Frederick Douglass was a former slave who was a key figure in the abolition movement. Through his speeches and discussions, many people learned of the evils that surrounded slavery. Although he was a great speaker, his most influential tool in the fight for abolition would be his narrative he wrote. Through explanation of the horrors he experienced while shackled in slavery, many people came to join the fight against the abhorred practice. Douglass not only recounts his experiences and misfortunes, but also gives us insight into his thoughts on freedom and liberty, and how they evolved as he grew up in forced servitude. To properly share his thoughts on freedom and liberty, one must look at three different key points in his life. The first is when he was a child, raised on a plantation in Maryland and a home in Baltimore. The second is when he is capable of reading and writing, which covers a large time frame from when he first learns to when he is an adult teaching other slaves how to. The third is when he has escaped and learns how to live as a free man, this also entails when he is established as a proponent for abolition, attending many conventions to speak on the evils of slavery. With the telling of Douglass’ life at these key points, one can come to discover his view of freedom and liberty, and how it evolved as he did.
To start off this explanation, one must first look at Douglass’ origins. He was born into slavery from a slaved mother and white father, most likely a master. At the time, it was quite common for masters to rape female slaves, in turn producing more slaves to work the plantation. At his birth, Douglass was separated from his mother in order to avoid any maternal ties between the boy and the woman. Douglass grew up on the main slave farm out of three, which was seen as the best place to be. As a child he witnessed many horrors, be it the whipping of his Aunt who the master had sexual feelings for, or the death of his own mother at the age of seven. When his mother passed, Douglass felt the same emotion towards the death as he would towards a stranger. It is here where Douglass began to realize how and why his liberties were being rejected. In order to make the slaves function as pure workers, without ties, many slavers separated the families, taking away their basic liberty of maternal care. Douglass noticed this violation of personal freedom, but saw it as normal for slaves. While being raised, he was taught that blacks were an inferior race, born to be slaves. To him, this was just as natural as breathing. Douglass was soon sent to a house in Baltimore to be a personal slave. During his time there, he began to learn to read. The mistress of the estate had not had slaves before, so Douglass was new for her. As a result, he was initially greeted with kindness and taught the alphabet. When the master of the estate discovered this, he was outraged. He immediately put a stop to the lessons. At this point, another one of Douglass’ basic liberties was impeached. Unable to learn on his own, he saw how slaves were kept ignorant to teachings in the world that contradicted those that benefitted slavery as a practice. Masters wanted to stop the spread of any ideas against the practice of slavery. When revolts occurred, many times they were kept silent for fear of spreading confidence to other slaves, which could cause them to attempt to revolt as well, mentioned in American Negro Slave Revolts. As time progressed at the house, the mistress grew colder and crueler, showing how slavery will turn the nicest person into an emotionless monster. At this point in his life, Douglass saw freedom and liberty as something only the whites could obtain, something he was born without. It wasn’t until he could read that he began to question his beliefs.
When Douglass began to learn to read, his views of liberty and freedom changed along with his ideas of