In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS Frederick Douglass. By William S. McFeely. (New York: Norton, 1991. Pp. 465. $24.95.) For over fifty years Frederick Douglass captured the attention of the nation with his charm and an uncompromising commitment to freedom and equality. More than any other black man of his era he was able to gain the respect of men and women of prominence and influence. And he skillfully used those relationships to further his own definition of liberty, not simply for those of African descent (with whom he was primarily concerned), but for all. Several biographies of Douglass have been written over the years. One of the most comprehensive—authored by Benjamin Quarles—appeared over forty years ago but continues to be recognized for its sound scholarship . One might suspect that little more that is substantive could be uncovered about a man who has been so thoroughly studied. Remarkably, Professor McFeely's book proves otherwise. Frederick Douglass attempts to capture the essence of a man who was as complex as the period in which he lived. This is a lively, intimate study of a very public man and the inner forces that compelled him to move beyond the world of most former slaves. In Frederick Douglass, McFeely has found a dual personality of sorts: there is both the former slave who dared to think himself equal (if not sometimes superior) to any man or woman, and the insecure person who seemed preoccupied at times with proving his greatness to himself and to the world. McFeely addresses virtually every facet of the great orator's life: his earliest years of enslavement on Maryland's Eastern Shore and in Baltimore ; the tumultuous days as a lecturer on the antislavery circuit, where he enthralled audiences with firsthand accounts of the workings of the South's "peculiar institution"; his involvement in the women's movement ; and his continuing demand for equality for his people after emancipation had been attained. Undeniably, Frederick Douglass, the charming, fearless crusader, is revealed in this biography, but McFeely also portrays a man who could be vain, arrogant, and "quick-tempered, alert to the smallest slight." As each chapter of his life unfolds, one gets a sense of the intense pride that shaped the character of this man. His insistence on being treated, above all, with dignity and respect was due BOOK REVIEWS79 in part to his belief that this was the basic right of all human beings. But beyond this, McFeely implies, Douglass was driven by a highly developed sense of the importance of his role as a leader of black America . Unencumbered by feelings of inferiority to whites, he insisted on independence of thought and action. And he sought the kind of public recognition that befitted his status as one of the most prominent members of his race. Consequently, Douglass pursued a number of government appointments, one of the few ways black men could gain recognition in late nineteenth-century America. Despite his steadfast loyalty to the Republican party, however, he was rewarded with only three positions: Marshall of the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for the District, and Minister to Haiti. McFeely maintains that "each time a post eluded him, he grew more hungry to obtain one. Recognition became almost an obsession." The most intriguing aspect of McFeely's treatment of the Douglass story—and in many ways the most vexing because of a paucity of evidence—is his discussion of the relationships Douglass established throughout the years, especially with women. McFeely asserts that Douglass was "somewhat intellectually insecure" with men and therefore "looked to women as confidants, companions, and sources of strength." His beloved grandmother, Betsy Bailey, the woman charged with caring for him until he reached the age of six (a point at which he could be useful to his master), had instilled in him that sense of pride and purpose that remained with him throughout his life. But if Betsy Bailey, a strong, independent black woman, was the "central presence" in his early years, McFeely implies that in adulthood Douglass preferred the company of the adoring white women he met in the antislavery movement. That the friendships he forged with them may have involved more...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 78-80
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.