Douglass, Frederick

c. 1817–1895

Abolitionist, Author, and Politician

Frederick Douglass was a nineteenth-century abolitionist, author, and politician. Through his autobiographies, Douglass fashions himself as a representative, mid-nineteenth-century black male, though his definition of black manhood often seems to lack a specific African-American dimension. Woven into his critique of slavery and racism is an ideal of manhood shared by white middle-class men and grounded in notions of individualism, self-reliance, and entrepreneurial capitalism.

Born a slave on a Maryland plantation, Douglass became an abolitionist and supporter of women's rights after his 1838 escape. His autobiographies share similarities with other texts that celebrate the emancipation of the autonomous self, such as Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (written between 1771 and 1789), Ralph Waldo Emerson's “Self-Reliance,” and Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself.” His work may have ...

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