Racism

Google Celebrates Frederick Douglass Today. So Should You, Esp. If You're a Libertarian.

The escaped slave and ouspoken abolitionist was a classical liberal.

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Google

Today's Google doodle is an image of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became one of the most eloquent and influential abolitionists in American history. The doodle signals the start of Black History Month, which grew out of earlier traditions such as "Negro History Week" and offers a period of intensive reflection on the contributions of blacks to the history of the United States while also reminding the country of the historical realities of slavery and other unspeakable ills pushed on African Americans due to de facto and de jure racism.

Douglass, who was believed to have been born in February, 1818 is of special interest to libertarians for many reasons. As Damon Root has written for Reason, Douglass was a true classical liberal who believed in individualism, strong property rights, and voluntary philanthropy as the best way to create a free, prosperous, and inclusive society. From a 2012 review of Nicholas Buccola's The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass:

"Douglass's arguments against slavery are, in a very important sense, arguments for liberalism," writes Linfield College political scientist Nicholas Buccola in The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass, his engaging new study of the great abolitionist. Taking seriously Douglass' dual commitment to both a "robust conception of mutual responsibility" and "the ideas of universal self-ownership, natural rights, limited government, and an ethos of self-reliance," Buccola offers a nuanced portrait that illuminates both Douglass and his place in American intellectual history….

Buccola notes, "throughout his development as a political thinker, Douglass was presented with a series of ideological alternatives," including the pacifist anarchism of Garrison, who said the only government he recognized was the "government of God," and the utopian socialism of John A. Collins, general director of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, who believed "that private property was the root of all evil." Douglass, Buccola observes, "consistently rejected these in favor of liberalism."

Socialism was then becoming particularly attractive to many New England reformers. Yet Douglass rejected the socialist case against private land ownership, saying "it is [man's] duty to possess it—and to possess it in that way in which its energies and properties can be made most useful to the human family." He routinely preached the virtues of property rights. "So far from being a sin to accumulate property, it is the plain duty of every man to lay up something for the future," he told a black crowd in Rochester, New York in 1885. "I am for making the best of both worlds and making the best of this world first, because it comes first." As Douglass' glowing description of his first paying job indicated, he also considered economic liberty an essential aspect of human freedom….

Read the full article here.

In my opinion, Douglass's 1852 speech "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" is one of the greatest texts in American literature. It simultaneously enacts what is these days lazily called "American exceptionalism" while excoriating the moral failings of the country. Douglass exemplifies the tradition of critiquing the country's laws and customs by examining them in light of rarely attained but endlessly invoked ideals of equality and justice. To me, that gesture, along with a willingness to change and grow as a nation, is what makes America exceptional. From Douglass's speech:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

More here.

The three editions of Douglass' autobiography (most Americans know the first one, published shortly after he escaped and made his way north) are phenomenal testaments both to the ideals of American freedom and the ways that ideal has rarely come close to being realized. Perhaps most important, he offered up a critique of the country's history, customs, and laws but also personified and argued for a way forward in which all Americans would both be more free and able to transcend the awful indignities and crimes of the past.

For more Reason on Douglass, go here.

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121 responses to “Google Celebrates Frederick Douglass Today. So Should You, Esp. If You're a Libertarian.

  1. Can we all agree that is a horrible portrait of the man? Just pallet swapping the sprite for Karl Marx with brown is lazy af.

    1. Racis… oh.. nevermind..

    2. I’m saying Marx wasn’t nearly as handsome as Douglas:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx

    3. I had to read the Google alt-text because I thought it was Karl Marx as well

    4. I prefer this one.

      Curiously, it’s not captioned ‘One Bad Motherfucker’.

      1. Samuel L. Jackson in a Frederick Douglass biopic. We could then get libertarians angry at the Academy when they snub him for an Oscar.

      2. THE HAIR

        his eyes tell the photographer, “motherfucker, i’m onna cut you real slow you don’t get my good side”

    5. I thought it was Red Fox.

      1. The Canadian Larry the Cable Guy?

  2. If I am a libertarian, you can’t tell me what to celebrate.

    1. “Should” is a suggestion.

      1. YOU CAN’T DEFINE WORDS FOR ME.

        1. Don’t tell Hugh what he can’t do.

            1. How long have you had that ready to whip out? Well timed.

                1. Let me market it a bit. DON’T MISS THAT^ link.

            2. The hell did i just click on? Sometimes i don’t know about you, HM.

                1. Oh. My.

                2. Gee, thanks a lot HM. I don’t even want to think about which watchlists I’m on after clicking on that link.

              1. Sometimes?

                I feel like HM makes sure we all get on the most prestigious watch lists.

