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Dialogue of Cultures

The Historical Individual

Frederick Douglass
Breaking Through to Freedom

by Ed Hammler
LaRouche Youth Movement

Frederick Douglass
What we're looking at in Frederick Douglass, was a specific action that he chose to take, motivated by this type of passion. because when he freed himself, he said, I’m not only going to get freed, and just be there, and hang out, and retire. He said, look I’ve got to free everybody. I have to join the abolitionists. I’ve got to work with Lincoln. I’ve got to do these things.
Related Pages

This is based on a class given in Leesburg, Va., in December 2003, by the author, who is a member of the LaRouche Youth Movement. It was published in New Federalist, and is reprinted here with permission.

What I want to get into today is, the life of Frederich Douglass. I never really liked history. The only thing I liked was art, painting and so forth. And obviously I didn't understand what history was at that point.

But I started to work on this Frederick Douglass project. And my idea was that if I can memorize all of the important dates, then I can know Douglass's life. And, as I tried to do that, I felt my brain melting. Because it's insane. It's like if you try to study Classical music note by note by note by note, you drive yourself insane!

So, I said, okay, that's not going to work. So, I started developing more ideas about this.... I said, okay, well, this isn't going to work, so what I have to do, is pretty much get to know Frederick Douglass, as a person, really. I have to get to know him. So, I did that. And at that point the dates came easier, if you know who he is. And so I presented the class the first time.

But I knew something was missing, in the first class that I gave. I didn't really know what it was until Lyndon LaRouche came out with the “Complex Domain” paper1. I knew Lyn was brilliant, but that paper just sort of put it in a new perspective for me.

And looking at this idea of the complex domain, you have to be in history, and step outside of it at the same time. You have to be above it, and be in it at the same time. And what you find is that, when you're looking at history, just like when you're looking at any historical individual, you're not necessarily looking at results of a certain individual, or a certain period of time. Like any good scientist, you look for the cause of that. You don't study the flower's petals; you say, well, what made these petals grow? What's causing this?

Now, when we look at the person of Frederick Douglass, it's very interesting to me, because there are a lot of similarities that I saw when I looked at Frederick, from my own life. Of course, he had it worse than me, there's no doubt about it. But the way he thought about things was very interesting.

As most people know, the general story is that he escaped from slavery. He went on to become a prominent Abolitionist, fighting against slavery, and also having an alliance with Lincoln at a certain point, when he realized that certain aspects of the Abolitionist movement were trying to break up the Union. And he said, that what Lincoln represents is a true American tradition, which is contrary to the Confederacy, from which the Abolitionists are adopting their argument.

So, he had that.

After an alliance with Lincoln, he had a lot of rank, in terms of the military. He was an Adjutant General at one point. And he went on to build the city of Washington, D.C. in certain respects. And in the meantime, he just lived a wonderful life.

And the reason why I'm skipping over a lot of these things will become obvious.

Understanding Douglass

But, let's just dig into Douglass a little bit. Because in order for anybody to really understand people in history, they're going to have to really set their egos aside. And I say this because, how do you build a friendship with somebody?... When you're trying to involve yourself in a relationship, there's going to be a hell of a lot of sacrifices you have to make. There's going to be a lot of things that you don't want to do, that have to be done, in order to secure the relationship and so forth.

This is the same thing that you're doing when you're looking at people in history. Because, when you talk about people, even dead people, even Plato, you're not talking about Plato's body, or something. The only thing you know, is Plato's mind.

And it's the same thing with ourselves. So, you look back at Douglass, and you say, well, you have to know Douglass's mind in order to know Douglass, and the various historical aspects, which are contained in him.

In any case, people say they know things, they know people, they know Lyn, and you know, number one, Lyn's mind is very—not that easy to grasp. And number two, if you're not actually looking at people from the standpoint of their minds in the first place, then it's going to be hard to know them.

So, we have to look at Douglass in that way.

Now, he was born in 1818, in Tuckahoe, Maryland. And he was born a slave. And for a long time, he really didn't know. Because he was with his grandmother for a while, whom he loved a great deal. And then, there was a big problem that happened: Here he is, a kid, about five years old, with his grandmom, he's developing a nice relationship and so forth, and then, he's immediately moved, by the time he's six, to the plantation. And he never sees the grandmother again.

