A Life of One's Own: Slavery, Self-Ownership, and the Foundations of Frederick Douglass's Liberalism
When Frederick Douglass began his career as an abolitionist orator, his white mentors encouraged him to use his time at the podium to tell stories about his experiences as a slave. "Give us the facts," abolitionist John Collins instructed Douglass, "we will take care of the philosophy." Douglass rejected these instructions. Rather than just giving us the facts of life as a slave, he offered an important defense of natural rights liberalism. Douglass's defense of the idea of self-ownership in the shadow of the experience of slavery constitutes an important chapter in the history of liberalism. Douglass drew on his life as a slave to reveal how the deprivation of freedom denied slaves their "selfhood"-the opportunity to pursue all of those things that make life worth living. Universal self-ownership is required by natural law because human beings want to be free and they are endowed with the capacities that make them fit for freedom. In this essay I reconstruct Douglass 's case against slavery and for self-ownership in order to deepen our understanding of this important liberal statesman. I argue that Douglass 's critique of slavery and defense of self-ownership constitutes an important chapter in the history of liberal ideas.
"A Life of One's Own: Slavery, Self-Ownership, and the Foundations of Frederick Douglass's Liberalism,"
Journal of Political Science: Vol. 37
, Article 7.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.coastal.edu/jops/vol37/iss1/7
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