95+ Best Frederick Douglass Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. Profoundly inspirational Frederick Douglass quotes will challenge the way you think, and help guide you through any life experience.

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Famous Frederick Douglass Quotes

Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason… Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. – Frederick Douglass

I have no protection at home, or resting place abroad. I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth. I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were. – Frederick Douglass

Without a struggle, there can be no progress. – Frederick Douglass

People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get. – Frederick Douglass

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. – Frederick Douglass

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. – Frederick Douglass

Right is of no Sex-Truth is of no Color-God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren. – Frederick Douglass

I ask you…to adopt the principles proclaimed by yourselves, by your revolutionary fathers, and by the old bell in Independence Hall. – Frederick Douglass

The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one sixth of the population of democratic America is denied it’s privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage? – Frederick Douglass

Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man – too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color. – Frederick Douglass

If the Negro knows enough to pay taxes to support the government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket and fight for the flag, fight for the government, he knows enough to vote. – Frederick Douglass

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship. – Frederick Douglass

He who would be free must strike the first blow. – Frederick Douglass

No people to whom liberty is given can hold it as firmly and wear it as grandly as those who wrench their liberty from the iron hand of the tyrant. – Frederick Douglass

My hopes were never brighter than now. – Frederick Douglass

I recognize the widest possible difference-so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. – Frederick Douglass

A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people. – Frederick Douglass

Let us render the tyrant no aid. – Frederick Douglass

Vainly you talk about voting it down. When you have cast your millions of ballots, you have not reached the evil. It has fastened its root deep into the heart of the nation, and nothing but God’s truth and love can cleanse the land. We must change the moral sentiment. – Frederick Douglass

The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion. – Frederick Douglass

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass

I glory in the conflict, that I may hereafter exult in the victory. I know that victory is certain. – Frederick Douglass

What is possible for me is possible for you. – Frederick Douglass

A man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box. – Frederick Douglass

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. – Frederick Douglass

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. – Frederick Douglass

Experience proves that those are oftenest abused who can be abused with the greatest impunity. Men are whipped oftenest who are whipped easiest. – Frederick Douglass

I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hatethe corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. – Frederick Douglass

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future. – Frederick Douglass

To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. – Frederick Douglass

Yet people in general will say they like colored men as well as any other, but in their proper place. – Frederick Douglass

You degrade us and then ask why we are degraded. You shut our mouths and ask why we don’t speak. You close your colleges and seminaries against us and then ask why we don’t know. – Frederick Douglass

Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done. – Frederick Douglass

It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of slavery. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. – Frederick Douglass

A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it. – Frederick Douglass

I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted. – Frederick Douglass

A slave is someone who sits down and waits for someone to free them. – Frederick Douglass

Our community belongs to us and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered in shame, we cannot but share its character and destiny. – Frederick Douglass

In a composite Nation like ours, made up of almost every variety of the human family, there should be, as before the Law, no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no black, no white, but one country, one citizenship equal rights and a common destiny for all. A government that cannot or does not protect the humblest citizen in his right to life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be reformed or overthrown, without delay. – Frederick Douglass

What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. – Frederick Douglass

If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others. – Frederick Douglass

When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world. – Frederick Douglass

I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity… – Frederick Douglass

The more men you make free, the more freedom is strengthened, and the more men you give an interest in the welfare and safety of the State, the greater is the security of the State. – Frederick Douglass

I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong. – Frederick Douglass

One by one I have seen obstacles removed, errors corrected, prejudices softened, proscriptions relinquished, and my people advancing in all the elements that go to make up the sum of the general welfare. And I remember that God reigns in eternity, and that whatever delays, whatever disappointments and discouragements may come, truth, justice, liberty and humanity will ultimately prevail. – Frederick Douglass

I know no class of my fellowmen, however just, enlightened, and humane, which can be wisely and safely trusted absolutely with the liberties of any other class. – Frederick Douglass