Now, think about this for a minute. You're five years old, playing in the fields, and all of a sudden, the only person that you can depend on, the only person whom you really loved, and you have this kind of relationship with, is now gone. Not only that, but there's also an identity crisis that you go through, because he discovered that he was a slave when he was about seven.

So, he got to the plantation, and for a while, he's pretty much dizzy—he didn't know what the hell was going on. He knew that there were people of his skin color that were working the fields. He knew that there were various things going on. He knew that he was missing freedom, when he was that young, because he couldn't do various things that he wanted to do when he was with his grandmother, so he knew that there was a complete difference.

But Douglass is actually brilliant, in terms of just thinking on a basic level, not really getting into a lot of academic garbage. Douglass is a perfect example of how to think. Because even when he's seven years old, he's asking himself all these questions—very Socratic—without even knowing Socrates. He says, well, why am I a slave? Am I a slave? What's the difference between the Irish slave, and me?

He starts asking himself all these questions, very Socratically. And at one point, he says, well, race must not have to do with color, because, like I said, you have on the one side, white slaves, and you have me. But what the difference?

So, he started developing ideas at the age of seven, about slavery, which were very contradictory to the way some people thought about it. Some people thought, well, I'm black, so that makes me a slave. Douglass said, no, no, that can't be true. So, at this young age, you see the type of process going on in his development.

And usually the way it works, is the slaves, depending on their level of usefulness, get moved around a lot. And he got moved around, when he got a little bit older, to Baltimore, to what they called the “Great House.” And this is where Douglass learned how to read.

Learning To Read

Now, this is one of those moments: Here you have a situation where Douglass finds out he's a slave. He finds out that he's going to be in bondage forever, I mean, his idea was that, I'm a slave for life, he says, that's it. And, one day, he sees his master's wife Sophia, Mistress Sophia, reading the Bible out loud. And prior to this, she was sort of naive to the entire system of slavery, frankly, and she would be very nice to Frederick. She didn't really understand what the institution of slavery did to the slavemasters, as well as the slaves. She wasn't really affected by it—until after her husband told her not to teach him how to read.

But, he saw this. The Bible of all things, which is very good, if you hear somebody reading from it. And what he says is, that this sparked a certain interest, because previously, he knew of his mother, and she was a very brilliant woman. She knew how to read. But he only actually saw her a few times in his life, very few. But what he did see, was a certain image reflected back on himself, which was contradictory to what he thought of himself at that time. But then his mother died.

So, whenever Douglass made certain discoveries, certain things would knock him down, and he would be in the “I'm a slave for life” mode, again. But when he saw this, this was a very significant transition. It wasn't a cyclical thing; it was very definitive to everything that Frederick later did. And even Sophia's husband said, “Boy, you give these 'niggers' an inch, they take an ell. You can't be teachin' these guys how to read, because if you do, you can't contain them. He's going to be unhappy. He's going to want to set himself free.” That's what happened.

But, when she started to teach him how to read, from the kindness of her heart, being naive about the institution of slavery, and not having the effects of it, Frederick really didn't have any fear, which was a sort of huge boundary to overcome as a slave. Because the fear factor was very prominent. I mean, you really didn't have any rights, you were chattel. I mean, people have a sense of what this was, you're getting whipped, and you're bloody for days. You get giant scars on your back forever. I mean, even the older slaves, if they became freemen, would, they would have to remember this, feel the scars on their back, and they would remember this type of horror that went on.

And Frederick saw this as a young child. I mean, think about today. Think about this kind of desensitization, the desensitizing that goes on. You've got young kids who go into movies, and see people get their heads lopped off. But this was Frederick's life. This wasn't make-believe. This was what he actually saw.

So, for him to overcome this kind of fear, at the hands of the slavemaster's wife, was very significant. And he also learned how to read and write at the same point in time. About which Frederick comments, “Some of the slaves actually didn't want to know how to read.” And he said, what the hell is this? You know, I really understand at this point, I'm very young, I really understand that if I know how to read, I can also think in a different way. I can perhaps free myself, if I can learn how to read. And Frederick said, I don't see how these guys can run from that.

