Frederick Douglass, Classical Liberal

A fresh look at the political evolution of a great American

(Page 2 of 2)

Buccola is slightly less persuasive when it comes to Douglass’ complicated relationship to government power. Douglass “had a reform liberal’s sensitivity to the ways in which social and economic inequality can undermine the promise of liberty,” Buccola argues. “As such, he defended an active role for the state to combat inequality and promote fairness.”

Douglass did defend an active role for the federal government, including subsidized land grants by the Freedmen’s Bureau and universal public education for African Americans. But there is an important distinction between his justifications for these programs and the arguments made today by advocates of welfare-state liberalism. 

As far as Douglass was concerned, the former slaves had been robbed, not just of the fruits of their labor but of their very minds and bodies. They were therefore entitled to some serious compensation from the federal and state governments that had aided, abetted, and profited from those crimes. So he wasn’t talking about redistribution; he was talking about restitution—paid directly to the victims.

Douglass also immediately recognized that the end of slavery did not mean the end of racist government abuse. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the former Confederate states began passing a series of laws, regulations, and ordinances aimed at restricting or even eliminating the new political, civil, and economic rights enjoyed by African Americans, including their right to vote, earn a living, and defend themselves from attack. Mississippi’s Black Code, for example, declared “that no freedman, free Negro, or mulatto…shall keep or carry firearms of any kind,” while Louisiana’s Black Code decreed that “every negro is required to be in the regular service of some white person, or former owner, who shall be responsible for the conduct of said negro.”

These laws were enacted and enforced in blatant violation of the freedmen’s rights, although as Doug­lass acidly remarked in 1872, “The trouble never was in the Constitution, but in the administration of the Constitution.” Douglass repeatedly urged the government, including the federal courts, to fulfill its basic constitutional responsibility to safeguard the life, liberty, and property of all citizens. Tragically, he met with very limited success.

Which brings us back to Douglass’ famous statement that the government should “do nothing” with black Americans. Obviously he didn’t mean do absolutely nothing. After all, he favored the aggressive enforcement of federal civil rights legislation. So what did he mean? 

Consider the way he phrased that statement on a different occasion. “Give the Negro fair play,” Douglass declared in 1893, “and let him alone.” That 1893 statement is Douglass’ entire agenda in a nutshell, a perfect distillation of Douglass’ classical liberal approach: protect individual rights, pay restitution for past crimes, and let black Americans get on with the business of seeking happiness as they see fit. 

Damon W. Root is a senior editor at reason.

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  • Pro Libertate||

    "[U]nfortunate 'procapitalist bias'?????" WTF? Did U.S. history just not happen at all for this guy?

  • Tulpa the White||

    "unfortunate" is Root's wry insertion, not from the actual quote.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Does it matter?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Brutus||

    This is the guy who should have been America's first black President, not the stuttering maoist prick we have now.

  • o3||

    does it know what a maoist was?

  • Brutus||

    Did someone leave the gate open again?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    You're no slouch, HM.

  • fish||

    The National Portrait Gallery certainly "whitened" him!

    Brother can't catch a break!

  • ||

    Dog forbid a former slave would see the merit of self- and property-ownership! Fuckin-a.

  • Rich||

    Obviously all those beatings he received as a slave caused brain damage.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    But by working for someone else he is being robbed of his earnings by a master.

    /leftist

  • MJGreen||

    Yale University historian David Blight, meanwhile, has criticized Douglass for preaching "a laissez-faire individualism that echoed the reigning Social Darwinism of the day."

    Holy shit. And from a Yale history professor? I mean, maybe it's to be expected, but ugh. And using that label on an intellectual who was an actual slave is just hilarious.

  • mustard||

    He was no intellectual, just a black face to pair with slaveholder lazy fairy philosophy.

  • ||

    Keep that racism alive in your heart asshole. Hopefully one day it will choke it to death.

  • Brutus||

    Mustard isn't racist, he wants to enslave everyone (minus a technocratic elite) to the Central State. That's what passes for civil rights on the Left today.

