Fredrick Douglass was a leading spokesman for the abolition of slavery and racial equality. Through his work, Douglass changed how Americans thought about slavery, race, and democracy. However, it was not just what Douglass said but how he said it. Douglass gained notoriety for his amazing oratory skills.
Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Talbot County, Maryland on a plantation owned by Edward Lloyd in February of 1818. At the age of eight, Douglass was sent to live with Hugh Auld, a ship carpenter in Baltimore, Maryland. While living with Auld, Douglass began to learn to read and write. Douglass said that “going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity.” At age fifteen Douglass was sent back to Talbot County to work as a field hand. Three years later, on September 3, 1838, using a friend’s passport, Douglass boarded a train. He arrived in New York City the following day and declared himself a free man. To avoid being recaptured Douglass changed his name.
Soon after his escape Douglass settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts and began traveling around the state. Douglass spoke about his experiences with slavery and the need to destroy the practice. After William Lloyd Garrison, a prominent abolitionist heard Douglass speak; he invited him to join the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. This allowed Douglass to tour more of the North and speak against slavery. Audiences were so impressed with his speaking abilities that many started to doubt Douglass had ever been a slave. Douglass wrote The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to prove he was who he said he was. The book quickly became popular, which put Douglass in danger. To avoid being captured and sent back to the South, Douglass fled to England. While in England, Douglass continued to speak. British audiences were so impressed they raised enough money to buy Douglass’s freedom. After two years on the run Douglass was able to come back to the United States as a legally freed man.
Back in the United States Douglass settled near many other abolitionists in Rochester, New York and started printing a newspaper. Douglass’s paper, The Northern Star, focused on the injustice of slavery and racism while also inspiring hope in its readers. When the Civil War broke out, Douglass saw it as the necessary catalyst to end slavery. While too old to serve, Douglass recruited African Americans to fight for the Union Army. Douglass met with President Abraham Lincoln and advocated for African American troops.
After the Civil War, Douglass held many positions within the Washington, D.C. district government. He also became more active in the woman suffrage movement. In 1866, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony he founded the American Equal Rights Association. The organization demanded universal suffrage. At the Woman’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls in 1848, Douglass was one of thirty two men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments. This declaration hoped to gain civil, social, political, and religious rights for women. Douglass was also the only African American at the convention. He spoke during the convention about how women were born with their equal rights to men; “it was hers before she comprehended it. It is inscribed upon all the powers and facilities of her soul, and no custom, law or usage can ever destroy it.” Douglass continued working for the rights of women until his death in 1895.