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Frederick Douglass

This research will examine sociopolitical implications of Frederick Douglass's critique of the slave and the master in his autobiography. The research will set forth the context for Douglass's analysis as a commentary on the structure of the federal government established by the 1789 Constitutional Convention, and then discuss Douglass's analysis in that context as well as with reference to the fictional character of Captain Ahab in Melville's novel Moby Dick, with a view toward identifying the attributes of the centralization of power as exhibited in both the constitutional and fictional configurations as relevant to understanding the character of power in the slave-master relationship and the character of the power-oppressed figures such as the slave, and, more generally, the whole question of power in American culture and politics.

To say that the peculiar institution of antebellum American slavery provided the context for Douglass's critique of slave and master in his second autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom is almost a tautology, given the truism of American history that slavery first in the colonies and later in the United States as such, developed and functioned as a byproduct of American conditions and what could be called peculiarly American attitudes. Becker cites the disconnect between "the old Puritan spirit . . . [and] the stuff it worked in." Even the economy of Rhode Island, a colony established by Roger Williams as "an experiment in democracy and soul liberty," was by the middle of the eighteenth century dominated by slave-owning planters at Newport. Although the slave trade and the institution of slavery itself moved ever farther southward after the Revolutionary War, the institution was ingrained into the very fabric of the constitution (notably in the three-fifths Great Compromise) and indeed of constitutional discourse of the country as a whole.

The slavery discourse was itself connected to the more gen...

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Frederick Douglass. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:07, March 26, 2019, from