                1. I’m just here to educate.

                  1. Swear to God, i read that as “I’m just here to ejaculate,” and it didn’t really change the meaning.

                2. I like to think that the NSA goon in charge of monitoring the Hit’n’Run watch lists got that job as punishment for something.

            3. *facepalm*

              I guess I will never learn…

  3. Socialism was then becoming particularly attractive to many New England reformers.

    Glad they managed to stamp that out.

    1. Bernie hasn’t gotten the memo.

      1. Bernie remembers those days fondly.

          1. That is………………………
            pathetic and likely true.
            Fucking loser whose only hope for groceries is sticking his hand in YOUR pocket.

  4. That’s absurd! People of color are not rat fucking bagger priviliged cis shitlords! They’re social justice warriors and democrats and always have been, since the beginning! Stop the lies, Reason, stop the lies!

  5. Yet Douglass rejected the socialist case against private land ownership, saying “it is [man’s] duty to possess it?and to possess it in that way in which its energies and properties can be made most useful to the human family.”

    So then I guess shooting on my land half-empty 5-gallon propane tanks to see what will happen is somehow in Douglass’ eyes a breach of duty. I CELEBRATE NO SUCH NARROW VIEWS.

    1. Don’t get down on yourself, Eugene. If you don’t have substantive material improvements to offer, i’m sure “useful to the human family” covers serving as a horrible warning too.

    2. What DOES happen? Inquiring minds…

      1. Unfortunately, the first wave of shrapnel took out the camera, and Eugene was too busy crying and wetting himself to take good notes. He’s gonna try it again next weekend, though.

        1. So I think the answer to your original question is that, if you film it and post it on the internet, then you are doing something useful for the whole human family.

    3. I had a friend that would throw empty 55 gallon drums of fertilizer into a brush fire to see what would happen. One of the drums disappeared into the sky with a loud boom. They say that to this day, it is heading for the Kuiper belt.

      1. What’s his launch success rate as compared to NASA’s?

  6. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

    In 1852, I’m willing to bet I could find more shocking and bloody practices in Africa, South America, and parts of Asia.

    1. “Forget it, he’s rolling.”

    2. In 1852 I also don’t think Frederick Douglass would have had up-to-date information about the terrible practices of various African tribesmen.

      Although I could find some pretty repulsive stuff going on in the British empire too in those days. Anyway, I’ll chalk that up to artistic license and hyperbole. A black guy criticizing slavery in 1852 gets a lot of leeway from me.

      1. That’s mighty white of you

      2. NO! He made a statement that is factually dubious, and so that proves that you just can’t trust those shifty blacks!

        1. A black can’t be expected to know how rhetoric works. You are expected to be 100% literal, factual, and measured at all times.

          1. I think the speech is much more moving and eloquent when restated correctly:

            “Of all the nations with which I am personally familiar and reliably informed as to the internal treatment of their own people, I posit that the treatment of slaves in the United States has arguably the highest concentration of negative factors, both qualitatively and quantitatively.”

    3. If anything, in the American popular imagination the horrors of slavery are downplayed. I guess its part of when we collectively decided to just throw our hands up and walk away from Reconstruction. The shit that was going on could hold its own against Chinese slow slicing or Belgians cutting the hands off of Congolese.

      1. The constant rape of black women was horrifying, and no one even talks about it.

        There were a lot of half white babies born to black women in those days, and I don’t think any of that sex can be considered consensual when the woman is literally the man’s property. It was basically institutional sex slavery.

        1. Aahhhhhhhhhh…. the good ole days!!!
          *wipes nostalgic tear away*

        2. I believe Douglass himself was approximately as black as Obama.

          1. “This proves I am impartial. My first wife was the color of my mother and the second, the color of my father.” — Douglass on his two wives.

        3. While I agree that in general most slave owner-slave sex was WAY too skeevy to be considered consenual, I can’t agree with the idea in that in every case it was rape. We have accounts and so on that seemed to show that there were cases of what seem to be legitimate romances going on sometimes. Like, yes, on paper they had absolute power over this other human, but in some cases it seems like a “But dude, I would never DO that because I love her.” And there even seems to be indications that the romance wasn’t entirely one-sided: human beings just do sort of naturally feel some level of affection for their lovers, and in some cases it was more akin to that than to rape.

          And to me, those cases are a great example of how morally compromising slavery was. That there were these feelings there, and the accountd we have seem to indicate that they were honestly felt is hard to resolve with the fact that one human being had such absolute power over another that it could seriously skew their perspective.