But, that's organizing, right? You have an organization, you have a youth movement, you have a LaRouche, who's committed to all the things that people dream of, but when they're actually confronted with it, they run from it. It's very ironic.

So, he's looking at very profound concepts: that's immortality. When he's 14, he's looking at this. Very profound.

So, he learns how to read. And it's very interesting, because from that point on, he gets himself wrapped up in education, so to speak. He finds newspapers. He starts working in the shipyard; that's where he learned how to write, at the shipyard, copying the letters which would be inscribed on the wood in the shipyard. So, he's learning all these things. He had an conversation with some Irish slaves, who he was working on the ship with, and they said, I don't see any difference between you and me. I don't really know what this slavery business is.

So, it's a conglomeration of various events, that, after he learned how to read, which are really shaping Frederick's life. And, at a certain point, when Frederick is a little older, he tries to escape for the first time. Actually, it was a plan of a group of people, that would try to escape, but they got caught. And for some reason, Frederick never got killed for this type of stuff. He did this, but never received very harsh consequences for this type of thing.

Fighting Slavery

But, after he tried to escape, he was sent to a guy called Covey, the “Negro-breaker.” Now, it's pretty obvious what Covey's job is: You send the uppity ones to Covey, and he breaks them, so you can keep them slaves. And, I think I've got a quote from Frederick; this is from a speech he gave, Dec. 1, 1850. This is called “The Nature of Slavery,” as you're looking at the nature of this monster. And what he says, is:

“As the serpent-charmer of India is compelled to extract the deadly teeth of his venomous prey before he is able to handle him with impunity, so the slaveholder must strike down the conscience of the slave before he can obtain the entire mastery over his victim.

“It is, then, the first business of the enslaver of men to blunt, deaden, and destroy the central principle of human responsibility. Conscience is, to the individual soul, and to society, what the law of gravitation is to the universe.”

So, what we're looking at is a situation where Frederick was enslaved physically, but he also knew that they couldn't enslave him physically, unless there was a psychological aspect, unless his soul was being ripped apart. And that's what Covey did. This guy was brutal. They would go days without food, he would beat these guys up, and at a certain point, Frederick was so beat down, he was back into: “I'm a slave for life.”

Douglass, from the age of seven said, I can't really be an animal, because I’ve learned how to read. Animals can't read can they? Animals can't develop ideas about the nature of slavery. No, animals are slaves forever. They’re not much they can do about it. If I can do something about it, well that suggests that I really shouldn’t be in this situation.
Douglass was one of the speakers (seated, right) at this anti-slavery convention in New York, c. 1845.
And there was one night when Douglass was in the barn. He'd finished all his work; it was very late at night, and Covey walks by. I think he was halfway drunk at the time. Covey walks by, and he sees Frederick, and he says, What are you doing? Get to work.

And Frederick looks at him and says, I'm finished for the day, I'm done. See, look, the horse is in the stable, and everything is done.

And Covey said, “What did I say? Get to work! What are you doing? You're trying to defy me, boy? All this talk, boy, and all this talk.”

And Frederick says, “Look, I'm finished, I'm done.”

And Covey, out of nowhere, just swings at him. And Douglass describes this whole account in his autobiography, and he says that he really didn't understand it. He didn't want to fight back, first of all, because he knew that was his master. If he did, he could be killed.

So, what he did was he just started defending himself. Just blocking the blows. And this was going on for a long time, for about 45 minutes. And Covey was getting pretty tired. Douglass had the upper hand, and he recalls it, saying, I was winning. I was winning. I didn't even have to fight, and I was winning. And he's about 16 at this point. He's not even a full-grown man yet, but he's winning. Strategic defense, you know.

But so, Covey calls up another of the hands. I think it was a white hand that he called over, and said, now, help me out with this guy. Let's get him. And Douglass is still resisting. He doesn't want to fight.

So, what happens was, they start fighting. This is when it gets serious now. Douglass understands that he has to defend himself. There are two of them, and one of him, so he has to start fighting back, and he does. I think he says they were fighting about two or three hours. And this was an onslaught. But the funny thing was that Douglass came out of the whole thing without a scratch, he kicked all of these guys' asses.

