140 Frederick Douglass Quotes

These Frederick Douglass quotes show how much faith and perseverance can free a people. If you’re looking for some everyday reminders that will put your thoughts into perspective, then you’ve come to the right place.

This collection of quotes gives us a sneak peek of how he, as a young man, fought and opposed the norm to free himself and his people from the chains that bound them into slavery.

Check out the full collection below.

Best Frederick Douglass Quotes

Frederick Douglass Quote - Without a struggle, there can be no progress.Pin

1. “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”

2. “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”

3. “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

4. “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Slaves sing as well as to workPin

5. “Slaves are generally expected to sing as well as to work.”

6. “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

7. “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

8. “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.”

9. “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honestPin

10. “The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.”

11. “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

12. “Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”

13. “In a composite nation like ours, as before the law, there should be no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no white, no black, but common country, common citizenship, equal rights and a common destiny.”

14. “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - I prayed for freedom for twenty years.Pin

15. “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

16. “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.”

17. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

18. “I had as well be killed running as die standing.”

19. “People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - It is not light that we need, but fire.Pin

20. “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake—the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes, denounced.”

Frederick Douglass Quotes on Slavery and Oppression

21. “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

22. “A man’s character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him.”

23. “I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.”

24. “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - A smile or a tear has no nationality.Pin

25. “A smile or a tear has no nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.”

26. “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

27. “The destiny of the colored American is the destiny of America.”

28. “A man who will enslave his own blood, may not be safely relied on for magnanimity.”

29. “The relation between the white and colored people of this country is the great, paramount, imperative, and all-commanding question for this age and nation to solve.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - I didn't know I was a slave until I found out I couldn't do the things I wantedPin

30. “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”

31. “Immense wealth and its lavish expenditure, fill the great house with all that can please the eye, or tempt the taste. Here, appetite, not food, is the great desideratum.”

32. “What upon Earth is the matter with the American people? Do they really covet the world’s ridicule as well as their own social and political ruin?”

33. “I will give Mr. Freeland the credit of being the best master I ever had, till I became my own master.”

34. “It was worth half-cent to kill a ‘nigger’, and a half-cent to bury one.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Men talk of the Negro problemPin

35. “Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their constitution.”

36. “To enslave men successfully and safely, it is necessary to have their minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations short of the liberty of which they are deprived. A certain degree of attainable good must be kept before them.”

37. “From apparently the basest metals we have the finest toned bells.”

38. “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”

39. “I had a wholesome dread of the consequences of running in debt.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - A man must be disposed to judge of emancipation by other testsPin

40. “A man must be disposed to judge of emancipation by other tests than whether it has increased the produce of sugar, and to hate slavery for other reasons than because it starves men and whips women, before he is ready to lay the first stone of his anti-slavery life.”

41. “Inaction is followed by stagnation. Stagnation is followed by pestilence, and pestilence is followed by death.”

42. “No one idea has given rise to more oppression and persecution toward colored people of this country than that which makes Africa, not America, their home.”

43. “There is not, beneath the sky, an enemy to filial affection so destructive as slavery. It had made my brothers and sisters strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an intelligible beginning in the world.”

44. “The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - The American people are disposed often to be generous rather than justPin

45. “The American people are disposed often to be generous rather than just.”

46. “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one.”

47. “At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon the slave and slaveholder.”

48. “The story of our inferiority is an old dodge, as I have said; for wherever men oppress their fellows, wherever they enslave them, they will endeavor to find the needed apology for such enslavement and oppression in the character of the people oppressed and enslaved.”

49. “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

Frederick Douglass Quote - the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselvesPin

50. “They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man’s slave was deemed a disgrace indeed!”

51. “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?”

52. “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

53. “They suppress the truth rather than take the consequence of telling it, and in so doing prove themselves a part of the human family.”

54. “This will be seen by the fact that the slaveholders like to have their slaves spend those days just in such a manner as to make them as glad of their ending as of their beginning. Their object seems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom, by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualitiesPin

55. “Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence.”

56. “Beware of a Yankee when he is feeding.”

57. “For my part, I should prefer death to hopeless bondage.”

58. “The American people are not remarkable for moderation. They despise halfness. They will go with him who goes farthest and stay with him who stays longest. What the country thinks of half-men and half-measures is seen by the last election. We repudiate all such men and all such measures.”

59. “We were both victims to the same overshadowing evil—she, as mistress, I, as slave.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Should a slave, when assaulted, but raise his hand in self defensePin

60. “Should a slave, when assaulted, but raise his hand in self defense, the white assaulting party is fully justified by southern, or Maryland, public opinion, in shooting the slave down.”

