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Frederick Douglass (September 2018): Political Thought

By Duncan R. Jamieson

Political Thought

The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass, by political scientist Nicholas Buccola, analyzes Douglass’s concept of freedom as the individual’s ability to act as s/he chooses. His enslavement encouraged Douglass to endure as a political philosopher to fight those who used their freedom to enslave others. In The Mind of Frederick Douglass, civil rights historian Waldo E. Martin examines the origins and development of the nineteenth century’s foremost African American political activist. Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism, by political scientist Peter C. Myers, demonstrates how Douglass extended the Founders doctrine of natural rights to African Americans. Douglass dismissed the belief that the Declaration of Independence applied only to whites, countering that slavery and racial injustice violated the rights it and the Constitution epitomized. The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass, edited by Professor of English Maurice S. Lee, encompasses essays by historians and literary scholars about Douglass’s life-long devotion to fighting injustice and racism. Essays concentrate on abolition, oratory, jurisprudence, religion, and the Civil War. Philosophers Bill E. Lawson and Frank M. Kirkland edited Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader, in which fifteen philosophers, including political activist and philosopher Angela Davis, look at Douglass relative to contemporary social and political thought, especially as he considered humanity and democracy. Historian James A. Colaiaco’s Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July treats Douglass’s most famous speech, heard by, among others, President Millard Fillmore. Douglass demolished the ethnocentric approach that freedom applied only to whites, challenging his fellow Americans to reject racism.

Douglass had a presence abroad as well, which is the subject of two books. First, Liberating Reform: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform, edited by Alan J. Rice and Martin Crawford, is a collection of essays concerning his lecture and fundraising journey to Great Britain in 1845, a journey which helped him develop his thought on the strategies and ideals of the abolitionist movement. Fionnghuala Sweeney takes a broader approach in Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World, considering the Great Britain trip, his journey to Egypt in 1881, and his term as minister to Haiti (1889–91). Sweeney contends the journeys abroad further developed Douglass’s literary and political thought as a representative American.