Now, what's the point of this? Because I'm not saying he's a jock, like Bush and the troops or something like that. But what I'm saying is, you have to understand the psychological lesson. The psychological effects of a slave would be just to take it, just take the blows, do the work, this type of thing. Where did this defiance come from? This was a natural reaction at this point. Keep in mind, his natural reaction was to first defend himself, and then fight back. And that's an outgrowth of what I said before, which goes back to his childhood, and also with Sophia's teaching him how to read and so forth. To develop—even in the state that he was in, even in the state where he said, I'm a slave for life—he still found it in himself to fight this thing. He wasn't fighting Covey; in a sense he was actually fighting the institution, physically, at that point.

So, but this was a big breakthrough. Because, number one, he fought past all those things, and he actually beat Covey. And after that, it was another transition. So, you had the transition from childhood, from his grandmother to slavery, when he discovers what he is. Then you have where he learns how to read, which is a completely different transition, and also where his spiritual license starts to develop.

And then you have this thing with Covey, where he's completely fearless. And it's funny, because he talks about, after this debacle, he would make fun of Covey, and so forth. And the reason he didn't get in trouble is because, what he said, is that, if Covey told anybody about that, he would be the laughingstock of the whole town. That was the only thing that saved Frederick's ass!

A Little Gloating

And I've been developing some ideas about Providence too, which I'm not really ready to present. But you see Douglass's life—it's full of these ironies. I mean, he should have been dead before that. Why wasn't he dead?

But in any case, what he would do, Covey would be in the field. This is fun stuff now. (I would probably have done some stuff like this.) Covey would be in the field, and Douglass would be in the field working, and Covey would be walking by, and Douglass would give him a nasty look: What are you looking at, kind of thing. Just sort of messing with Covey: Yeah, I kicked your ass. He can't do anything about it, because they're going to laugh at you. Hello! Celebrating his victory. A little gloating never hurt anybody, especially when you got scars on your back.

So, this was a big breakthrough, right? But he got sent back to his original plantation owner, and at this point his labor was starting to be hired out. And also previously with Covey: His labor was being hired out.

Now, the first time, when he tried to escape, his labor was being hired out too, and one of the reasons why he was sent to Covey was because of that. And what also happened was that he got his wages taken away from him. So he would go out to work, he would usually receive half of his wages, and give the other half to his master. But since that incident, he would have to give all of his wages to the master. He didn't have anything. So he wrote about that too.

Thinking Socratically again, he says, well, look, what are these wages I'm getting? Or rather, what are the master's materials? Aren't they my materials? Well, the master doesn't necessarily work for himself. I work for him. Well, don't I have the right to what I work for?

So, at that point, Douglass starts stealing. You know, it's different from the Augustinian view of stealing. It's justified, because you're in a situation where this guy's committing one of the greatest injustices in the world, of subverting the human soul. And he's saying, what's more unjust? For me to steal back what's rightfully mine, or for him to suppress what's not rightfully his?

So, he's thinking about this very Socratically, and this was the point where he said, That's it. I'm finished. I'm getting away.

And looking back at Frederick's life, you see the various developments that would lead him to that conclusion, that very drastic conclusion. But it also takes what Lyn's been hitting on with this question of passion, and emotion. Because, I don't doubt for a second that there were various people who thought the way Frederick did. The question is, why didn't they act the way Frederick did? I mean, why is there only one LaRouche today, and so forth?

Well, it takes a level of passion. What is this passion that Lyn keeps speaking of? Because I've been thinking about this for a long time, and, what some of the kids in Philly used to do when we organized, we wouldn't organize from the standpoint of telling people things, which is a certain problem that we have, going around to tell people things. You want to convey things, rather than tell people what you know.

And what we would do, is we'd say, we have to get rid of that, okay? What we're going to do, Merv, Nick, and I, is we'd go out in the field and we would organize around a certain idea. So Nick would do something about, the empowerment of women, because that's a big problem in our society, obviously. Merv would look at the Sublime; he would organize around the concept of the Sublime. And there was, for a few weeks, I chose the subject of passion to organize around. And we organized.

What is it that people would go to all these marches, but they wouldn't try to actually affect anything, physically, within the institutions of the United States? What is this? It doesn't seem like a lack of passion to you? And I would ask these people, what is it, that people would identify themselves with their music, more than they identify themselves with their mind?

