In the 1850’s a Republican liberator began to rise to prominence. He was a giant of a man both physically and intellectually. He was raised in adverse circumstances that he would eventually rise above. When called upon, he served his country admirably in grave times, and broke racial barriers in this nation like no other man before him had. No, I’m not speaking of Abraham Lincoln, although that description would be equally fitting for him; I speak of the great anti-slavery orator Frederick Douglass.
As it was with most people born into slavery, Douglass did not know the exact date of his birth. He did however adopt Valentine’s Day as his birthday due to the fact that his mother, Harriet Bailey, lovingly referred to him as “her little valentine.” This year will mark the 192nd anniversary of Douglass’ birth.
Like many historical figures, Frederick Douglass’ true character and beliefs have been somewhat obscured, whether due to the fog of time, or to fit modern agendas. While we take for granted today that Douglass’ views on the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage were just, his view of the US Constitution would be considered by many to be out of the mainstream.
On July 5th of 1852, Douglass, who referred to himself as a “black, dyed in the wool Republican”, addressed the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York. During his passionate speech, Douglass said, "Take the Constitution according to its plain reading. I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it." Douglass continued his Independence Day address by proclaiming that, "Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document."
Imagine the leap of faith that that statement must have taken for a black man who lived in a time in which members of his family were treated as property to view the Constitution as a beacon of liberty. If the self educated scholar Douglass had stood in front of the crowd and torn the document to shreds, one could scarcely have blamed him. While evident to Douglass over 150 years ago, this trust in the idea of limited government in general, and the protections afforded by the United States Constitution specifically, seems to be difficult for many on the American left to accept even today.