Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Step 1 of 4
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial.
Get instant access to all the benefits of SparkNotes PLUS! Cancel within the first 7 days and you won't be charged. We'll even send you a reminder.
Already have an account? Log in
Create Your Account
Step 2 of 4
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
Choose Your Plan
Step 3 of 4
Add Your Payment Details
Add Your Payment Details
Step 4 of 4
US + tax
You'll be billed only after your free trial ends.
7-day Free Trial
Total due on August 20, 2022
This is not a valid promo code.
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
Frederick Douglass was born into
slavery in Maryland as Frederick Bailey circa 1818.
Douglass served as a slave on farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland
and in Baltimore throughout his youth. In Baltimore, especially,
Douglas enjoyed relatively more freedom than slaves usually did in
the South. In the city, Douglass first learned how to read and began
making contacts with educated free blacks.
Douglass eventually escaped north to New York at the age
of about twenty. Here he reunited with and married his fiancée,
a free black woman from Baltimore named Anna Murray. Uneasy about Douglass’s
fugitive status, the two finally settled further north in New Bedford,
Massachusetts, and Frederick changed his last name from Bailey to
Douglass. Douglass worked for the next three years as a laborer
and continued his self‑education.
In the early 1840s, the abolitionist,
or anti‑slavery, movement was gaining momentum, especially in the
far Northeast. When Douglass first arrived in Massachusetts, he
began reading the Liberator, the abolitionist newspaper
edited by William Lloyd Garrison. In 1841,
Douglass attended an abolitionist meeting in Nantucket, Massachusetts,
where he met Garrison and was encouraged to tell the crowd about
his experiences of slavery. Douglass’s spoken account was so well‑received
that Garrison offered to employ him as an abolitionist speaker for
the American Anti‑Slavery Society.
From 1841 to 1845,
Douglass traveled extensively with Garrison and others through the
Northern states, speaking nearly every day on the injustice and
brutality of slavery. Douglass encountered hostile opposition and,
most often, the charge that he was lying. Many Americans did not
believe that such an eloquent and intelligent Negro had so recently
been a slave.
Douglass encountered a different brand of opposition within
the ranks of the Anti‑Slavery Society itself. He was one of only
a few black men employed by the mostly white society, and the society’s leaders,
including Garrison, would often condescendingly insist that Douglass
merely relate the “facts” of his experience, and leave the philosophy,
rhetoric, and persuasive argument to others. Douglass’s 1845 Narrative
of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by
Himself can be seen as a response to both of these types
of opposition. The Narrative pointedly states that
Douglass is its sole author, and it contains two prefaces from Garrison and
another abolitionist, Wendell Phillips, to attest to this fact. Douglass’s
use of the true names of people and places further silenced his
detractors who questioned the truthfulness of his story and status
as a former slave. Additionally, the Narrative undertook to
be not only a personal account of Douglass’s experiences as a slave,
but also an eloquent antisla-very treatise. With the Narrative, Douglass
demonstrated his ability to be not only the teller of his story,
but its interpreter as well.
Because Douglass did use real names in his Narrative, he
had to flee the United States for a time, as his Maryland “owner”
was legally entitled to track him down in Massachusetts and reclaim him.
Dou-glass spent the next two years traveling in the British Isles, where
he was warmly received. He returned to the United States only after
two English friends purchased his freedom. His reputation at home
had grown during his absence. The Narrative was
an instant bestseller in 1845 and went through
five print runs to accommodate demand. Despite opposition from Garrison,
Douglass started his own abolitionist newspaper in 1847 in
Rochester, New York, under the name North Star.
Douglass continued to write and lecture against slavery
and also devoted attention to the women’s rights movement. He became involved
in politics, to the disapproval of other abolitionists who avoided
politics for ideological reasons. When the Civil War broke out in 1861,
Douglass campaigned first to make it the aim of the war to abolish
slavery and then to allow black men to fight for the Union. He was
successful on both fronts: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation
on December 31, 1862, and Congress authorized
the enlistment of black men in 1863, though
they were paid only half what white soldiers made. The Union won
the Civil War on April 9, 1865.
During the 1860s and beyond, Douglass
continued to campaign, now for the right of blacks to vote and receive
equal treatment in public places. Douglass served in government
positions under several administrations in the 1870s
and 1880s. He also found time to publish
the third volume of his autobiography, The Life and Times of
Frederick Douglass, in 1881 (the
second volume, My Bondage and My Freedom, was published
in 1855). In 1882,
Douglass’s wife, Anna, died. He remarried, to Helen Pitts, a white
advocate of the women’s movement, in 1884.
Douglass died of a heart attack in 1895.
Until the 1960s, Douglass’s Narrative was
largely ignored by critics and historians, who focused instead on
the speeches for which Douglass was primarily known. Yet Douglass’s
talent clearly extended to the written word. His Narrative emerged
in a popular tradition of slave narratives and slavery fictions
that includes Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and
Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Douglass’s
work is read today as one of the finest examples of the slave-narrative
genre. Douglass co‑opted narrative styles and forms from the spiritual
conversion narrative, the sentimental novel, oratorical rhetoric,
and heroic fiction. He took advantage of the popularity of slave
narratives while expanding the possibilities of those narratives.
Finally, in its somewhat unique depiction of slavery as an assault
on selfhood and in its attention to the tensions of becoming an
individual, Douglass’s Narrative can be read as
a contribution to the literary tradition of American Romantic individualism.