Take the average young person: Relationships are really based on what music people like. One of my best friends told me that she doesn't like people who don't listen to her music. It shows the level of brainwashing that going on.

But there's a loss of passion in this question. So, what is this?

Well, look back at Gauss for a second. Because what do you see in Gauss, proving that the (square root of -1) is a physical action? Action! That's the key to it. I guess when you're looking at mathematics, like I said, you don't necessarily want to look at the discrete aspects of it. You look at the formulas and you're completely missing the point, and you're dead. and you want to have this long list of X's and zeroes on the board.

‘It is, then, the first business of the enslaver of men to blunt, deaden, and destroy the central principle of human responsibility. Conscience is, to the individual soul, and to society, what the law of gravitation is to the universe.’

—F. Douglass, Dec. 1, 1850

Frederick Douglass, with his grandson, Joseph, who became a concert violinst.
I was talking to a guy after the Saturday night meeting in Baltimore. This guy couldn't double the square without having to measure it. Wait! Stop! He was a computer programmer—aaack! It was completely insane, the level at which he was trying to avoid thinking. The stuff that Frederick dealt with when he was seven—he was avoiding this stuff.

But, he doubled the square, right? And he still didn't get what I was trying to say. And so I said, well, what gives you the ability to double the square? And I started getting into the idea of space-time. Why can't you create a sixth Platonic solid? What is it about space that prevents you from doing that?

Breaking the Rules

You know, people think principles are restrictions, but I said, no, it's only when you can discover the principle, that you can break the rules, so to speak, of space-time. Or actually, collaborate with space-time, that would be better. Because you can't really break the rules as such.

But, in any case, what you're looking at, what this guy didn't understand, was action. And what we're looking at in Frederick Douglass, was a specific action that he chose to take, motivated by his emotional development. Motivated by this type of passion, that you see. Because when he freed himself, he said, I'm not only going to get freed, and just be there, and hang out, and retire. He said, look, I've got to free everybody. I have to join the Abolitionists. I've got to work with Lincoln. I've got to do these things.

But this is question of an action. And it's a decision, because a lot of people don't really understand this idea of free will, in terms of ideas, at the same time, which is how you get to the Sublime notion. Because any idea, anything that is acted upon, is acted upon from the standpoint of a decision. So, people will say, this is just going to happen. It's inevitable, and all this kind of stuff. They have no conception of action, but not like a Kantian, but free will in the sense that Leibniz talked about.

So, this is what you're looking at when you're looking at Douglass. This isn't a fairy-tale story that you're looking at. You're dealing with very profound concepts. But you have to dig through to a certain extent, but they're there. You've got to look deep, but not that deep.

So, he frees himself, and he writes about how he frees himself. So he got a sailor's ID; he was working at the shipyards. What the slaves would generally do, is that, the freed slaves had free papers to identify themselves. And what would happen is that the freed slaves would give their papers to a slave, and he would escape up North, and mail the papers back. But Frederick couldn't really find anybody that would fit his description. So what he had, was something that resembled him, which was one of his friends, who worked at the shipyards with him, who was actually free. And he used that.

And he describes this whole ordeal as the most terrifying event in his life, because, the first escape—he really didn't get too far, so there was no tension. But here, you have a situation where he's going to the train, and he had it set up where his friend Isaac would be at the train, and he'd throw his bag on the train, and Frederick would get on, right as the train leaves, so as to avoid suspicion, that type of thing. So he gets on this train, and he recalls how he's sitting there, and he's wondering if anyone might recognize him; he's paranoid, looking back and forth. And he said, my face was very calm, but, on the inside, my mind was racing a thousand miles an hour. And so, what you have is, the conductor comes around. And what he said was, the conductor was really nasty to everybody in the black car—you know, they had separate cars. So, he's hearing all of this while he's waiting for his free papers to be checked. And he's thinking, “Oh, I'm going to be caught. That's it. Nice try. I'm finished.” And what he says, is that, when the conductor got to him, he made a certain transition. Maybe it was because he had the sailor's outfit on; maybe the guy had a little bit more respect for sailors. Maybe he wanted to take off for coffee—I don't know.