          To put it this way: in the Jim Crow era, there were interracial relationships of varying levels of exploitation, from completely immoral (false rape claims, the way black female prostitution worked especially in relation to the Southern elite) to totally loving and moral. While slavery was far more exploitative, I think it must be acknowledged that these shades of grey do exist, if infrequent and probably statistically insignificant.

        4. The constant rape of black women was horrifying, and no one even talks about it.

          Abolitionists accused slaveowners of wanting to perpetuate slavery in order to rape black women in their polemics.

      2. You mean they weren’t just walking around singing all day ala Song of the South?

        1. When you were slaves, you sang like birds.

          1. One of my favorite shows when I was in college.

      3. Thus starting America’s long-running love of invading countries to implement regime change, trying to maintain order for a while, getting frustrated at the cost and glacial pace of change, and finally pulling out and letting everything go completely to shit.

    4. He could have been using nation in the sense of “civilized nations” which was pretty common at that time. It carried the assumption that anyone outside of the “civilized” group were barbarians. Since, even by the 1850s, many Americans considered their nation more evolved than others, suggesting it was worse than Russia, France, the Ottomans was a pretty big slap in the face.

      1. That’s pretty much what I figured he meant, and almost included that caveat in my original comment.

    5. He did later say that the way the Irish were treated was as barbarous as what happened to slaves or worse.

  7. Frederick Douglass was awesome. He was advocating school desegregation in 1850 and also supported women’s suffrage 70 years before it became a reality. Great writer, too.

    1. “A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex”

      1. I think we all need to go on other sites today and troll by pointing out what a classical conservative and staunch republican/ Republican he was…

        1. He did say:

          “The True Remedy for the Fugitive Slave Bill [was a] good revolver, a steady hand and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap”

          and

          “The only way to make the Fugitive Slave a dead letter, is to make a few dead slave-catchers. There is no need to kill them either–shoot them in the legs, and send them to the South [as] living epistles of the free gospel preached here in the North”

          Which was also pretty cool.

          1. That is awesome, especially the second one.

            1. He is practically paraphrasing Voltaire, with whose work he was probably familiar.
              “In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.”

              1. When did we lose that mentality? Not that we should be summarily executing people in public office just for the heck of it, but when did we lose touch with the notion that it is acceptable to use force to defend your rights from the government?

          1. But what did the man say. I’m assuming he finished with “let no child be kept from the cartridge box”.

            1. Yes, of course. I thought that was obvious.

            2. “Let no child be kept from the cartridge box, because they need their target practice.”

            3. I can’t find the conclusion of the quote online. Yours seems pretty good to me.

      2. Put that man on some money!!!!

        1. I am submitting a campaign to my representatives in Washington for the creation of the Douglass Dollar. A minted coin (like the Sacajawea one) with Douglass’s grand visage upon it.

          Seriously.

    2. Douglass was libertarian if for no other reason than he defended (as did Harriet Tubman) the right of the slave to escape on the grounds that a man owned himself. “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

    3. So he’s at fault for prohibition and the drug war.

  8. About 20 years ago, Cato or Reason or one of those Koch Brothers outfits put out an book on the twenty heroes of liberty, or something like that. I was surprised to see Frederick Douglass included, as my government schooling had led me to think that he was just another fiery, angry orator in the abolition movement. That would hardly seem to establish libertarian bona fides. The article peeked my curiosity about Douglass such that I read one old and one new biography of the guy. Indeed and in word, Frederick Douglass was a champion of liberty and a great American.

    1. You’re a great american Cato.

      1. Your mom is an ok American, FM.

        1. She prefers “Semi-aquatic American”.

          1. +1 webbed feet

          2. +1 Innsmouth look

  9. If they ever made a Douglass biopic, I could see Ice Cube playing the lead role.

    1. Younger angrier Ice Cube. Not current sell-out, family-friendly Ice Cube. No. Just, no…

    2. Maybe Idris Elba could get an Oscar that way?

    3. It’s a shame the man’s story has not been told.

  10. William Lloyd Garrison.

  11. William Lloyd Garrison.

  12. So nobody’s going to talk about the elephant in the room? I think it’s only fair that if y

    1. Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com

      Still lulz.

  13. Oh, that’s Frederick Douglass? I thought it was Moses, for some reason.

    Woo! Douglass! Awesome man.

    I visited the Smithsonian American Art museum at Christmas, and they have a tiny photograph from an abolitionist convention in New England, organized to discuss the Fugitive Slave Act. The photo is only a few square inches, but you can still make out Douglass with his big hair, and the two escaped slaves who were invited to speak. It was very cool to see.