61. “As a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor.”

62. “Genealogical trees do not flourish among slaves.”

63. “I recognize the Republican party as the sheet anchor of the colored man’s political hopes and the ark of his safety.”

64. “The better you treat a slave, the more you destroy his value as a slave, and enhance the probability of his eluding the grasp of the slaveholder; the more kindly you treat him, the more wretched you make him, while you keep him in the condition of a slave.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Slavery is indeed gonePin

65. “Slavery is indeed gone, but its shadow still lingers over the country and poisons more or less the moral atmosphere of all sections of the republic.”

66. “Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of a more horrible state of society?”

67. “If a slave has a bad master, his ambition is to get a better; when he gets a better, he aspires to have the best; and when he gets the best, he aspires to be his own master.”

68. “The arm of the Federal government is long, but it is far too short to protect the rights of individuals in the interior of distant States. They must have the power to protect themselves, or they will go unprotected, spite of all the laws the Federal government can put upon the national statute-book.”

69. “Slavery blunts the edge of all our rebukes of tyranny abroad—the criticisms that we make upon other nations, only call forth ridicule, contempt, and scorn. In a word, we are made a reproach and a by-word to a mocking earth, and we must continue to be so made, so long as slavery continues to pollute our soil.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - All of this added weight to his reputation as a nigger-breaker.Pin

70. “All of this added weight to his reputation as a ‘nigger-breaker.’”

71. “It may, perhaps, be fairly questioned, whether any other portion of the population of the earth could have endured the privations, sufferings and horrors of slavery, without having become more degraded in the scale of humanity than the slaves of African descent.”

72. “He was whipped oftener who was whipped easiest.”

73. “I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do.”

74. “Fugitive slaves were rare then, and as a fugitive slave lecturer, I had the advantage of being the first one out.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - killing a slave in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crimePin

75. “I speak advisedly when I say this—that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.”

76. “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

77. “To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished; the one always following the other with immutable certainty.”

78. “A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind.”

Frederick Douglass Quotes on the Fight for Freedom and Education

79. “Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do, and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Some know the value of education by having itPin

80. “Some know the value of education by having it. I knew its value by not having it.”

81. “Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude.”

82. “A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.”

83. “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning.”

84. “Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound and seen in every thing. It was very present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - The soul that is within me no man can degradePin

85. “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”

86. “Mr. Lincoln was not only a great President, but a great man—too great to be small in anything. In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color.”

87. “The silver trump of freedom roused in my soul eternal wakefulness.”

88. “My hopes were never brighter than now.”

89. “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Our destiny is largely in our hands.Pin

90. “Our destiny is largely in our hands.”

91. “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.”

92. “But I should be false in the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion.”

93. “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.”

94. “Experience is a keen teacher.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - The thought of only being a creature of the present and past was troubling.Pin

95. “The thought of only being a creature of the present and past was troubling. I longed for a future too, with hope in it. The desire to be free awakened my determination to act, to think, and to speak.”

96. “Having no resources within himself, he was compelled to be the copyist of many, and being such, he was forever the victim of inconsistency.”

97. “The control of events has been taken out of our hands. We have fallen into the mighty current of eternal principles—invisible forces—which are shaping and fashioning events as they wish, using us only as instruments to work out their own results in our national destiny.”

98. “My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.”

99. “It is no disparagement to truth, that it can only prevail where reason prevails. War begins where reason ends. The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - They are thought pictures - the outstanding headlands of the meandering shores of life, and are points to steer by on the broad sea of thought and experience.Pin

100. “They are thought pictures—the outstanding headlands of the meandering shores of life, and are points to steer by on the broad sea of thought and experience. They body forth in living forms and colors the ever varying lights and shadows of the soul.”

101. “Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth—the light by which men can only be made free.”

102. “Truth shines with brighter light and intenser heat at every moment, and a country torn and rent and bleeding implores relief from its distress and agony.”

103. “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble if men are allowed to reason.”

104. “Men talk much of a new birth. The fact is fundamental. But the mistake is in treating it as an incident which can only happen to a man once in a lifetime: whereas the whole journey of life is a succession of them. A new life springs up in the soul with the discovery of every new agency by which the soul is raised to a higher level of wisdom: goodness and joy.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - For no man who lives at all lives unto himself.Pin

105. “For no man who lives at all lives unto himself. He either helps or hinders all who are in anywise connected to him.”