But, in any case, he made this complete transition, is what Frederick said. He said, “Oh, how you doin'? Oh, you have your free papers.” He didn't even look at the free papers, because if he had looked at them, he would've found out that it wasn't even him. He would have got kicked off. He just said, “Oh, good, good. Good job,” and went on to the next person.

And after that, it was like a sigh of relief. So, he got to where he wanted to be.


He said the first time he set foot on free land, it was like a new world opened up for him. The way he describes this, is the way I felt when I joined this organization.

What he says is:

“Though dazzled with the wonders which met me on every hand, my thoughts could not be much withdrawn from my strange situation. From that moment, the dreams of my youth and the hopes of my manhood were completely fulfilled. The bonds that held me to Old Master were broken. No man will now hold the right to call me his slave or assert mastery over me. I was in the rough and tumble of an outdoor world, to take my chance with the rest of its busy number.

“I have often been asked how I felt when first I found myself on free soil. There is scarcely anything in my experience about which I could not give a more satisfactory answer. A new world had opened up for me. If life is more than breath, and the quick round of blood, I lived more in that one day, than in any year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement, which words can but tamely describe.

“In a letter written to a friend, soon after reaching New York, I said, 'I felt as one might feel upon escape from a den of hungry lions.' ”

Now, this is very beautiful, the way he describes it. He sums it up; he says:

“Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted, but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”

He can't even describe it. He tries to describe this thing, but it's impossible, really. But this was a new world for this guy.

It's hard to fathom being in bondage, physically in bondage, and you get out, and you're human. Think of this: Think of being an animal for 20 years of your life, and escaping from that, willfully—all the battles that you have to put up with—and now you're a human being. And Douglass actually knew what it meant to be a human being. No doubt about it. He understood it, very keenly. This is where his joy came from. This is what agape is. Douglass understood what it meant to be human, which was where this joy came from.

And when we organize, we sometimes lose sight of that. We say, “Well, where's my joy in organizing? You know, that guy didn't sign my petition. This guy blocked.” Well, somewhere behind all that is a human being, you know. I mean, think about that. Somewhere behind all the crust, and the slime-mold of what we call the Boomer persona, and such—is a human being. And Douglass—that's what he found joy in. If he hadn't understood that, he wouldn't have done what he did....

What caused Douglass to think that he was human, and not an animal? What caused Hitler to say, I should have rule over people, or the people who put him in say, we should have rule over people? What caused that? It was to a degree, on Hitler's side, it was a neglect, or miseducation of what a human being actually was.

But Douglass, from the age of seven, from a very young age, said, Well, I can't really be an animal, because I've learned how to read. Animals can't read can they? Animals can't develop ideas about the nature of slavery. No, animals are slaves forever. They're born slaves. There's not much they can do about it. If I can do something about it, well, that suggests that I really shouldn't be in this situation.

So, this is what we're looking at.

The Abolitionists

Now, moving on in Douglass's life: He was already reading the Columbian Orator, which was a newspaper—I think it was a Northern anti-slavery paper, and at this point, this also aroused some interest, because he didn't know, when he was in the South, that this stuff was going on up North. And he read a dialogue—I think it was written by John Quincy Adams—but it was a dialogue that was published in the paper about a slave that tried to escape, and was caught. And he was brought in front of the judge and the jury, to give testimony. And he laid out his case, and what the dialogue said, was that the lawyers, the judge, and the jury were so overwhelmed by the slave's story, they just let him go. Because they understood that there was something human about the slave. And Douglass read this, and said, wait a second, these masters can understand I'm human? Wait a second. And so, obviously it aroused some interest.

And when he got up there, first he began to speak at a lot of churches, because he was involved in the church, heavily, when he was younger, on the plantation. This was where he developed a lot of his ideas about God, immortality, and so forth. And I think at one point, he was reading these papers, and he went to an anti-slavery convention at which, I think he met some people like [William Lloyd] Garrison. And he got involved with this. He saw it was something that was very necessary at the time, which it was.

And he would speak everywhere: He would speak in England, in the U.S., internationally, everywhere. He would speak about the injustices of slavery. Some of what I read tonight was taken from some of those speeches that he gave. And he was writing various things in the paper itself.

But at one point, there was a change in Douglass's thinking, and also, in the prominence of Garrison's outlook on the anti-slavery movement. Because Garrison's outlook was that America was inherently racist. That the Constitution provided for the institution of slavery.

