Frederick Douglass’ Charge for Composite Nationality (Part 1)

John Teichert, Candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland

During Black History Month, it is right and fitting to highlight the profound thoughts of a true American hero, proud Marylander, and escaped slave – Frederick Douglass. In order to do so, I will use the ideas and words of Douglass to highlight a couple of particularly important points about today’s culture and environment that can give us a pathway for solutions to our problems and perspective on our challenges.

The first is the proper perspective about America itself. Some in our society sow seeds of division by claiming that our nation is fundamentally flawed and inherently skewed. Their efforts have borne rotten fruit in the form of a fractured society that is characterized by a plummeting belief in patriotism, along with drastically dropping views on the importance of community, family, and religion. These efforts have harmed our neighborhoods, our communities, and our society; fundamentally wounding our ability to collectively solve problems through an increasingly dysfunctional governmental system. All of this would be an anathema to Douglass himself.

Frederick Douglass was keenly aware of the tragedy of slavery, discrimination, and inequality. Yet, he never blamed it on the character of our constitutional republic, but instead on the practices of society that were fundamentally opposed to our national character.

“The American people, likewise, have made void their law by their traditions; they have trampled upon their own constitution, stepped beyond the limits set for themselves, and, in their ever-abounding iniquity, established a constitution of action outside of the fundamental law of the land,” Douglass argued. “While the one is good, the other is evil; while the one is for liberty, the other is in favour of slavery; the practice of the American government is one thing, and the character of the constitution of the government is quite another and different thing.”

Douglass wrote this about our founding documents: “The Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” (emphasis provided by Douglass himself). He didn’t even blame the founding fathers; just the opposite. He called them brave men and great men. To Douglass, in spite of their real flaws, they were “entitled to the profound gratitude of mankind.”

Frederick Douglass charged his contemporaries and his successors to keep forming a more perfect Union, as described in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. To do that, we were to commit ourselves to the endless journey that would align our practices with our principles. According to Douglass, doing so required unity: 

“As a matter of selfish policy, leaving right and humanity out of the question, we cannot wisely pursue any other course. Other governments mainly depend for security upon the sword; ours depends mainly upon the friendship of the people. In all matters, in time of peace, in time of war, and at all times, it makes its appeal to the people, and to all classes of the people. Its strength lies in their friendship and cheerful support in every time of need, and that policy is a mad one which would reduce the number of its friends by excluding those who would come, or by alienating those who are already here. Our Republic is itself a strong argument in favor of composite nationality.”

We won’t solve problems through division, fear, hopelessness, and a myopic focus on the problems of the past. These are the tools of dysfunctional politics and society’s saboteurs. Instead, we need to heed Douglass’ words and come together, rallying around patriotism, religion, family, and community, and harnessing the power of unity, security, and hope. These are the potent instruments of leadership. Once we do, our composite nationality will be unstoppable.

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