Frederick Douglass: Freedom's Voice, 1818-1845

By Gregory P. Lampe | Go to book overview

Epilogue

IN BRINGING HIS 1892 Life and Times of Frederick Douglass to a close, Frederick Douglass admitted to having lived "several lives in one: first, the life of slavery; secondly, the life of a fugitive from slavery; thirdly, the life of comparative freedom; fourthly, the life of conflict and battle; and fifthly, the life of victory, if not complete, at least assured." The first two stages of Douglass' life have been the focus of this study. As we have seen, his experiences as a slave and a fugitive contributed profoundly to his understanding of rhetoric and to his development as an orator and an abolitionist.

Douglass' long and arduous journey from slavery to freedom, from obscurity to prominence, began during his boyhood days in bondage. At an early age he was enticed by the power of language. In the slave quarters, he was immersed in the African oral traditions of secular storytelling and religious preaching. On the fields of the plantation he listened to and sang slave songs and spirituals. His understanding of the power of the spoken word was further advanced with the purchase of Caleb Bingham's The Columbian Orator. This collection of orations, poems, playlets, and dialogues gave him the words to meet proslavery arguments, provided him with detailed instructions on how to deliver a speech, inspired him to master the art of oratory as a means to end slavery, and fueled his desire to be free. He was most deeply affected by a "Dialogue Between a Master and Slave," which demonstrated a slave's ability to use rational argument to convince his master to release him from the bonds of slavery.

Soon after acquiring Bingham's book, Douglass underwent a religious awakening, which roused within him a sense of mission and purpose and fixed him on a course to become a preacher. Around the same time, he discovered that there were abolitionists in the North working to end slavery, and he immediately declared himself an abolitionist as well. For the rest of his days in bondage, Douglass pursued his interests in oratory, religion, and abolitionism. In meetings of the East Baltimore Mental Improvement

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