Now, Frederick was maniuplated by certain people like [Caleb] Cushing—there were various circles that were—we're talking about Lincoln now. At that time there was a slew of traitors, everywhere. So, Garrison came out of that, to a certain degree, Cushing and so forth. But Douglass said, well (Socratically, again)—I know, on the one hand, I know that racism exists in this country; that's what we're fighting against. I also know that we have a Confederacy now. I also know that what the Confederacy says about the Constitution is the same that Garrison is saying about the Constitution. I don't know about that.

This is reason, right?

He said, well, how am I going to adopt the position of my slave master? What is this? This is nonsense. And I've educated myself to the point where I know the history of my country. I know that it wasn't all good, but I know that in principle——and this is another thing with the complex domain that people really don't get, is that they see effects, they see what they see. They say, “Well, the government screwed up, so I'm gonna be an anarchist, so I don't have to do anything about it.” “The government screwed up, so I'm going to be a Zapatista, go to Mexico,” something like that.

Actually, one of my friends said that to me.

But there's not a conception of principle; there's not a conception of this action that it takes to change—no conception of it whatsoever. But Douglass had this conception. He said, “Look, what's the principle that I'm looking at? I'm looking at a principle, where we have a nation founded on the idea of human progess. This is what we're looking at. So, I'm going to take that principle: that principle is my principle. I'm going to use that principle to change the geometry that's going on right now.

So, this is what he did. He said, look, I'm going to have a break from the Garrison business—I mean, he's a nice guy, but he's wrong. And since he's wrong, I can't fight—these are two different fights. That's what he's making clear. My fight is against slavery. My fight is not against the Union, because the Union actually provides for me to fight against the damn slavery in the first place. So he says, I've got to protect this thing.

Douglass and Lincoln

And this is where his relationship with Lincoln built up. Because at first, he didn't really like Lincoln, because of the Garrison circles. He was a secessionist for a little while. But when he made the breakthrough, he said, well, I've got to work with Lincoln now.

I really didn't understand the degree to which Lincoln was a genius, until I looked at Treason in America, looked at the Lincoln Reader, looked at various books on what Lincoln was dealing with. And also, Lincoln's childhood, too. Lincoln wasn't anything special as a child; he had to teach himself to a certain degree too—not much formal education.

Lincoln wasn't anything special as a child; he had to teach himself to a certain degree too—not much formal education. but you have these sort of people, these nobodies, who com up, and are the geniuses of the world. and Lincoln was that type of genius. To understand what Lincoln was dealing with, takes a lot of work.
President Abraham Lincoln,
c. 1865
But you had these sort of people, these nobodies, come up, and are the geniuses of the world. And Lincoln was that type of genius. To understand what Lincoln was dealing with, takes a lot of work. I didn't know until a couple months ago, that they tried to assassinate Lincoln the first time; they had to bring the entire army to surround the White House, for his Inauguration. I didn't know that Lincoln was fighting generals, literally fighting these guys to fight the damn war, until he got with Sherman and Grant. He had to fight with these guys. So, you have a collaboration with this genius, and another genius, and these guys are working to save the nation at this point.

Now, what's planned is, Douglass comes into the White House, and he's welcomed. And I think when he gets there, Lincoln is talking to one of his secretaries; Lincoln turns to Douglass: Nice to meet you Mr. Douglass—very polite and kind. And it's fun to read Douglass's account: It completely blasts the revisionist view of Lincoln and Douglass. Because Douglass said, from the first time I met and sat down and talked to him, I knew that, number one, he wasn't a racist, which was obvious; and number two, that he had a deeper conviction of what he was doing: It wasn't just for political gain; and it wasn't just because, I'm the President, and this is what I say—like Bush, or Cheney, something like that.

But, he had a deeper conviction, because Lincoln understood these concepts too. Lincoln was the one who read his troops Shakespeare before they went out. Lincoln understood this business of the man and the beast, very clearly. You can read it all in his writings. So, he said, this is what we're looking at here. So it was very profound.

Now, Douglass did say that Lincoln moved very slowly. That was part of his personality; he was a very kind-hearted person. He had to go to the war. But, like Douglass said, he was very slow at certain points. He tried to speed him up a little bit on some of the things they were working on.

