William Lloyd Garrison was the founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. His preface to the autobiography details his meeting with Douglass when Douglass was persuaded to tell his story at an abolitionist convention in Nantucket in 1841. Garrison praises Douglass’s poise, the power of his oration, and the sentimental impact of his story. Garrison is so moved by Douglass’s speech that he declares it is a better speech than that of Patrick Henry during the American Revolution. Garrison also describes the audience’s positive reaction after Garrison asks them to commit to protect Douglass from slave owners. Garrison gives credence to Douglass’s Narrative by saying that it is entirely Douglass’s own work and is entirely truthful. Slave narratives often begin with prefaces, written by white editors, that attempt to prepare white audiences for the narrative itself. For white readers, Garrison’s preface thus gives credibility and legitimacy to Douglass’s Narrative and firmly places it within the canon of abolitionist literature and the abolitionist cause. Garrison’s preface, however, also displays the urge to control and contain Douglass’s career and narrative, aggrandizing to an extent his own role in Douglass’s success. For example, Garrison controls and contains Douglass’s speech by placing it in comparison to historical references familiar to white audience—the context of the American revolutionaries.

Wendell Phillips was an abolitionist and president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, whose letter in the Narrative is written to Douglass as a friend. Similar to Garrison’s preface, Phillips’s letter writes about the importance of Douglass’s Narrative for providing factual accounts of the experience of slaves that is not marred by the selective information released by slaveholders. Phillips also attests to the legitimacy of the details and stories that are contained in Douglass’s Narrative. Likewise, Phillips compares Douglass to the fathers of the Declaration of Independence who risked their lives by signing their names and appeals to Massachusetts to explicitly declare itself an asylum for fugitive slaves. Philips’s and Garrison’s prefaces also speak to the power of Douglass’s Narrative in its ability to move readers in a sentimental fashion. Literature in the sentimentalism tradition in the nineteenth-century sought to inspire readers to political action through sympathy with those suffering under oppression. Though the Narrative is not a work of fiction, Philips and Garrison were aware that readers and writers valued emotional displays of weeping as evidence of earnest and intricate emotional awareness, which many believed was a necessary component of intellectual reason.