"crops without plowing the ground" -- 3/21/24

Today's encore selection -- from Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis. The Mexican War was incredibly popular with Americans. However, one man, Frederick Douglass, thought the war was "disgraceful, cruel, and iniquitous":

"Among the most outspoken critics of the Mexican War was a man who called the war 'disgraceful, cruel, and iniquitous.' Writing from Rochester, New York, in his newspaper, the North Star, Frederick Douglass criticized other opponents of the war for their weak response. 'The determination of our slaveholding President to prosecute the war, and the probability of his success in wringing from the people men and money to carry it on, is made evident, rather than doubtful, by the puny opposition arrayed against him ... None seem willing to take their stand for peace at all risks.'

"For anyone to write so defiantly against a generally popular war was remarkable. That the author was an escaped slave writing in his own newspaper was extraordinary.

"Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) was born to a slave mother and most likely sired by his first owner. He was taught to read by the wife of one of his masters -- although she had been told that it was illegal and unsafe to teach a slave to read -- and taught himself to write in the shipyards of Baltimore. In 1838, he escaped, disguising himself as a sailor to reach New York and then Massachusetts, finding work as a laborer in bustling New Bedford, the shipbuilding and whaling center. After making an extemporaneous speech to an antislavery convention in Nantucket, Douglass began a life devoted to the cause of freedom, for women as well as blacks. In the process, he became one of the most famous men in America, black or white. A speaker of extraordinary power, Douglass was first employed by William Lloyd Garrison's Anti-Slavery Society. His lectures were grand performances that would leave his audiences in turns laughing and tearful. He braved hecklers, taunts, eggs, and death threats, and with each lecture his fame and influence grew. In 1845 the Society printed his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Douglass in 1879

"It remains one of the most chilling accounts of life as a Maryland slave, containing the power to provoke utter revulsion at the 'peculiar institution.' The book's appearance and Douglass's growing celebrity as a speaker forced him to move to England out of fear that he would be seized as a fugitive. He returned to America in 1847 and began publication of the North Star in Rochester, putting him in the front lines of the abolitionist forces. Douglass and Garrison later fell out over tactics, but his stature continued to grow. In one of his most famous speeches, given in 1857, Douglass said, 'Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.'

"During the Civil War, he became an advisor to Lincoln, recruiting black soldiers for the union cause and lobbying for their equal pay, which was reluctantly granted. After the war he accepted a number of government appointments, and was later made ambassador to Haiti. (It is worth noting, however, that many of his friends and supporters of both races were unhappy when late in life Douglass married a white woman after the death of his first wife, Anna. In 1884, he married Helen Pitts, a college-educated suffragist twenty years younger than Douglass. She was disowned by her family, and the white press accused her of marrying for fame and money. It was also reported that the marriage proved that the black man's highest aspiration was to have a white wife. The couple remained active in social causes until his sudden death of a heart attack in 1895.)"

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Kenneth C. Davis


Don't Know Much About History




Copyright 2011, 2020 by Kenneth C. Davis


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