ON 3 SEPTEMBER 1838 an unknown slave, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, escaped Maryland slavery. The twenty-year-old fugitive fled first to New York City and then to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he changed his last name to Douglass. Three years later, he emerged on the public platform as a Garrisonian abolitionist with an electrifying speech at Nantucket, Massachusetts. For the next fifty-four years he devoted his life to the cause of his people--agitating for an end to slavery before the Civil War, working to define war aims and to enlist black soldiers during the conflict, and continuing the struggle for equal rights after the war was over. From 1841 until his death in 1895, this formerly unknown slave earned a reputation as the most distinguished and celebrated African American leader and orator of the nineteenth century.1
From the beginning of his career as an abolitionist lecturer, Douglass committed himself to using the power of oratory to destroy the institution of slavery. From 1841 through 1845, he campaigned tirelessly through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Ohio, and Indiana. He spoke nearly every day--often several times a day--to audiences large and small in public parks, town squares, churches, schoolhouses, abandoned buildings, and lecture halls. He endured all the day-to-day hardships, loneliness, and physical demands faced by an itinerant abolitionist lecturer. He traveled by foot, horseback, railroad, stagecoach, and steamboat in an effort to vitalize local and county antislavery societies. Often braving bricks, rotten eggs, verbal attacks, racist remarks, and threats of physical assault, he at times risked his life speaking against the peculiar institution. Day and night he told listeners about his slave experiences and addressed such issues as the injustice of racial prejudice, the proslavery character of the clergy, the superiority of moral suasion over political action, and the proslavery nature of the U. S. Constitution. Undaunted by hostile and apathetic audiences, he ventured into hamlets where the rhetoric of abolitionism had never been preached.