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Frederick Douglass (September 2018): Religion

By Duncan R. Jamieson


In Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet, historian D. H. Dilbeck focuses on Douglass’s faith and how it shaped his championing of liberty and equality. When Douglass realized man, not God, had made him a slave, he devoted his life to ending slavery and promoting equal rights for all. Unafraid, he denounced the false view of Christianity that supported slave ownership. John Stauffer’s The Black Hearts of Men describes the anti-slavery activities of Douglass and other religious reformers who sought peaceful means to end slavery. When that failed they turned to militancy, justifying violence in the name of righteousness. David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass’ Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee portrays Douglass as a symbol for the era who saw the conflict in a spiritual framework. Slavery, secession, and war represented the nation’s regeneration from God’s retribution.

Though Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison disagreed on the breadth of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they shared a belief in the power of the prophetic tradition. In “We Are All Together Now”: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and the Prophetic Tradition, William B. Rogers contends the two sought a moral revolution in the United States through their opposition to slavery, oppression, and intemperance. In First Pure, Then Peaceable: Frederick Douglass, Darkness, and the Epistle of James, Margaret Aymer examines how Douglass, an inveterate Bible reader, used this epistle, written to churches around the world, to attack the darkness of slavery and slaveholding Christians.