The Founders: Douglass is the Mofo Answer

Stewart’s birth as a free woman in the North shares some similarities with Douglass’ enslaved birth in rural Maryland. Mainly that both are orphaned at very young ages. Both authors are also literate. While Douglass is taught the basics or reading by an unaware Sophia Auld with the Book of Job; Stewart most likely learned in Sabbath School or from the clergyman’s family she works for throughout childhood. Her removal from the system of chattel slavery is apparent. Stewart appears to be shaped by her limited perceptions of the depth of cruelty facing black men:

I would ask, is it blindness of mind, or stupidity of soul, or the want of education that has caused our men who are 60 or 70 years of age, never to let their voices be heard, nor their hands be raised in behalf of their color? Or has it been for the fear of offending the whites? If it has, O ye fearful ones, throw off your fearfulness, and come forth in the name of the Lord, and in the strength of the God of justice, and make yourselves useful and active members in society; for they admire a noble and patriotic spirit in others; and should they not admire it in us? If you are men, convince them that you possess the spirit of men; and as your day, so shall your strength be. Have the sons of Africa no souls? Feel they no ambitious desires? Shall the chains of ignorance forever confine them? Shall the insipid appellation of ‘clever negroes’ or ‘good creatures,’ any longer content them? Where can we find among ourselves the man of science, or a philosopher, or able statesman, or a counsellor at law? Show me our fearless and brave, noble and gallant ones. (Stewart 57).

 

Although Stewart may be addressing the free populations of Boston, it is hard to reconcile a statement this vociferous with Douglass’ matter-of-fact telling of the cruelties that he met in Baltimore. Four white apprentices at the shipyard beat him up and shouted obscenities as he attempted to fulfill his master’s orders (Douglass 101-2). Conceivably, free black men faced the same competition and dangers on the labor market. Thus it would be wholly sensible that these men feared for their lives and safety. Stewart’s attempt to literally invoke the word of God on every black man appears to lack some perspective and concept of their individual struggles. She even goes so far as to suggest that if every black man in the United States had signed a petition to Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia then the they would already be working towards receiving their rights and privileges. Given the brutal nature of race-based enslavement and its importance to America, this is highly unlikely. Yet, to Stewart it seems just based on her religious understanding. The most interesting portion of the long passage from the Masonic Temple is Stewart’s reference to a ‘God of justice’ that both authors write and speak about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *