In April 1865, as the Civil War was reaching its bloody climax, the abolitionist leader and escaped former slave Frederick Douglass stood before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society and delivered a rousing speech entitled “What the Black Man Wants.” “The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us,” Douglass told the crowd. “I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief.” In fact, he continued, “if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall.…All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”
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.
Nor was Douglass a fan of organized labor. Since most labor unions at the time excluded blacks from their ranks, while lobbying the government for exclusive privileges, Douglass justifiably saw unions as yet another racist obstacle to black economic independence. As he argued in his 1874 essay “The Folly, Tyranny, and Wickedness of Labor Unions,” there was “abundant proof almost every day of their mischievous influence upon every industrial interest in the country.”
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Damon Root's review of a new book about Douglass:
Posted by Aardvark at 10:14 AM