FREDERICK DOUGLASS had created a new world for himself and— though he may not have realized it—for Anna. He had lifted the smothering rug that frustrated his rage about slavery; now he breathed the fiery air of a great opportunity. As a speaker for the antislavery cause, as a witness for freedom's truth, he had something to do, something important. He would go wherever he would be listened to, wherever he was sent. He would commit himself totally to persuading America to expunge an evil he knew first hand.
But it was not quite as simple as talking from experience about what was wrong with slavery. Abolitionists, excoriating slaveholders, accused them of having made brutes of their slaves, and as if believing their own rhetoric, they required that Douglass exemplify the possibility of redemption from an animal state. "It is recorded in holy writ that a beast once spoke," said Garrison soon after Nantucket. Douglass had to be the creature made human, the chattel turned person, the delivered bondsman incarnate. People had to not only hear and see him, but—almost—feel him; he had to make his wounds bleed: "Yes, my blood has sprung out as the lash embedded itself in my flesh." And never could he appear less than totally noble.
This was a lot of christological weight for a young man from Talbot County to carry, but more than willingly, Douglass shouldered it. And neither he nor his fellow Anti-Slavery Society holy warriors had enough taste for blasphemy, or enough sense of humor, to recognize what they had brought forth. For the whole of his life, Douglass would have to appear as a man more admirable than other men.