Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Black Man's Conservative Manifesto: Frederick Douglass

Many times one is asked to take historical literature and put it in a modern context in how it applies today. One could argue that, if alive today, Frederick Douglass would be a conservative, leaning toward more liberties and less government tyrannies. The fighting spirit and frustration that Frederick Douglass felt lives on today and is probably best summed up in his words:

“I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm (Douglass).”

There are many passionate American citizens who feel this way. They watch, read, and discuss politics with such passion and search for resolve in what they stand against.

When Douglass wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, he was “between twenty-seven and twenty-eight years old.” This was an estimate because he was never given the luxury that one might take for granted - knowing his birth date. It is interesting because his age is similar to many young Americans now who are making their names heard in society and the work force. Given the circumstances Douglass was dealt, he was still able to get on the path of productiveness at a similar age to other young adults in America back then.

An imposing question one could ask is: if Frederick Douglass was alive today he would resent the class-warfare that has spurred debates? In his narrative, he wrote about being a mulatto child of a slave owner and that “the master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves out of deference to the feelings of his white wife.” Now clearly this is in the context of selling children for slaves; but is there any validity that our current administration resents a certain class of people based on their family and social connections? President Obama’s preacher and mentor have made tirades towards America and white people in his sermons (Wright). Also, in President Obama’s book he stated “I knew as well that traveling down the road to self-respect my own white blood would never recede… (Obama)

Another modern correlation, and the only real way one could relate, may be with the paradox of having an unfit master. Where as one would not want to have a master at all but a master who is incompetent could be even worse. Frederick Douglass encountered a slave holder that he described as;

“His airs, words, and actions, were the airs, words, and actions of born slave-holders, and, being assumed, were awkward enough. He was not even a good imitator. He possessed all the disposition to deceive, but wanted the power. Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the copyist of many, and being such, he was forever the victim of inconsistency; and of consequence he was an object of contempt (Douglass).”

Many people feel this way about the current politicians and administration that has been inconsistent and poor imitators of a leader. The owner of Douglass marrying into the situation of owning slaves had similar inexperience to a senator who served barely a year in office becoming president.

Another source of Frederick Douglass’s contempt was the hypocrisy of the Southern slaveholders. They used religion as a platform and justification for many of the horrible things they did. Assuming that Frederick Douglass was true to his creed one would be hard impressed to imagine him approving of “In God We Trust” removed from silver dollar coins. Yes, people who lean to the left are religious, but conservation of religion is usually more of a right-wing stance.

Many Americans hoped that the President’s stance on being a Christian would make him more morally sensitive to religious issues. This is just like Frederick Douglass, who “hope(d) that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane (Douglass).” In both cases one could argue that there is not enough Christian conservatism to meet the liking of Frederick Douglass.

Many people feel that politicians marginalize minorities into categories and usually get frustrated when minorities step outside those lines. Recently the leader of the Black Chamber of Commerce spoke out against Senator Barbara Boxer and said “She loves poor black people in their place (Alford).” In comparison, Frederick Douglass spoke of his master’s ideology towards slaves when he said,

"If you teach that nigger [speaking of myself (Douglas)] how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy (Douglass)."

One could say this is a prime example of some politicians’ mindsets when they assume they know what is best for the people they represent. The marginalizing lies in that when a black person or Hispanic has more conservative ideals, they are often chastised and challenged by other minorities in their communities. In comparison, Alford was commenting on Senator Barbara Boxer’s attempt to pit NCAAP against the Black Chamber of Commerce and how it was like in the south white plantation owners would pit one black preacher against the other (Alford).

The comparisons go on and on because under a socialist country, which is where many believe the United States is headed, it needs its citizens to be reliant on the government to work properly, much as a slave owner needs the slaves to rely on him or her. There are many people that resist the tyranny that can take away certain liberties and freedoms. The quote from Douglass that says, “ In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress (Douglass),” Could be a metaphor for Americans who resist ruling powers, but use it’s loopholes of law as its “mistress of aid.”

Douglass envied other slaves who did not have the knowledge of the persecution of which the establishment of slavery was made. He wished at times that he did not know all that he knew because it consumed him. In this envy he still felt it upon himself to spread the knowledge of the truth because it was important that other slaves knew of the tyranny involved.

Many people under the George W. Bush administration felt purpose against the administration and used their voice and stood together to make a change. Americans voted on a new ruler but discovered that there was not more freedom - and some think less freedom. The bickering between Republicans and Democrats is similar to two slaves debating which slave master is better. Douglass realized that the real issue was the establishment of slavery as some Americans believe that government is becoming an establishment of tyranny.

The spirit and emotion that Douglass portrayed is truly inspiring to read. Douglass was a proud man, he knew the best master is being ones “own master (Douglass).” It is hard to fathom that Douglass would tolerate being overly taxed when he showed outrage in this passage from his book:

“I was compelled to deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned it,--not because he had any hand in earning it,--not because I owed it to him,--nor because he possessed the slightest shadow of a right to it; but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up (Douglass).”

Ultimately, perhaps all Americans will, sooner or later, value hard work and the liberty and freedom that is bestowed upon the individual. Probably no one put it better than Frederick Douglas himself:

“Hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I earned the money, to rob me of it. I worked that day with a pleasure I had never before experienced.”

Works Cited

Alford, Harry. The Factor with Bill O'Reily Bill O'reily. 20 July 2009.

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. NY: The Anti-Slavery Office, 1845.

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father. New York: Random House, 2004.

Wright, Reverend. Chicago, 5 January 2006.

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