Excerpt - The Present And Future Of The Colored Race In America
Frederick Douglass 1863
The first is, despite all theories and all disparagements, the Negro is a man. By every fact, by every argument, by every rule of measurement, mental, moral or spiritual, by everything in the heavens above and in the earth beneath which vindicates the humanity of any class of beings, the Negro’s humanity is equally vindicated. The lines which separate him from the brute creation are as broad, distinct and palpable, as those which define and establish the very best specimens of the Indo-Caucasian race. I will not stop here to prove the manhood of the Negro. His virtues and his vices, his courage and his cowardice, his beauties and his deformities, his wisdom and his folly, everything connected with him, attests his manhood.
If the Negro were a horse or an ox, the question as to whether he can become a party to the American government, and member of the nation, could never have been raised. The very questions raised against him con-firm the truth of what they are raised to disprove. We have laws forbidding the Negro to learn to read, others forbidding his owning a dog, others punishing him for using fire arms, and our Congress came near passing a law that a Negro should in no case be superior to a white man, thus admitting the very possibility of what they were attempting to deny.
But it is said that the Negro belongs to an inferior race. Inferior race! This is the apology, the philosophical and ethnological apology for all the hell-black crimes ever committed by the white race against the blacks and the warrant for the repetition of those crimes through all times. Inferior race! It is an old argument. All nations have been compelled to meet it in some form or other since mankind have been divided into strong and weak, oppressors and oppressed. Whenever and wherever men have been oppressed and enslaved, their oppressors and enslavers have in every in-stance found a warrant for such oppression and enslavement in the alleged character of their victims. The very vices and crimes which slavery generates are usually charged as the peculiar characteristic of the race enslaved. When the Normans conquered the Saxons, the Saxons were a coarse, unrefined, inferior race. When the United States wants to possess herself of Mexican territory, the Mexicans are an inferior race. When Russia wants a share of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks are an inferior race, the sick man of Europe. So, too, when England wishes to impose some new burden on Ireland, or excuse herself for refusing to remove some old one, the Irish are denounced as an inferior race. But this is a monstrous argument. Now, suppose it were true that the Negro is inferior instead of being an apology for oppression and proscription, it is an appeal to all that is noble and magnanimous in the human soul against both. When used in the service of oppression, it is as if one should say, "that man is weak; I am strong, therefore I will knock him down, and as far as I can I will keep him down. Yonder is an ignorant man. I am instructed, therefore I will do what I can to prevent his being instructed and to with-hold from him the means of education. There is another who is low in his associations, rude in his manners, coarse and brutal in his appetites, there-fore I will see to it that his degradation shall be permanent, and that society shall hold out to him no motives or incitements to a more elevated character." I will not stop here to denounce this monstrous excuse for oppression. That men can resort to it shows that when the human mind is once completely under the dominion of pride and selfishness, the reasoning faculties are inverted if not subverted.
I should like to know what constitutes inferiority and the standard of superiority. Must a man be as wise as Socrates, as learned as Humbolt, as profound as Bacon, or as eloquent as Charles Sumner, before he can be reckoned among superior men? Alas! if this were so, few even of the most cultivated of the white race could stand the test. Webster was white and had a large head, but all white men have not large heads. The Negro is black and has a small head, but all Negroes have not small heads. What rule shall we apply to all these heads? Why this: Give all an equal chance to grow.