  • R C Dean||

    Sad, isn't it, that a racist like Prof. Blight is employed by a prestigious university like Yale.

  • wareagle||

    yet remarkably unsurprising

  • R C Dean||

    Why is it such a shock that an ex-slave would be a hard-core laissez-faire individualist?

    Isn't laissez-faire individualism just about the polar opposite of slavery?

  • Brett L||

    We need a different word for successful universities. Yale is prestigious in that people who graduate from there get better opportunities, But not because of their training.

  • mustard||

    Douglas wasn't a real slave. He worked at a dockyard and just sent his earnings back to his "master"; it wasn't the typical slave life. So he had no understanding of what it was like to be a slave, hence his strange obsession with law-of-the-jungle economics.

  • T||

    Nice.

    Oh, wait, are you serious? I thought you were parodying.

  • mustard||

    He had much more in common with slaveholders than the slaves. If you didn't see his picture you would think he was white.

    Not exactly someone we want to model racial diversity after.

  • Cytotoxic||

    A+ someone get this guy a medal. Finally, some quality trolling.

  • T||

    I'm going with troll because if somebody actually thinks this, the world is a sadder and crueler place than I imagined.

  • Loki||

    I'm never surprised anymore by what some people think. This whole planet needs an enema.

  • The Fatman||

    Sadly, you can never underestimate the stupidity or ignorance of a human being.

  • Loki||

    Yes let's not hold up someone who escaped an oppressive situation (afterall, it was the "wrong kind" of oppression), and went to on to speak out for others and make something of himself, without support from either the government or "handlers" telling him what to think, say, and how to act, as an example to follow. Wouldn't want anyone else to get any ideas now.

    Frederick Douglass: the original "Uncle Tom". Kindly go fuck yourself.

  • Brutus||

    There aren't many historical figures I get worked up over. Frederick Douglass is one of them. Say this shit to my face and I'm in yours.

    Douglass was a great, great man and this pathetic slander from a leftist bacillus is outrageous.

  • Loki||

    I'm with you on that one. I was saying that as a sarcastic retort to mustard's idiotic mental diarrhea, in case it wasn't clear.

  • Brutus||

    Mustard, like all leftists, is thrown into a rage by anyone who dares to live contrary to the Will of Mustard. Douglass's mile-wide independent streak is an absolute affront to that authoritarian impulse.

  • o3||

    needs moar *THEYS*

  • mustard||

    ooooooh Internet tuff gai. Mite makes right is the libertarian way.

  • Calidissident||

    Isn't that the leftist/statist way? The government has the most guns, therefore you do what they say or go to jail?

  • Brutus||

    So black people are only supposed to think certain things and in certain ways acceptable to white southpaws?

  • wareagle||

    pretty much. For further clarification, see: Sowell, T.; Williams, W.; Rice, C.; and so forth. Authoritarian boots don't lick themselves you know...

  • mustard||

    He lived in a different era so his misconceptions are understandable. That was before the free market ideologies had been proven wrong by the 20th century.

  • Calidissident||

    How on earth could anyone honestly think the 20th century prove free-market ideology wrong, and not statist central planning?

  • mustard||

    The fact that Gorbachev screwed the pooch in '89 doesn't impugn community planning. The USSR was going fine until he took over.

    The free market gave us the depression of 1930 and the depression of 2007. Without the government banks of the world coming together to hatch a plan, we would be in Hooverville right now.

  • Les||

    Come on, guys. Surely, this post alone (not to mention his equally factual posts on Mr. Douglass) is reason enough to ignore this troll forever, right?

  • ||

    It was better when you were maligning Douglass for not being black enough. The troll is too obvious on this one. Subtlety is the key. Trolling is a art.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Douglass, of course, was born into slavery on a plantation and was severely whipped on more than one occasion. He was also separated from his family.

    How is this not slavery again?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    How is this not slavery again?

    Your Euro-centric cultural paradigm is fogging your glasses again, ProL.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's a fair cop.

