Abolition of Slavery Movement

Frederick Douglass, born a slave in 1818, would become one of the most visible and outspoken black abolitionists of the 19thcentury. He grew up in a rapidly expanding United States, whose very expansion stoked debate over the existence of slavery. White slavery advocates began a new vein of argument in defense of slavery: it was no longer an “evil,” but “a positive good.” In his famous 1837 speech to Congress, John C. Calhoun made his “positive good” claim, arguing both blacks and whites benefitted from the institution of slavery, especially as it was constructed in the South. In 1838 Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and headed north. Before long he had joined the budding abolition movement and, with their assistance, had written his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Even though Douglass does not mention Calhoun specifically, his stories-told-as-testimony counter Calhoun’s claims that slavery as “a positive good,” adding a desperately needed voice, the black slave voice, to the debate.

Inquiry Question

How effectively did Frederick Douglass’ 1845 autobiography respond to the claims from the 1830s that slavery was a “positive good?"