The ex-slave Frederick Douglass reveals that reading speeches by English politicians produced in him a deep love of liberty and hatred of oppression (1882)

Frederick Douglass

Found in The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882

In his biography, the ex-slave Frederick Douglass recalls how a book of speeches by famous English authors and politicians inspired in him a love of liberty:

The reading of these speeches added much to my limited stock of language, and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts which had often flashed through my mind and died away for want of words in which to give them utterance. The mighty power and heart-searching directness of truth penetrating the heart of a slave-holder, compelling him to yield up his earthly interests to the claims of eternal justice, were finely illustrated in the dialogue; and from the speeches of Sheridan I got a bold and powerful denunciation of oppression and a most brilliant vindication of the rights of man. Here was indeed a noble acquisition. If I had ever wavered under the consideration that the Almighty, in some way, had ordained slavery, and willed my enslavement for His own glory, I wavered no longer. I had now penetrated to the secret of all slavery and all oppression, and had ascertained their true foundation to be in the pride, the power, and the avarice of man. With a book in my hand so redolent of the principles of liberty, with a perception of my own human nature, and the facts of my past and present experience, I was equal to a contest with the religious advocates of slavery, whether white or black,—for blindness in this matter was not confined to the white people.

It is no wonder that slave owners did whatever they could to prevent slaves from learning to read. As Frederick’s Douglass' autobiography shows he was able to put words and ideas to his love of freedom and his hatred of oppression by reading English authors like Sheridan and politicians like Pitt. As he eloquently states because of his reading and thinking “Light had penetrated the moral dungeon where I had lain.” Many other slaves read the Bible and found stories of the Israelites' oppression by the Egyptians just as inspiring and relevant to their condition.