106. “Welcome, welcome joy, welcome sorrow, welcome pleasure, welcome pain. You are all the ingredients of life—and with you all, life is an inestimable blessing.”

107. “Let us render the tyrant no aid; let us not hold the light by which he can trace the footprints of our flying brother.”

108. “You are not judged by the height you have risen, but from the depth you have climbed.”

109. “I had reached the point, at which I was not afraid to die. This spirit made me a free man, in fact, while I remained a slave in form.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Going to live in Baltimore laid the foundationPin

110. “Going to live in Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway to all my subsequent prosperity.”

111. “In studying the character and works of a great man, it is always desirable to learn in what he is distinguished from others, and what have been the causes of this difference.”

112. “A man’s troubles are always half disposed of when he finds endurance the only alternative.”

113. “The morality of free society can have no application to slave society. Make a man a slave, and you rob him of moral responsibility. Freedom of choice is the essence of all accountability.”

114. “Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Reason is imprisoned here, and passions run wild.Pin

115. “Reason is imprisoned here, and passions run wild. Like the fires of the prairie, once lighted, they are at the mercy of every wind and must burn till they have consumed all that is combustible within their remorseless grasp.”

116. “The man who will get up will be helped up, and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down.”

117. “A man without force, is without the essential dignity of humanity. Human nature is so constituted that it cannot honor a helpless man, although it can pity him.”

118. “I believe in individuality, but individuals are to the mass, like waves to the ocean. The highest order of genius is as dependent as the lowest. It, like the loftiest waves of the sea, derives its power from the grandeur and vastness of the ocean of which it forms a part. We differ as the waves, but are one as the sea.”

119. “A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - I could, as a free man, look across the bay toward the Eastern shore where I was born a slave.Pin

120. “I could, as a free man, look across the bay toward the Eastern shore where I was born a slave.”

121. “A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”

Frederick Douglass Quotes on the Power of Faith and Christianity

122. “They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.”

123. “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial, and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

124. “Without any appeal to books, to laws, or to authorities of any kind, it was enough to accept God as a father, to regard slavery as a crime.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - In the darkest hours of my career in slavery this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remainedPin

125. “In the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to Him I offer thanksgiving and praise.”

126. “We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen—all for the glory of God and the good of souls.”

127. “What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.”

128. “The Christianity of America is a Christianity of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees. They bind heavy burdens and grievances to be borne and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

129. “One and God make a majority.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other.Pin

130. “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

131. “Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”

132. “Men who live by robbing their fellow men of their labor and liberty have forfeited their right to know anything of the thoughts, feelings, or purposes of those whom they rob and plunder. They have, by the single act of slaveholding, voluntarily placed themselves beyond the laws of justice and honor, and have become only fitted for companionship with thieves and pirates—the common enemies of God and of all mankind.”

133. “When I went into their family, it was the abode of happiness and contentment. The mistress of the house was a model of affection and tenderness. Her fervent piety and watchful uprightness made it impossible to see her without thinking and feeling—‘that woman is a Christian.’”

134. “They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - Are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purposePin

135. “Reader! Are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then you are the foe of God and man.”

136. “The man who is right is a majority. He who has God and conscience on his side, has a majority against the universe.”

137. “They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors. Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land.”

138. “When I think that these precious souls are today shut up in the prison-house of slavery, my feelings overcome me, and I am almost ready to ask, ‘Does a righteous God govern the universe?’”

139. “It is nevertheless plain that a very different-looking class of people are springing up at the south, and are now held in slavery, from those originally brought to this country from Africa; and if their increase will do no other good, it will do away the force of the argument that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right.”

Frederick Douglass Quote - One by one I have seen obstacles removedPin

140. “One by one I have seen obstacles removed, errors corrected, prejudices softened, proscriptions relinquished, and my people advancing in all the elements that go to make up the sum of the general welfare. And I remember that God reigns in eternity, and that whatever delays, whatever disappointments and discouragements may come, truth, justice, liberty and humanity will ultimately prevail.”

Which of These Frederick Douglass Quotes Push You to Break Barriers and Go Beyond Borders?

Frederick Douglass is one of America’s pioneering historic figures—fighting for his people’s emancipation through the power of words, faith, and education. As a person born into slavery, he witnessed firsthand what it meant to suffer under tyranny. And with this, he found strength to become one of the most notable abolitionists to combat racial prejudice.

Which quotes did you feel for the most? Are there any more quotes on freedom and faith that you would like us to add? Comment them down below.

Amy Finn

Hi. I'm Amy, the founder of this blog. I love quotes and enjoy sharing the best ones with you.

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