Frederick Douglass’ Constitutional Bedrock

Frederick Douglass has been the subject of a variety of excellent publications in the past couple of years. The spike in interest in publications on Douglass has united with books reevaluating the connection of the Constitution. In 2018, Princeton University historian, Sean Wilentz, printed his bombshell No Home in Person: Slavery and Anti-Slavery at the country’s Founding and boldly challenged the reigning academic orthodoxy. Wilentz explained that he had agreed with the pro-slavery Constitution until the evidence compelled him to undo his perspectives. More recently, one of the deans of all abolitionism, James Oakes, wrote The Crooked Trail to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution to carry Wilentz’s narrative up through the Civil War.
Maybe then it is not surprising that this publishing milieu has seen the release of a new publication on Douglass and the anti-slavery Constitution: A Glorious Liberty. With this publication, Reason magazine writer Damon Root has contributed a brief and readable volume geared toward a broad audience. While the publication does not necessarily present new details on Douglass, its sharp focus on his inherent views will help popularize the interpretation of the Constitution as a anti-slavery document.
A Glorious Liberty opens marginally abruptly, focusing upon the 1830’s with John Quincy Adams’ grand rhetorical and principled fight against the notorious”gag rule” banning the discussion of slavery in the House of Representatives. Adams’ inherent understanding helped shape Douglass’ early view of the way the establishment of slavery conflicted with American republican principles.
Readers might be disappointed to find a meager three webpages on Douglass’ background in slavery. While the publication is not a full length biography, the lack is remarkable in fully grasping Douglass’ views. He’d experienced the brutality and dehumanization of a system that repeatedly jeopardized his personhood and broke his spirit. The narrative of how he hardly preserved his humankind through learning how to read, fighting against those who stripped away his penis, and finally escaping to freedom is fundamental to understand why his constitutional views are finally so significant. These are not biographical details to be treated lightly.
Garrison has been a prominent abolitionist lecturer who assisted establish Douglass’ profession as a public speaker.
Garrison has been an abolitionist who wanted immediate and unconditional emancipation. His uncompromising radicalism drew in a committed group of enthusiastic followers. He did not only see slavery as a contradiction or even aberration in the American regime however adopted the opinion that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document. In Garrison’s opinion, the American republic was thoroughly corrupt the Union ought to be immediately broken up from the secession of their non-slaveholding northern states.
Early on, Douglass adopted Garrison’s reading of the Constitution. His speeches by the mid-1840s are replete with references to the pro-slavery Constitution. He shared this message with audiences in Great Britain throughout a two-year talking tour and at an anti-slavery conference in Syracuse, New York, at which he explained,”The Constitution I hold to be a radically and basically slaveholding document”
Garrison and Douglass began to float apart for private and ideological reasons, till they eventually had a falling out. Douglass increasingly resented being restricted to merely talking about his experiences as a slave and wished to comment on the establishment and articulate his abolitionist views.
Douglass also devoted considerable effort to carefully analyzing the documents of the American founding and came back to hold a different political doctrine at odds with the Garrisonian view. Several individuals who had been advocating for the anti-slavery inherent view influenced Douglass’ thinking.
Douglass thought a couple of those anti-Garrisonian arguments were especially persuasive. He came to agree with the opinion that slavery has been antithetical to a constitutional republic founded on the rights evident in the fundamentals at the Preamble and due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The establishment also did not find any sanction in the Constitution, as constitutional protections for property could not be carried to endorse slavery because, in Douglass’ studying, there was”no property in person.” The rules of legal interpretation supposed that any ambiguities needed to be construed to support justice. Thus, Douglass thought that slavery was immoral and illegal everywhere in the United States, along with the national government may outlaw slavery anywhere. Garrison thought the anti-slavery Constitution view was”utterly foolish and ridiculous.”
Other problems helped to space Douglass farther from Garrison. Douglass refused Garrison’s pacifism and non-participation in politics. The rivals also launched into private animosity as Garrison brooked no heresy against his rankings and resented the competition Douglass’ North Star paper presented to The Liberator. Ideological differences caused the critical break in their friendship, and Garrison vilified Douglass for his apostasy.
