The North Star
The most famous African American in antebellum America was Frederick Douglass (ca. 1818-95), an escaped slave from Maryland who achieved renown in the North as an antislavery lecturer and writer. Douglass began his abolitionist career in league with William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79), but he broke with Garrison in the late 1840s over the efficacy of politics. Douglass came to believe that slavery could be attacked through practical political action as well as through moral suasion. Douglass also believed that black people themselves must lead in the movement for their own liberation, which is one of the reasons he founded a new abolitionist newspaper, the North Star, in Rochester, New York, in 1847. Like Garrison’s Liberator, the North Star reprinted a wide variety of news, documents, and reader correspondence on every facet of slavery and antislavery. The paper also carried a good deal of material designed to support the scattered community of free black people in the North.
This copy of the North Star is the one-year anniversary issue of the paper. It is fairly typical in its mix of reprinted news, speeches, letters, essays, and advertisements, along with some features and curios that have little to do with slavery. On page 1 Douglass lays out his core objectives: “to attack SLAVERY in all its forms and aspects” and to “promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the COLORED PEOPLE.” He includes stories on slavery in Washington, D.C., an international history of race and caste, an antiwar essay, a piece on the French constitution, and a reprint from a Pennsylvania antislavery newspaper with a declaration congruent with the North Star’s own agenda: “No white men can do for them [free blacks] what they can do for themselves.” The paper also carries on page 1 a story about a new free black settlement in upstate New York and two items with practical advice on dress: “Have the courage to wear your old clothes, until you can pay for new ones.”Click the image below to browse the full issue.