"MATTERS FOR WHICH A SLAVE MAY BE WHIPPED"
Perhaps the nineteenth century's staunchest advocate of equal rights,
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on Maryland's eastern shore in 1818,
the son of a slave woman and an unknown white man. While toiling as a ship's
caulker, he taught himself to read. After he escaped from slavery at the age
of 1820, he became the abolitionist movement's most effective orator and
published an influential anti-
newspaper, The North Star. In this excerpt from one of his three
autobiographies, he describes the circumstances that prompted slaveowners to
A mere look, word, or motion,-
mistake, accident, or want of power,-
all matters for which a slave may be whipped at any time. Does a slave look
dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in him, and it must be whipped
out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by his master? Then he is getting
and should be taken down a button-
lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat at the approach of a white person?
Then he is wanting in reverence, and should be whipped for it. Does he ever
venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it? Then he is guilty of
of the greatest crimes of which a slave can be guilty. Does he ever venture
to suggest a different mode of doing things from that pointed out by his
master? He is indeed presumptuous, and getting above himself....
Source: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
(3rd. English ed., Leeds, 1846)