  14. While studying American history in university, I came across Douglass quite a few times and always thought him to be awesome. A real courageous, intellectual pillar.

    Frederick Douglass: A real gem of an American.

    Fast forward – scratches needles on record – to today and see Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Spike Lee.

    1. While studying Canadian history in university, I came across…[giggles]…[breaks out into full laughter]

      Sorry, I thought I could, but I couldn’t.

      1. In all seriousness, I don’t even remembering learning much about Douglas in American history, which may be an indictment of myself, but this *is* the public education system we are talking about, so…

        And there were some badass Canadian explorers. You know I’m just joshing you buddy.

        1. Yeh, I know. I don’t ruffle easy.

          I only came across Douglass in post-secondary education.

        2. No it’s the schooling. Whenever I get the chance I try to sneak something about him in the classes I am subbing for.

          They like to talk about Harriet Tubman’a deeds, but never what she actually said and thought. Little to nothing on Douglass.

    2. I fear this man, this great man, is being lost to history.

  15. I’d like to see how the race baiters square the circle behind Douglass’s influence on Clarence Thomas (Thomas has a portrait of Douglass in his chambers) vs their praise of Frederick vs. their insults to Thomas in terms of his decisions, especially on things like affirmative action.

    “the Constitution does not permit ‘measures to keep the races together’ any more than it allowed measures to keep the races apart.”

  16. Douglass’s master was just protecting him from the evils of runaway laissez faire capitalism. With his lack of education, surely Douglass was really just a ripe victim for exploitation by greedy capitalists. Surely, it’s better to have someone with enlightenment and education take responsibility for his life and welfare while Douglass worked to advance the interests of the collective good. Really all this stuff about “freedom” is just false consciousness on Douglass’s part. Really, the only unfortunate thing about the whole arrangement is that Mr. Douglass’s status wasn’t universal and the master wasn’t democratically elected.

    /if progressives were ever honest about what they believe

  17. I’ve seen this quote here before, too.

    “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

  18. Douglass was a big presence in my home town (Rochester) so we studied him a lot but for the life of me our teachers sure did a good job of leeching any messages of liberty that were not directly related to slavery out of his works.

  19. Marx’s Manifesto wan’t even published in the US until 1872. How popular was socialism becoming again? In 1876, Douglass went to the Republican Convention in Cincinnati and berated the attendees because America had all but abandoned the Freemen. He argued that they should have been given land, stripping it from those who prospered from slavery. Of course he was FOR owning property because “40 Acres and a mule” had been promised and broken. In 1876, the Republicans allowed Reconstruction to end and for most African-Americans, their fate was sealed for another 100+ years.

    1. Marx’s Manifesto wan’t even published in the US until 1872.

      Bastiat was talking about socialism in the 1850s. Marx did not originate the ideas. Agrarianism has hints of socialism and predates the country’s founding.

      In 1876, Douglass went to the Republican Convention in Cincinnati and berated the attendees because America had all but abandoned the Freemen. He argued that they should have been given land, stripping it from those who prospered from slavery.

      An act that likely would have perpetuated a second civil war.

      In 1876, the Republicans allowed Reconstruction to end and for most African-Americans, their fate was sealed for another 100+ years.

      First of all, they didn’t have much choice. The political situation that Lincoln held largely died with him. In 1876, the war more than a decade in the past and the political will to continue a federal occupation of the South was not there anymore.

      Secondly, a great migration of black people from the South to the cities of the North occurred during the 100 years when you claim their “fate was sealed”. While this was hardly the entire population of African-Americans, it does represent a significant change which improved the lot for many of them.

      1. “Bastiat was talking about socialism in the 1850s. Marx did not originate the ideas. Agrarianism has hints of socialism and predates the country’s founding.”

        Still, Douglass would have not opposed ANY assistance to the freedman whether, monetary, land or otherwise.

        “An act that likely would have perpetuated a second civil war.” With what Army? The Confederate army was beaten, disarmed, disbanded and the South was occupied. The fact is that the North, who controlled EVERYTHING, could not stomach handing over compensation to Black Americans, taking it from the Southern plantations or giving away land in the West. Douglass would have approved of all.

        “Secondly, a great migration of black people from the South to the cities of the North occurred during the 100 years when you claim their “fate was sealed”. While this was hardly the entire population of African-Americans, it does represent a significant change which improved the lot for many of them.” Lives somewhat improved but second class citizens at best, and often much worse than 2nd Class (that saved for some white immigrants).

        1. I would imagine taking land or property away from southerners would have continued to foster bad feelings between two sides.

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