Douglass concludes that American slavery exists as sinful and that the southern defense of slavery becomes paradoxical and hypocritical. Douglass explains that his narrative in no way denounces religion. In fact, just the opposite. An avid supporter of Christianity Douglas uses anecdotal syllogisms to provide us with evidence that each point southern plantation owners and citizens use to hold the moral high ground on slavery shows as utterly false.
Douglass explains that when southerners say that black people as known in the south have no readiness for freedom, southerns exist in ignorance. Douglass tells the story of a event in which he spent a night at a evangelical christian revival with his employer and returned late to his master. Mr. Hugh, who had been garnishing Douglass’s wages scarce could “restrain his wrath. He said he had a great mind to give me a severe whipping. He wished to know how I dared go out of the city without asking his permission…” (110). This led to Douglass deciding the time to escape to the north and to freedom had come. However, it appears evident from Hugh’s actions that southerners thought slaves were ready for freedom and just did not want to lose control.
Douglass explains that the burden southerners feel to parent slaves shows in appearance alone. Douglass tells us the story of Mrs. Hicks, a white woman who beats to death a hopeless slave girl. For years this slave girl has done nothing wrong yet still gets beatings. And finally, one night Mrs. Hicks cracks and beats her “breaking her nose and breastbone with a stick so that poor girl expired after” (40). Obviously, no shape of parenting has occurred in this scenario and thus Douglass easily refutes the common southern defense of slavery.
Furthermore, Douglass explains that slaves in reality show no happiness. Southerners may often say it however, just the opposite is true Douglass tells us the story of a young slave who accidentally ran into his master and ran into the question if he lived a happy life and if his master treated him well. The slave not knowing the man in front of him, unwittingly stated his owner and that his owner had treated him horribly. Colonel Lloyd (the questioner and owner) had the slave “immediately chained and handcuffed… for having found fault with his master was now to be sold to a Georgia trader” (35). Clearly this slave became so unhappy that he felt the need to reach beyond fear and express it. Only to be horribly torn away from his family and punished. In this right southerners sin. The sin is that they are teaching slaves to fear telling the truth and that they are lying about sinning.
When Douglass finally escapes to the north he finds that the cities bustle with business. That even without slavery the north is successful. In the southern defense of slavery it becomes evident that the southern economic system has far superior qualities than that of the north. “I found myself surrounded by the strongest proofs of wealth” (117). They have benevolence where the north just throws their workers away. Douglass immediately sees this as untrue. Not only does the north successfully function without slavery but they treat their workers well which becomes evident through the higher living standards than those of the south.
Finally, Douglass tells us the story of Christmas. He explains to the readers that slaves had a typical Christmas holiday in which they were encouraged to drink. This drinking kept slaves in line and stayed thoughts of escape or abandoning their masters. Making slaves into the people the southerners always said they were and forcing them to sin. “A slave who would work during the holidays was considered by our masters as scarcely deserving them” (73). This very clearly refutes the southern claim the it would be amoral to free slaves because southerners clearly have no concern for morality. In getting slaves drunk constantly on their one period of “freedom” southerners prove that they only care about having a continuous work force.
Christianity neither denounces nor promotes slavery. However, it encourages slave owners in the art of benevolence and proclaims slaves as useful and hardworking. After the Declaration of Independence the north felt the principles of slavery and the document were inconsistent so they abolished it. The south felt if they did this an insurrection would occur do to the larger black population. Their solution became the back to Africa movement. However, when the south began to produce cotton economic rationalization began to occur and with it moral justification. The north felt indecisive about the issue entirely and the northern evangelical Protestants needed assurance that they upheld their faith. They needed to do this by battling against sin wherever it may appear and showing the path to heaven to sinners. Fredrick Douglass showed them the only way to do this was to abolish slavery in the south. Douglass appealed to the northern evangelical protestants by showing that slavery is sinful and must be eliminated or they would not get their assurance. Fredrick Douglass changed the norths views and precipitated a religious war that tore the country apart but ultimately ended the institution of slavery and brought the union together.
Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, 1-128. Signet Classics, 1997.