The Atlantic

Frederick Douglass, Refugee

Throughout modern history, the millions forced to flee as refugees and beg for asylum have felt Douglass’s agony, and thought his thoughts.
Source: J.C. Buttre / Wikimedia

Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.

Douglass’s life and work serve as a striking symbol of one of the first major refugee crises in our history. From the 1830s through the 1850s, the many thousands of runaway slaves, like Douglass, who escaped into the North, into Canada, or Mexico put enormous pressure on those places’ political systems. The presence and contested status of fugitive slaves polarized voters in elections; they were the primary subject of major legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as well as Supreme Court decisions such as in 1857. They were at

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPsychology
Dear Therapist: My Husband and I Don't Have Sex Anymore
The Atlantic6 min read
In Defense of Big Little Lies’ Second Season
The Atlantic6 min read
Washington Can’t Wait for Mueller. Voters Have Moved On.
Rather than expecting fireworks from the former special counsel’s appearance before Congress, many seem wary of getting their hopes up.