My Bondage and My Freedom

The Legitimization of Slavery and Frederick Douglass

Slavery's roots extend back more than two thousand years. With such a lengthy past, many arguments have arisen regarding the definition of slavery. Frederick Douglass, being a former slave in the American south, offered one definition of the term “slave” while giving a lecture. He stated, “The slave is a human being, divested of all rights – reduced to the level of a brute... In law, a slave has no wife, no children, no country, and no home…” (“The Nature of Slavery”). One may question how the treatment of a person, in such a manner, could be condoned. In order to successfully convince a society that it is acceptable to enslave an innocent group of people, they needed to justify its legitimacy. Their excuses, however, are immaterial when raised to oppress a strong abolitionist leader. In his book, Inhuman Bondage, David Brion Davis examines the methods of beastialization, dehumanization, and racism as steps toward the legitimization of slavery. As Frederick Douglass rose to prominence in the abolitionist movement, he discounted each of the rationalizations. His actions, rebelling against his “master,” starting a family, and becoming a leader, contradict the justification of slavery. Upon examining the steps taken by the...

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