Frederick Douglass has been the subject of a variety of excellent novels in recent decades. The spike in interest in publications on Douglass has united with books reevaluating the connection of slavery and the Constitution. At 2018, Princeton University historian, Sean Wilentz, published his bombshell No Property in Person: Slavery and Anti-Slavery at the country’s Founding and boldly challenged the reigning academic orthodoxy. Wilentz explained he had agreed with all the pro-slavery Constitution before the evidence compelled him to undo his views. More recently, one of the deans of abolitionism, James Oakes, composed The Crooked Trail to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution to carry Wilentz’s story up throughout the Civil War.
Perhaps then it isn’t surprising that this publishing milieu has witnessed the launch of a new book on Douglass and the anti-slavery Constitution: A Glorious Liberty. With this book, Reason magazine journalist Damon Root has contributed a short and readable volume aimed at a broad audience. While the book does not necessarily present much new info about Douglass, its sharp focus on his constitutional views will help enhance the interpretation of the Constitution within an anti-slavery document.
A Glorious Liberty opens marginally suddenly, focusing on the 1830’s with John Quincy Adams’ grand rhetorical and principled struggle against the infamous”gag rule” banning the talk of slavery in the House of Representatives. Adams’ constitutional understanding helped shape Douglass’ early perspective of the way the institution of slavery conflicted with American infantry principles.
Clients might be disappointed to receive a meager 3 webpages on Douglass’ history in captivity. While the book isn’t a full-scale biography, the lack is notable in totally grasping Douglass’ views. He’d experienced the brutality and dehumanization of a system which repeatedly jeopardized his personhood and broke his spirit. The story of how he hardly preserved his humankind through learning how to read, fighting against people who stripped away his penis, and finally escaping to freedom is central to comprehend why his constitutional views are finally so important. These aren’t biographical details to be treated gently.
Root devotes the first portion of the book to examining the famous story of Douglass’ connection with abolitionist and editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison was a prominent abolitionist lecturer who helped launch Douglass’ career as a public speaker. Audiences were shocked by the eloquence of the former slave who had been a strong orator and held them spellbound with his stirring personal account of the horrors of captivity.
Garrison was an abolitionist who demanded immediate and unconditional emancipation. His amazing radicalism drew at a committed group of enthusiastic followers. He didn’t merely see slavery as a contradiction or aberration in the American regime however adopted the view that the Constitution had been a pro-slavery document. In Garrison’s view, the American republic was thoroughly corrupt the Union must be instantly divided from the secession of the non-slaveholding northern nations.
Early on, Douglass adopted Garrison’s reading of the Constitution. His speeches from the mid-1840s are filled with references to the pro-slavery Constitution. He shared the message with audiences in Great Britain throughout a two-year speaking tour and at an anti-slavery conference in Syracuse, New York, ” he said,”The Constitution I was a radically and essentially slaveholding document.”
Garrison and Douglass started to ramble apart for personal and ideological reasons, until they eventually had a falling out. Douglass increasingly resented being constrained to only speaking about his experiences as a slave and wanted to comment on the institution and articulate his abolitionist views.
Douglass also devoted substantial effort to closely analyzing the documents of the American heritage and arrived to hold a unique political philosophy at odds with all the Garrisonian perspective. A number of people who had been advocating for its anti-slavery constitutional perspective influenced Douglass’ believing. Douglass imputed Lysander Spooner’s ” The Unconstitutionality of Slavery and William Goodell’s Perspectives of American Constitutional Law, in Its Bearing Upon American Slavery,in Addition to Liberty Party presidential candidate Gerrit Smith,together with shaping his views.
Douglass believed a few those anti-Garrisonian disagreements were particularly persuasive. He came to concur with the view that slavery was antithetical to some constitutional republic based on the rights evident in the principles in the Preamble and due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The establishment also didn’t locate any sanction in the Constitution, as constitutional protections for property couldn’t be taken to endorse slavery becausein Douglass’ studying, there was no”no property in person.” The principles of legal interpretation meant that any ambiguities needed to be construed to encourage justice. Thus, Douglass thought that slavery was immoral and illegal everywhere in the United States, along with the federal government may outlaw slavery anywhere. Garrison believed the anti-slavery Constitution perspective was”utterly foolish and preposterous.”