  • mustard||

    He may have had a rough childhood, that doesn't excuse his actions as an adult.

    It's like when Charlton Heston used to be pro-busing before he went nuts and joined the NRA.

  • Calidissident||

    Excuse his actions as an adult? You mean being one of the most prominent abolitionists in the country? As well as an advocate for women's rights? Why would that need excusing?

  • ||

    So...you're serious, then?

  • Brutus||

    Light on the "mus," heavy on the "tard."

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Nice one. ;-)

  • ant1sthenes||

    I don't think so. He's gone too far into parody on numerous occasions and multiple topics for me to think he isn't a satire.

  • ||

    I love that leftist shitbags like you try to paint tea partiers and libertarians as racist when this is what you actually believe.

    Go die in a fire you fucking piece of shit.

  • o3||

    so douglas didnt work at a dockyard?

  • Calidissident||

    He also worked on plantations for much of his youth, was separated from his family, and beaten on multiple occasions. To suggest he was a free man with the exception of having to give back earnings to "master" is not true

  • ||

    If you think Douglas wasn't a slave, you can go die in a fire too orrin.

  • o3||

    simple question.

    so yes, he did work at a dockyard.

  • Bill||

    You can't just pick and choose a few words from a post. You need to look at the entire post and then use your brain to figure out what point the writer was trying to communicate and what his suppositions must have been in order to draw the conclusion he drew.

  • mustard||

    Who died and made you the boss?

  • ||

    ...use your brain...

    And that's where you lost him.

  • cw||

    He also witnessed his mother beaten nearly to death by her "owner" and yet could do nothing about it.

    But since he was an individualist, none of his suffering in a violent, immoral culture matters, right 03?

  • ||

    If Obama had a son he'd be as fucktarded as mustard.

  • Les||

    Why respond to mustard's stupidity with more of it?

  • Killazontherun||

    Anyone see the irony of a former slave standing up to be a whole human being does not meet the approval of his modern betters who expect him to embrace their preferred form of subservience after he rejected another? Social devolution is the ethos of our era.

  • ||

    Social devolution is the ethos of our era.

    Are we not men???

  • Killazontherun||

    Lol! That had to be in the back of my mind, as I have been listening to some Devo over the last few weeks.

  • mr simple||

    Who would expect a former slave to desire freedom rather than a master of a different name?

  • Brutus||

    I think this is particularly relevant to this discussion:

    http://thepeoplescube.com/peop.....t9249.html

  • o3||

    brutus evidently cognates using radio memes and tshirt slogans.

    next assignment - making art from poo

  • cw||

    You could show us that, 03, considering the triple assholes.

    Actually, please don't.

  • fish||

    next assignment - making art from poo

    o3: A+

  • Killazontherun||

    There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him

    I gather there existed no proto-OWS types in that audience.

  • DurkDing||

    lol, dude needs a haircut and a shave I think.

    www.Privacy-Been.tk

  • Lyle||

    Why doesn't Barack Obama know about this guy?

  • fish||

    Conflicts with the narrative.

  • mustard||

    He knows enough about him to ignore him. And that conciliationist fuck Booker T. Washington.

    President Obama isn't desperate to put a black face on his rhetoric to look tolerant, because he obviously is.

  • fish||

    Oh my! Is Mustard the "Angry Black Man" trope come to life at reason.com?

  • Virginian||

    Holy shit, you actually are bad mouthing Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I've even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years as a sportscaster have I witnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we've witnessed here today!

  • Alexander||

    The answer to cure racism is pretty simple and straightforward. All white people need to become slaves to black people. The amount of time your family spends as a slave is based on the amount of money your family has made over the last 250 years. If you are mexican, you don't get shit. Those are the only races right? White, Black and Mexican

  • Tejicano||

    Wait, I thought there were white hispanics too.

    Oh, and asians. Hmm... are caucasians a subset of the asians?

  • شات عراقنا||

    thank you

  • tipuasher||

    I twig your plea and would love to engage in the full thing that you enter
    http://www.facebook.com/antoniogiacca

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