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Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass after 1884 with his second wife Helen Pitts Douglass (sitting). The woman standing is her sister Eva Pitts.

When I published my last post, I didn’t insert portraits of John Graves Simcoe and Sir James Monk who both made Canada a safe place from fugitives. I thought I should pay homage to them. We owe John Graves Simcoe the Act Against Slavery. As for Sir James Monk, the chief justice in Lower Canada, he allowed slaves to walk out of slavery using the nitty-gritty of the Law itself.

Monk played a significant role in the abolition of slavery in British North America, when as Chief Justice he rendered a series of decisions regarding escaped slaves that ‘while not technically abolishing slavery rendered it innocuous. The slave could not be compelled to serve longer than he would, and … might leave his master at will.’
(See James Monk, wiki2.org)

Frederick Douglass: Second Marriage

Also missing from my first post is Frederick Douglass’ second marriage. After Anna Murray died, Frederick Douglass married Helen Pitts. She was white and a suffragist, a cause dear to Frederick Douglass. Frederick claimed his marriage proved he was proved he was impartial (Frederick Douglass, wiki2.org) Theirs was a short and happy marriage: 11 years. They lived at Cedar Hill, Douglass’ house in Washington.

Cedar Hill, Douglass’ house in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is preserved as a National Historic Site.

The North and the Use of Metaphors

The distance was horrific, especially for slaves who lived in the deep South. At least one soldier freed a slave and led him North where he would be free. The North stood as a symbol, or almost so. Harriet Tubman had followed the North star at night guiding slaves away from slave states to free Northern states and to Canada. Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, which he ran from Dorchester, New York, was called the North Star. The Kings of Orient had followed a star that led them to Bethlehem and the Blacks sang negro-spirituals. We Three Kings of Orient are was composed by John Henry Hopkins Jr.

When Frederick Douglass took in students to make them literate, he used the Bible as a textbook. He was beaten because he took in students. The language of the Underground Railway was metaphorical and it borrowed from the Bible. The Bible had a promised land and a Saviour, a humble Saviour.

White Abolitionists

William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp published The Liberator. Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Movement. So, it was then as it is now. Gifted minds could not accept slavery. Nor could they accept violence. William Garrison wrote that John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry was “well-intended but sadly misguided.” It was “wild and futile.”  Such was also Frederick Douglass’ stance. He, Douglass, would live for a slave, not die for one. The Underground Railroad, which Douglass joined as a “conductor,” operated by night, quietly.

Frederick Douglass preferred Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s “sunny way.” Wilfrid Laurier was a cherished Prime Minister of Canada. Frederick Douglass’ charismatic personality took his talent as an orator and his knowledge to Washington. As for Wilfrid Laurier, a similar attitude led him to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. He studied Law in English at McGill University and ran for office. He served as Prime Minister of Canada.

I mentioned Levi Coffin’s role in the anti-slavery movement. His home was the ultimate refuge: “Grand Central Station.” Elijah Paris Lovejoy was also an abolitionist. He was killed by a pro-slavery crowd. Lovejoy was a clergyman and a journalist.

Another camp, led by Lysander Spooner, Gerrit Smith, and eventually Douglass, considered the Constitution to be an anti-slavery document.

Using an argument based upon Natural Law and a form of social contract theory, they said that slavery fell outside the Constitution’s scope of legitimate authority and therefore should be abolished.


Sources and Resources

List of African-American Abolitionists
Leaders: Abolitionists
Abolitionism in the United States 

© Micheline Walker
12 August 2020

Harriet Tubman