Frederick Douglass and Adam Smith

Frederick Douglass’s connection to the British Enlightenment. Via David Henderson and David Beito, here is an excerpt from a letter Douglass wrote on November 17, 1864:

“The old doctrine that the slavery of the black, is essential to the freedom of the white race, can maintain itself only in the presence of slavery, where interest douglass_c1860s1and prejudice are the controlling powers, but it stands condemned equally by reason and experience. The statesmanship of to-day condemns and repudiates it as a shallow pretext for oppression. It belongs with the commercial fallacies long ago exposed by Adam Smith. It stands on a level with the contemptible notion, that every crumb of bread that goes into another man’s mouth, is just so much bread taken from mine. Whereas, the rule is in this country of abundant land, the more mouths you have, the more money you can put into your pocket, the more I can put into mine. As with political economy, so with civil and political rights.”

And the Online Library of Liberty reports: “The ex-slave Frederick Douglass reveals that reading speeches by English politicians produced in him a deep love of liberty and hatred of oppression (1882).”

Related:
On the surprising origin of the “dismal science.”
Frederick Douglass and Ayn Rand.
Frederick Douglass’s letter to his former master.

4 thoughts on “Frederick Douglass and Adam Smith

  • February 5, 2014 at 11:36 am
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    Great quote, Dr. Hicks. Thank you!

  • February 6, 2014 at 1:35 am
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    Ditto. Wonderful quote, like so many articulated by this utterly remarkable man.

  • February 7, 2014 at 8:35 pm
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    In ‘Democracy in America’ Alexis De Tocqueville penned perhaps the most powerful economic argument against slavery ever written, moral and humanitarian considerations aside. Paints a picture of an entire society where work was regarded as dishonorable. Imagine! Contrasts slave owning Kentucky with free Ohio across the river, detailing the dreadful inefficiency of the former e.g. a slave owner has to support a child slave for years before it becomes capable of useful work whereas an employer across the river hires a man for the work he needs done at the moment.

  • February 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm
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    That’s a good example, Edward. I like to use Tocqueville’s comparison in my classes. The students connect to it.

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