Douglass Learns of Abolitionist Movement

African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass first encountered The Columbian Orator around the age of twelve, just after he learned to read.

This book he so cherished, that he would carry it with him as he escaped from slavery in 1838. As Douglass became educated in the rudimentary skills of literacy, he also became educated about the injustice of slavery. Of all the pieces in the book, Douglass focused on the master-slave dialogue and the speech on behalf of Catholic Emancipation. These pieces helped Douglass to articulate why slavery was wrong, both philosophically and politically, as he emerged as the greatest African-American leader and orator of the nineteenth century. The Columbian Orator, then, becomes a symbol not only of human rights, but also of the power of eloquence and articulation. To some extent, Douglass saw his own life’s work as an attempt to replicate The Columbian Orator.

Frederick was greatly affected by the speeches on freedom in The Columbian Orator, and so began reading local newspapers and began to learn about abolitionists. Not quite 13 years old but enlightened with new ideas that both tormented and inspired him. Frederick began to detest slavery. His dreams of emancipation were encouraged by the example of other blacks in Baltimore, most of whom were free. But new laws passed by southern state legislators made it increasingly difficult for owners to free their slaves.