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Education Was a Key for Frederick Douglass's Freedom

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A significant difference between Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Franklin is being born free and being born in the bondage of slavery. The number one interest that both men share is the fact that they both started out with nothing, yet became famous figures in American History, even until today. The differences in both narrative reading abilities are Franklin enhanced his learning ability through reading various books, and Douglass had no previous learning ability, yet he learned to read by the generosity of his master’s wife, as well as giving food to hungry children. Both narratives have numerous similarities and differences as they have both been indebted to work for someone.

Frederick Douglass being born into slavery had to work for his master while Benjamin Franklin had to work for his father and his brother. Despite not being born into an extremely below the poverty level family, Benjamin Franklin still had a desire to make a better life for himself. Therefore, he was not satisfied working in the candle and soap making business with his father, nor becoming part of the clergy. However, Frederick Douglass was not satisfied with his position in life being a slave, therefore he hungered for freedom from the bondage of the slave masters. Although during 19th Century slaves were forbidden to learn any type of reading or writing, Douglass knew learning to read was the key to his future. Therefore, he fully took advantage of every opportunity that he could to secretly learn how to read and write. This required him to educate himself at the risk of brutal punishment and then to take the even greater risk of an escape attempt.

Frederick Douglass like Benjamin Franklin knew that education was the key fulling their American Dream. Both men basically had to learn on their own without obtaining a college degree. Douglass knew what it felt like to go to bed at night hungry at an early age. He also learned what it was like to be afraid of being punish, and not have the comfort of a mother’s love. During the 19th century slaves were not able to love and comfort their children when they were sick, or afraid. For instance, many slave children were sold to other slave holders, and sadly the mothers could not do anything to prevent their masters from taking their children. In this era all slaves were considered the property of their masters. Therefore, the masters or overseers could do anything that they wanted to do to their slave, and nothing would be said or done to prevent their actions. When a slave did not complete assigned tasks in a timely manner, they would often be severely punished by being whipped by the overseers, as to make an example for the other slaves to see. Often the slaves were subject to the cold weather due to the lack of adequate clothing. The plantation masters had one major expectation for each slave, which were to perform all assigned tasks, without procrastinating, or be severely whipped. The plantation owners had no respect for males or females’ slaves, as they often forced some of the women to engage in sexual activities. Many times, these encounters result in bi-racial children being born that most often were sold as any other property. “His mother was Harriet Bailey; his father was a white man whose identity is still not known, although widely assumed to have been his mother’s owner, Aaron Anthony”.

Frederick Douglass way of thinking about his life changed when Mrs. Auld taught him to read certain letters of the alphabets. In the 18th Century it was considered a crime to teach slaves to read, therefore Mr. Auld had a much different opinion from his wife when it came to slaves being educated. Not only did “he rebukes her and tell her that teaching a slave to read is unlawful and unwise: if you teach a nigger to read, there would be no keeping him.” Consequently, the slave owners wanted to keep the slaves in the dark about reality, they did not want them think about nothing but their assigned duties on the plantation. These owners knew if the slaves learn to read and write they would most likely become rebellious against the abuse of the slave masters. On the other hand, if the slaves become rebellious and decide to run away there would be no one to work the fields or do all the household chores. 

Frederick Douglass brief learning experience left him wanting to learn even more, because he knew this was his key to freedom. Therefore, he began to think about what it would be like to be a free man instead of a work slave. “Where before he had sensed the injustice of slavery, now he had arguments proving contradictions and inconsistencies.” After learning to read he began to see slavery in a different light, therefore he began to plot his escape, even after his fail at escaping he did not give up on his quest for freedom. On the second try he succeeded in escaping the cruelty of slavery. He gave numerous talks and lectures on the cruelty of slavery and went on to write about his previous life as a slave, as well as his life as a free man.  

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Education Was a Key for Frederick Douglass’s Freedom. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from
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