The mind does not take its complexion from the skin. – Frederick Douglass

It’s a poor rule that won’t work both ways. – Frederick Douglass

The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery. – Frederick Douglass

Power and those in control concede nothing … without a demand. Hey never have and never will… Each and every one of us must keep demanding, must keep fighting, must keep thundering, must keep plowing, must keep on keeping things struggling, must speak out and speak up until justice is served because where there is no justice there is no peace. – Frederick Douglass

I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion. – Frederick Douglass

Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free. – Frederick Douglass

I hear the mournful wail of millions! – Frederick Douglass

There is a class of people who seem to think that if a man should fall overboard into the sea with a Bible in his pocket it would hardly be possible to drown. I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. – Frederick Douglass

Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. – Frederick Douglass

Abolish slavery tomorrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim, of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed. – Frederick Douglass

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: A day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustices and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham. – Frederick Douglass

The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ringbolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ringbolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost. – Frederick Douglass

The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors…. For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done! – Frederick Douglass

A woman should have every honorable motive to exertion which is enjoyed by man, to the full extent of her capacities and endowments. The case is too plain for argument. Nature has given woman the same powers, and subjected her to the same earth, breathes the same air, subsists on the same food, physical, moral, mental and spiritual. She has, therefore, an equal right with man, in all efforts to obtain and maintain a perfect existence. – Frederick Douglass

No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling and action of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending and maintaining that liberty – Frederick Douglass

I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress. – Frederick Douglass

From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving and praise. – Frederick Douglass

Of whom I can say with a grateful heart, ‘I was hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirsty, and he gave me drink; I was a stranger, and he took me in.’ – Frederick Douglass

What to the Slave is the 4th of July. – Frederick Douglass

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even to die free than to live slaves. – Frederick Douglass

Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm. – Frederick Douglass

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck. – Frederick Douglass

The man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down. – Frederick Douglass

I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute! – Frederick Douglass

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate 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; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. – Frederick Douglass

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. – Frederick Douglass

The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous. – Frederick Douglass

We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! – Frederick Douglass

Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave. – Frederick Douglass

We are free to say that in respect to political rights, we hold women to be justly entitled to all we claim for men. – Frederick Douglass

If we would reach a degree of civilization higher and grander than any yet attained, we should welcome to our ample continent all the nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples, and as fast as they learn our language and comprehend the duties of citizenship, we should incorporate them into the American body politic. The outspread wings of the American eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come. – Frederick Douglass

Your national greatness, swelling vanity; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. – Frederick Douglass

I knew that however bad the Republican party was, the Democratic party was much worse. The elements of which the Republican party was composed gave better ground for the ultimate hope of the success of the colored mans cause than those of the Democratic party. – Frederick Douglass

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose. – Frederick Douglass

There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution – Frederick Douglass

My theory of self-made men is, then, simply this; that they are men of work. Whether or not such men have acquired material, moral or intellectual excellence, honest labor faithfully, steadily and persistently pursued, is the best, if not the only, explanation of their success… All human experience proves over and over again, that any success which comes through meanness, trickery, fraud and dishonour, is but emptiness and will only be a torment to its possessor. – Frederick Douglass

The Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider it purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? it is neither. – Frederick Douglass

We are Americans, speaking the same language, adopting the same customs, holding the same general opinions… and shall rise and fall with Americans. – Frederick Douglass

I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes—a justifier of the most appalling barbarity…a shelter under…which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection – Frederick Douglass

I have observed this in my experience of slavery, – that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man. – Frederick Douglass

Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and 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. – Frederick Douglass

You are not judged by the height you have risen, but from the depth you have climbed. – Frederick Douglass

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. – Frederick Douglass

Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . – Frederick Douglass

The District of Columbia is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people and by the people. – Frederick Douglass

A man without force, is without the essential dignity of humanity. Human nature is so constituted, that it cannot honor a helpless man, although it can pity him. – Frederick Douglass

A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me. – Frederick Douglass

In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world. – Frederick Douglass

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