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national
weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of
Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with
slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in
I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have
been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!
My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and
his cause is the ever-living now.
Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.
To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are
welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have
done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do
your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless
your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the
hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men
seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or
wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near
and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children
of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s
faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great
name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that
a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are
not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of
the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his
monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls
of men shout — “We have Washington to our father.” — Alas! that it should be so; yet so it
The evil that men do, lives after them, The good is oft-interred with their bones.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day?
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great
principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of
Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble
offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for
the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully
returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and
delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so
obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such
priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the
hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs?
I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man
leap as an hart.”
But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I
am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only
reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day,
rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity
and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight
that brought life and healing to you, has …
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