On February 10, 2017, Harvard professors Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Dr. John Stauffer wrote a Washington Post article entitled, “Five myths about Frederick Douglass,”. In Myth #3, they argue, Frederick Douglass’ political thought does not “fit in with today’s GOP.” I respectfully disagree. There are many political views of Douglass that connect with today’s Republican Party and its platform. His life-empowering values include, but are not limited to:
Respect for the U.S. Constitution: Frederick Douglass deeply and profoundly respected the U. S. Constitution. Originally, Douglass shared the views of his early mentor, William Lloyd Garrison, who denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery document, referring to the three-fifths clause. Douglass later reversed his own opinion after studying the Constitution and Lysander Spooner’s book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, and then thoroughly analyzing the convention notes of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution reads, “We the people; not we the white people” Douglass proclaimed; “and if Negroes are people, they are included in the benefits for which the Constitution of America was ordained and established.”1
Additionally, in his Glasgow, Scotland speech, March 26, 1861, Douglass explained the true meaning of the three-fifths clause: “It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States.”
Belief in School Choice: Frederick Douglass’ writings express his appreciation for school choice. He experienced this issue first hand when he battled the government for the right to send his young daughter, Rosetta, to a better school.
In 1848, the Rochester Board of Education tried to force Douglass, a committed advocate for “school choice,” to send his child to an inferior segregated Negro public school. In his quest to place his 9 year-old in a quality-learning environment, Douglass sent her to Seward Seminary, one of the best private schools in the area. Upon enrolling, Rosetta was promptly expelled because of the color of her skin.
Refusing to accept defeat, Douglass promptly enrolled his daughter in a private school in Albany, New York for two or three years. Douglass, in righteous indignation, wrote the following in a scathing letter to the Seward principal:
“I am glad to inform you that you have not succeeded as you had hoped to do, in depriving my child of the means of a decent education, or the privilege of going to an excellent school.”2
After Douglass placed Rosetta in a private school, he fought to integrate the Rochester Public School System so Negro children could attend quality public schools. In 1857, the Rochester Public School System was desegregated because of the agitation of Douglass, Samuel Porter and other concerned citizens of Rochester. All schools should be excellent, whether they are private or public.
Frederick Douglass desired what all parents want for their children—the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” and that is true within education. When we increase choice, under-performing schools will have no option but to make changes and improve.
Rules for Immigration: On December 7, 1869 Douglass addressed a Boston audience regarding Chinese immigration. In his speech, Our Composite Nationality, Douglass provided his thoughts on the citizenship process. He stated:
“We shall mould [shape or form] them all, each after his kind, into Americans; Indians and Celt, Negro and Saxon, Latin and Teuton, Mongolian and Caucasian, Jew and Gentile, all shall here bow to the same law, speak the same language, support the same government, enjoy the same liberty,…..”3
Douglass advocated that people coming to the United States to live should: (1) Bow to the same law—respect the rule of law; (2) Speak the same language—learn to speak English; (3) Support the same government—become involved in the duties of citizenship; and (4) Enjoy the same liberty—experience justice, opportunity and fair play.
Self-Made Economic Prosperity: In his Self-Made Men lecture, Frederick Douglass emphasized the importance of a deep-seated work ethic, as it related to upward mobility and economic empowerment of the poor. For Douglass, work is the key ingredient in the formula for success for anyone who desires to overcome economic oppression and achieve the American Dream. Douglass declared: “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!”4
Following his own advice and after teaching himself to read and write, Douglass worked in many different jobs, and achieved success, amassing a fortune equal to several million dollars in today’s money.
Unfortunately, government interference has made achieving the American Dream more difficult for many families. It’s hard to start a business or even get a job in some fields because of competition-adverse licensing and unnecessary regulations.
Importance of Free Speech: “No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech,” said Frederick Douglass. In his 1860 article, The Plea for Free Speech in Boston, Douglass stated, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”
“Slavery,” wrote Douglass, “cannot tolerate free speech.”
Allowing free speech without intimidation or repercussions (for example on today’s college campuses) lets us come together and discuss the problems facing our nation—hearing out the other side and arguing each position’s merits and flaws. When an idea is openly shared, it creates dialogue and generates more ideas.
Many scholars join us in holding the opposite point of view of Dr. Gates and Stauffer. These life-empowering values of Frederick Douglass fit perfectly with today’s Republican Party. Republicans want to share their message in ways that successfully resonate with American people. This is what Frederick Douglass Republicans have been doing every day since 2008—empowering and equipping Conservatives and Republicans to engage their family members, friends, and people of different ethnicities, without being labeled a racist, Uncle Tom, or a sellout—trumping the race card. Frederick Douglass still has the answers. Keep in mind, there is no perfect political party because racism has no political face.
“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” -Frederick Douglass
Click here to learn more about the Frederick Douglass Republican Training and Coaching Program.
1Philip S. Foner, ed., Frederick Douglass: Selections from His Writings (New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 387.
2Ibid., p. 136.
3Speech texts taken from John Blassingame and John R. McKivigan, eds., The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Vol. 4 (1864-80) (New Haven: Yale UP, 1991), p. 259
4Douglass, “Self-Made Men,” in Douglass Papers, Vol. V, pp. 556, 569.