STANFORD HISTORY EDUCATION GROUP sheg.stanford.edu
Document A: Frederick Douglass (Modified)
Frederick Douglass was a highly influential abolitionist. He was born into slavery
and escaped when he was twenty years old. In this excerpt from his 1881
autobiography, Douglass recalled a meeting he had with John Brown in the
weeks before the raid on Harper’s Ferry.
We sat down among the rocks and talked. The taking of Harper's Ferry, of which
Captain Brown had merely hinted before, was now declared as his settled
purpose. I at once opposed the measure. To me, such a measure would be fatal
to running off slaves [to freedom] (as was the original plan), and fatal to all
engaged in doing so. It would be an attack upon the federal government and
would array the whole country against us.
Captain Brown did not object to rousing the nation; it seemed to him that
something startling was just what the nation needed. He thought that the capture
of Harper's Ferry would serve as notice to the slaves that their friends had come,
and as a trumpet to rally them.
Our talk was long and earnest … he [was] for striking a blow which should
instantly rouse the country, and I [was] for the policy of gradually and
unaccountably drawing off the slaves to the mountains, as at first suggested and
proposed by him.
In parting he put his arms around me and said: "Come with me, Douglass, I will
defend you with my life. I want you for a special purpose. When I strike the bees
will begin to swarm, and I shall want you to help hive them."
Source: The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass,
rouse: to awaken or excite