Other problems helped to distance Douglass farther from Garrison. Douglass rejected Garrison’s pacifism and non-participation in politics. The rivals also launched into personal animosity since Garrison brooked no heresy contrary to his positions and resented the competition Douglass’ North Star paper introduced to The Liberator. Ideological differences led to the decisive break in their friendship, and Garrison vilified Douglass because of his apostasy.
Root simply spends one particular page analyzing Douglass’ 1860 Glasgow address on the anti-slavery Constitution. In that address he stated that the text from the Constitution encouraged neither slavery nor any property in person. Instead, people who thought the captivity clauses of the record overtly encouraged the institution misinterpreted them. It is a shame the author didn’t dedicate a chapter to this seminal language and much more closely evaluate every one of the captivity clauses and why Douglass thought they supported his reading of the Constitution within an anti-slavery document. This has been a missed opportunity because the address was the very thorough analysis Douglass made from every one of those supposedly pro-slavery clauses of the Constitution. The address is that the clearest articulation of Douglass’ thoughts that are central to the purpose of the book.
The book was neatly summed up by Root statement that Douglass time and again”returned into the bedrock liberal principles enshrined in America’s founding documents.” Root compares Douglass’ perspective with that of a rising Abraham Lincoln in the late 1850s. The author sees much consistency at the thoughts of Douglass and Lincoln in 1860. Root emphasizes that both rejected a property in person in the Constitution, both adopted the thought that slavery was a moral evil which violated the principle of equality in the Declaration, which the federal authorities had the ability to prohibit slavery in the territories. However, Douglass believed that the principles of the Preamble and natural rights foundation of the Constitution was adequate authority for the federal government to end slavery in the countries where it already existed. Lincoln took a more nuanced view that only the constitutional war power may enable the executive to do this. That significant gap between the two which deserves a lot more attention than the short mention it receives in this book.
For Calhoun, slavery wasn’t a essential evil as it had been for the founders but instead a”positive good” along with a boon. The federal government had no power to end slavery anywhere, such as the lands and Washington, D.C. Any effort to do so would result in a slippery mountain of empowering the federal government to control or prohibit slavery where it already existed in the South.
Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that blacks weren’t citizens at the time of the Constitution and couldn’t become citizens.
Douglass welcomed the outbreak of the Civil War, which introduced an chance to manage a”death-blow into the creature evil of slavery.” The Emancipation Proclamation had a moral energy which made him joyful as he celebrated the”righteous decree.” He promised that the soldiers that the”musket means freedom.”
The chapter about the war offers interesting short overviews of how Lincoln’s anti-slavery Constitution views and presidential war powers resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation. The story of the significant events of the war will also be told in vivid detail, particularly for the all-black 54th Massachusetts regiment. But, Douglass curiously simply makes brief appearances along with his comprehension of the anti-slavery Constitution completely drops from the narrative.
The problem with all the Civil War chapter continues into the Reconstruction section. Douglass’ story is subsumed by larger–and compelling–events related to the struggle for its Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and other efforts at justice for freed guys. Equally striking and painful are the dreadful acts of violence and injustices dinosaurs suffered for decades after the Civil War.
Douglass fought for black suffrage, citizenship, and constitutional rights after the war. He had been outraged by many Supreme Court cases such as the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), controlling the use of the Fourteenth Amendment to the states, along with the Civil Rights Cases (1883), who held the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional because they limited the newly-won rights for black Americans. Root narrates Douglass’ famous debate with woman suffragettes within the Fifteenth Amendment granting the vote to blacks. Douglass needed all Americans to appreciate suffrage and equalityand was a very long-time advocate of women’s suffrage because the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. But he believed the polity must prioritize black male suffrage after the Civil War. An angry Elizabeth Cady Stanton countered that girls ought to be granted the vote before black and immigrant males, along with also her arguments were marred by racist and xenophobic slurs.
Root satisfactorily covers Douglass’ inherent and political responses to those events of the late nineteenth century.” But he neglects to grapple with Douglass’ oration about the memory of Abraham Lincoln at the ending of the Freedman’s Monument. Douglass’ profound reflections because address transcend even Lincoln and aim at understanding the character of the American regime and the place of black Americans in this program.
A Glorious Liberty is a good introduction to a significant subject of great significance today as Americans deliberate more than race and heritage principles. The book was neatly summed up by Root statement that Douglass time and again”returned into the bedrock liberal principles enshrined in America’s founding documents.” The race problem in this state could be solvedaccording to Douglass, by”no further afield the promises of justice.” Reflecting on Douglass’ life must help ensure that the public square does not escape his challenging claims.