One thing, especially was the blacks in the military, that they were working on. They weren't treated fairly; they weren't allowed to move up in the ranks, some of them. They weren't paid, and so forth. And, this was the first thing on the table, because this was after the decision that Frederick made: that we do need to fight this war. And so, that was the first discussion. And after a little while, it started to go well; and then it went back again, because things were getting very complicated in the war. It was escalating. And Douglass was upset. He was very upset with Lincoln, but I don't doubt that he didn't know the circumstances.

But they had a second meeting, and at that time, Douglass was working with the military. Lincoln arranged for him to work in that area; Douglass had raised a lot of concerns about it, and had some knowledge about the military, not formally, but of course, he knew how to think....

Now, the second meeting was a meeting to say, since that didn't work, we're going to set up an institution, an organization, where we're going to get these slaves to escape up North. We've got the Underground Railroad, but we're going to have an institution; we're going to have something else. And Lincoln and Frederick were actually working on that. But, by that time, they had won the war, so it wasn't necessary, which was why we didn't have it.

And so, we won the war, with Douglass's intervention, obviously. And Lincoln got shot for it. And for freeing the slaves, and for being a genius. And I think Douglass spoke at the funeral, which was how close they got.

Now, I've breezed through this presentation, obviously. I did it for a reason. I think I outlined some of the reasons already. I hate this connect-the-dots idea of history, which is why I skipped over a lot. Because in order for you to get the passion that I had for Frederick, in order for you to get to know Frederick the way I do, you're going to have to do the work.

Lyn is talking about this passion thing—it's not a pill that you take: one day you're happy, and the next day you're not; my passion goes wherever it takes me, like a Romantic. It's this action that comes from understanding, of knowing who the hell you are, in terms of a human being. Just take a minute to survey Douglass's life, and some of the things that I've brought out, even the little bit that I've brought out about Lincoln. Think of the type of commitment, the type of passion that it takes to put your life on the line every single day.

Lincoln knew what was going on. Take [Martin Luther] King: King knew what was going on. You think these guys weren't paranoid at some point? Douglass, he said, I was paranoid. He said, look, I don't know what the hell I'm going to do on this train if this guy finds out that I don't have my free papers. But what is this passion? I think that this should be a certain study we should open up. Not in terms of, you open up a textbook, and tell you what it is. Kill the idea.

Plato says, you've got the soul in the body. Now, it would be wonderful if you could just have the soul, because in the soul lies everything necessary. But we also need the body, because we need this thing, or else we can't get anything done, right? So we need this body too. But there's a conflict between the body and the soul.

Ed Hamler, the author, during his class on Douglass, in Leesburg, Va.

It’s hard to fathom being in bondage, physically in bondage, and you get out, and you’re human. Think of being an animal for 20 years of your life, and escaping from that, willfully—all the battles that you have to put up with—and now you’re a human being. And Douglass actually knew what it meant to be a human being, no doubt about it. He understood it, very keenly. this is where his joy came from.

And I'm looking at these concepts the same way. If we can get to what Leibniz calls the “simple,” if we can look at the “simples,” and forget all the predicates for a second—when you're organizing, forget the explanations: you see people; they give these explanations about everything, these long extended briefings about the CATO Institute—nobody knows what the CATO Institute is! Where's your passion? Where's the ideas? That's what I'm concerned with.

You say, how can we pull out the principle? Because then, it's not a matter of the passion pill. You convey this principle, and they have a sense of their own being; they have a sense of themselves. And then they're self-motivated. That's where the passion comes from. You convey these ideas.

The reason I'm bringing this up, is that when I gave this class the first time, that was what was missing: the art of conveying ideas, which I'm trying to develop. And I think everybody's trying to do this. But the only way we're going to do this is to get away from the formulas, predicates, and say, how can we find the principle? How can we convey to people, the type of passion that—I don't doubt that people have passions for certain things, various work that you've done; you're motivated to do the work. But when we're organizing, we've got to convey that passion. You can't convey “Douglass was born in 1818, in Tuckahoe.” The only way you can convey that, is to convey who Douglass was.


1.. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., “Visualizing the Complex Domain,.

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