Rebecca Quietmeyer

"Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds...relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my...efforts and solemnly pledging myself anew to the sacred cause, I subscribe myself." (76)

With these words, Frederick Douglass ended one of the greatest pieces of propaganda of the 19th century. Douglass wrote his autobiography as an abolitionist tool to shape his northern audienceís view of southern slaveholders. Through personal anecdotes, Douglass drew an accurate picture of the life of a slave. At the same time, these events were chosen for how they would affect the northern audienceís opinion of southern slaveholders. By using the written word, Douglass and fellow abolitionists targeted educated northern whites because they were the only group who could change the status quo. Illiterate northern whites and free northern blacks could not vote while white southerners would not vote because they did not want change. Therefore, Douglass used his life story as a tool to promote abolition among literate northern whites.

Frederick Douglass used family relationships, starting with his birth to tug at the heartstrings of his targeted audience. He never knew the true identity of his father, but it was "whispered" (2) that it was his master. Douglass mentioned this to show how the "slave holder in (many) cases, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father." (2) This was so commonplace that it was "by law established that the children of women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mother." (2) This meant that these bastard children were to be slaves despite their paternal heritage because their mother was a slave. The effect was to shock and offend the morals of the conservative northern whites. People involved in adulteress and interracial relationships were scorned by northern society. By portraying these southerners as immoral and adulteress, Douglass wanted his audience to have an unfavorable opinion of southern slaveholders.

Keeping with the theme of family values, Douglass touched on the topic of the basic family unit. Their master separated Douglass and his mother when he was an infant, for what reason "(Douglass) does not know." (2) No reason was ever given to Douglass because this was the accepted way of life on plantations. Douglass wanted his northern white readers to be horrified that slave families were regularly torn apart for no apparent reason. Northerners would be upset by this because the family was the basis for their close-knit communities. Multiple generations and extended families lived together or within close proximity to each other. It would be unimaginable to the readers that a society existed that took children away from their mothers without a reason. Anyone who was part of such a society would be thought of as a heartless monster. Douglass wanted the northern whites to lash out against these heartless monsters and abolish slavery, thereby ending the callous practices associated with slavery.

Another example of how Douglass used family values as propaganda against southern slaveholders was in the treatment of his grandmother. When Douglassís master decided that his grandmother was too old and no longer useful, "they took her to the woods, built her a little hut...and then made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die." (28) This showed the lack of decency or gratitude on the part of slave holders toward slaves that had faithfully, their entire lives, served their masters. The mistreatment of elders in this manner would enrage the readers, especially those with close-knit families, because the aged were to be taken care of and respected until death. The usefulness of older people went beyond physical attributes because they had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. The fact that slave masters could show so little regard and respect for Douglassís grandmother would be loathsome and despicable, and Douglass hoped this would help influence the northern whites against the institution of slavery.

Furthermore, Douglass wanted to show the hypocrisy in the behavior of these masters. They considered their slaves to be less than human, yet they still desired and slept with their female slaves. This would prove to