Root merely spends one page examining Douglass’ 1860 Glasgow address on the anti-slavery Constitution. In that address he stated that the text of the Constitution encouraged neither slavery nor any property in person. Rather, people who believed the slavery clauses of the record overtly encouraged the establishment misinterpreted them. It’s a shame that the writer did not devote a chapter to the seminal speech and much more carefully assess each of the slavery clauses and why Douglass thought they affirmed his reading of the Constitution as an anti-slavery document. This is a missed opportunity since the address was the very thorough analysis Douglass made of each of those allegedly pro-slavery reports of the Constitution. The address is the clearest articulation of Douglass’ thoughts that are fundamental to the goal of the publication.
The book was neatly summed up by Root’s statement that Douglass again and again”returned into the bedrock liberal principles enshrined in America’s founding documents” Root compares Douglass’ view with that of a climbing Abraham Lincoln in the late 1850s. The writer sees much consistency in the thoughts of Douglass and Lincoln in 1860. Root emphasizes that both refused a property in guy in the Constitution, either embraced the concept that slavery was a moral evil that violated the principle of equality in the Declaration, and that the national government had the power to prohibit slavery in the territories. However, Douglass believed that the fundamentals of the Preamble and natural rights basis of the Constitution was adequate authority for the national government to end slavery in the countries where it already existed. Lincoln took a more nuanced opinion that only the inherent war power might permit the executive to do this. That significant gap between both that deserves a lot more attention than the brief mention it receives in this publication.
On the other hand, Root contrasts the views of Douglass with South Carolina senator John Calhoun. For Calhoun, slavery was not a essential evil as it was for the creators but rather a”positive good” along with also a blessing. The assertion that”all men are created equal” was untrue and a dangerous political error in Calhoun’s estimation. The national government had no power to end slavery anywhere, such as the territories and Washington, D.C. Any attempt to do so would result in a slippery mountain of enabling the federal government to regulate 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 could not become citizens.
Douglass recognized the outbreak of the Civil War, which presented an chance to manage a”death-blow into the creature evil of slavery.” The Emancipation Proclamation had a spiritual energy that made him joyous because he celebrated the”righteous decree.” He joined the war effort by acting as a recruiting agent for black soldiers. He promised the soldiers that the”musket means freedom.”
The chapter on the war offers intriguing brief overviews of how Lincoln’s anti-slavery Constitution views and presidential war powers resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation. The narrative of the major events of the war are also told in vivid detail, especially for the all-black 54th Massachusetts regiment. However, Douglass curiously simply makes brief appearances along with his comprehension of the anti-slavery Constitution completely falls out of the story.
The trouble with the Civil War chapter proceeds to the Reconstruction section. Douglass’ narrative is subsumed by larger–and persuasive –events associated with the battle for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and other attempts at justice for freed guys. Equally dramatic and distressing are the dreadful acts of violence and injustices dinosaurs suffered for decades following the Civil War.
Douglass fought for black suffrage, citizenship, and inherent rights following the war. He was outraged by many Supreme Court cases like the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), controlling the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to the nations, along with the Civil Rights Cases (1883), that held the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional since they restricted the newly-won rights for black Americans. Douglass wanted all Americans to appreciate suffrage and equality, and has been a very long-time advocate of women’s suffrage since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. However, he thought that the polity should prioritize black male suffrage following the Civil War. An angry Elizabeth Cady Stanton countered that girls should be granted the vote before black and immigrant males, along with her discussions were marred by racist and xenophobic slurs.
Root adequately covers Douglass’ political and constitutional responses to those events of the late nineteenth century. Douglass’ deep reflections in that address supports Lincoln and aim at understanding the character of the American regime and the location of black Americans in that program.
A Glorious Liberty is a solid introduction to an important subject of terrific relevance now as Americans deliberate over race and founding principles. The book was neatly summed up by Root’s statement that Douglass again and again”returned into the bedrock liberal principles enshrined in America’s founding documents” The race problem in this state could be solved, according to Douglass, by”no longer evading the promises of justice” Reflecting on Douglass’ life must help make sure the public square does not escape his hard claims.