4/1/08

Frederick Douglass--liberal, conservative, libertarian, other?

Booker Rising links to a new online magazine that focuses on issues from a black conservative perspective.

Booker Rising comments: "I don't know about the late Frederick Douglass being put on that cover as a conservative. I'd call him a liberal, and even moderate would be a stretch for his time period."

The thing I've noticed about Douglass is that just about every ideology claims him to be one of their own.

You can see in the quotes that people choose to focus on:

Liberals, socialists and activists: "Without struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."

Libertarians and conservatives: "'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!"

In a recent book on black conservatives, Saviors or Sellouts, author Christopher Alan Bracey included Booker T. Washington, but left out Douglass. When I asked Bracey about this at an event, he said that Douglass had both a liberal and conservative side, and that it would have "confused" readers if he had included Douglass. As I also noted: Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Machine was very similar to what Douglass proposed to Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1853. (see pages 353-59)

I don't know of a quote from Frederick Douglass identifying himself with a particular political ideology, but he was associated with the Republican party for more than four decades.

He did say things such as:

"I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress."

"The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the sea."

I do believe that, in his later years, that his devotion to the Republican Party caused him to ignore that Republicans began to waver on civil rights. The generation of "Radical Republicans" had died off, replaced mainly with politicians more concerned with counting votes than on justice for blacks.

That Douglass usually spoke about eternal truths may be the reason that liberals, conservatives, libertarians and even socialists can see themselves in what he said. Plus, it helps that he has been dead for 113 years.

CJL