Frederick Douglass, 156 years ago today

Frederick_DouglassOn August 3, 1857 Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Canandaigua, New York.  Douglass was a former slave who gained his freedom on his third and finally successful escape in 1838.  His speech that day was in commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies.  Britain ended slavery in its colonies with the Reform Act of 1832.  Douglass’s speech is most remembered for the line, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Frederick Douglass knew the value of freedom, having struggled mightily for his own. Here is part of that speech:

The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just. For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others. . . .

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

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