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Bonds of CitizenshipLaw and the Labors of Emancipation$
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Hoang Gia Phan

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780814738474

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814738474.001.0001

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Hereditary Bondsman

Hereditary Bondsman

Frederick Douglass and the Spirit of the Law

(p.142) 4 Hereditary Bondsman
Bonds of Citizenship

Hoang Gia Phan

NYU Press

This chapter discusses Frederick Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), to examine his changed self-representation. Douglass' transformed political views led to significant changes in the content and the form of his literary self-depiction, from revisions of formative episodes in his life to changes in narrative structure and point of view. In particular, the figure of Douglass as a “man from another country” was an image, representing the perspective of the “stranger from a foreign land,” unaware of the peculiar history of the Constitution and so seeing slavery nowhere named in the letter of its law. However, the dominant critical and popular understandings of Douglass remain based on the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published when Douglass still adhered to the Garrisonian view of the Constitution as a “pro-slavery compact.”

Keywords:   Frederick Douglass, self-depiction, Constitution, slavery, Garrisonian

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