Valentine’s Day is always a celebration of love. But this year, instead of simply focusing on candy hearts and Hallmark cards, let’s talk about love of country, and a man who grew to love our Constitution even before it had been amended to treat him properly.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Feb. of 1818. He didn’t know his exact birthday, and so chose to celebrate on Valentine’s Day. He fled to Massachusetts when he was 20, and a few years later wrote a best-selling account of his life under, and escape from, slavery. Douglass wasn’t safe from slave-catchers until British friends purchased his freedom, allowing him to settle in the U.S. and found a newspaper, The North Star.
Understandably, the young Douglass was angry about how his country had treated him. “I have no patriotism. I have no country,” he told supporters in 1847, and he blamed the Constitution for “supporting and perpetuating this monstrous system of injustice and blood.”
But as he worked on his newspaper, Douglass studied the Founding and changed his view of the founding. The principles spelled out in the Declaration of Independence applied to everyone. “Your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately…and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you,” he said in 1852.
>>> See also: Fredrick Douglass’s America.
He had come to revere the Constitution as well, and saw that founding document as the key to ending slavery. “I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery,” he declared.
Douglass also had a message for anyone who wanted to get ahead: “We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting, and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put, and which, in both temporal and spiritual affairs, is the true miracle worker,” he told students in 1872.
Frederick Douglass was a former slave who answered the evil of slavery by celebrating the power of the American founding and the uplifting value of effort. Our hearts should be warmed today by the memory of this great American.