Frederick Douglass wrote his narrative at a time when slavery was still readily accepted by a large portion of America. Much of the subject matter that he brought forth was very unpopular. The voice of a black slave was not one that commanded respect. The act of his writing and publishing his story was very important for the abolitionist movement because it was gaining recognition and the book had the potential to influence many. This book was also important for Frederick Douglass himself. By telling his story, Douglass had a chance to exorcise many past demons in his life with the power of his pen. Douglass was able to confront and condemn many crimes that he had witnessed and/or experienced. The narrative of Douglass was heavily influenced by political agenda that caused him not to express the extent of his feelings towards white America and its religion in the main text of the book. However, Douglass’s feelings are so strong, he uses the Appendix as a vehicle to attack white America.
Why does Douglass wait until his story is over to put forth a vehement attack upon the religion of the South? Under the guise of explaining to the reader that he is a believer in a pure form of Christianity, Douglass puts forth a powerful denunciation against a major institution in America. In the few pages of the Appendix, Douglass expresses his views of the Christian church in America. On the first page of the Appendix he writes, “I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” (153). Douglass expresses an “unutterable loathing” and complete contempt for the people who attend and are associated with the church. He even uses a lengthy biblical quote to compare the Christian people of America to the Pharisees and ancient scribes. The language and style the Douglass uses in the Appendix is very different from the tone of the narrative. In the text, Douglass tells his story, but in the Appendix he passes his judgment.
Douglass does mention the hypocritical nature of religious persons in his story, but when he does this, he is usually very subtle and does not proclaim his feelings about the situation. An example of the way he addresses the injustices in the narrative is when he tells about Master Thomas and how he turns out the crippled slave, Henry, to fend for herself after a long history of beating her. Douglass at the end writes, “Master Thomas was one of the many pious slaveholders who hold slaves for the very charitable purpose of taking care of them” (99). In this case, Douglass does not use strong language, but subtly shows the duplicity of the so-called pious members of the community. Another example where Douglass shows the nature of the religious men of the South is when he tells of the men who broke up his Sabbath school with sticks and stones. In this case Douglass is more open with his feelings when he writes, “My blood boils as I think of the bloody manner in which Messrs. Wright Fairbanks and Garrison West, both class-leaders, in connection with many others, rushed in upon us with sticks and stones, and broke up our virtuous little Sabbath school, at St. Michael’s—all calling themselves Christians! Humble followers of the Lord Jesus Christ! But I am again digressing” (120). Even though it is obvious Douglass shows his negative opinion of the men in reference, he still is not as ardent as he is in the Appendix. He backs away from getting deeply involved with his opinions and continues with his story. With his statement about digressing, he gives indication that the text has a certain structure and agenda that he is following.
Why wait until the Appendix to voice his opinion? I believe it is because he was told by his counterparts that he could not be highly opinionated in his story for it to be accepted and have a political effect. I also feel that Douglass knew this too. This story was read by primarily white Americans who were most likely racist and associated with the Christian church. For Douglass to come right out and assault the church as he does in the Appendix would have only served to alienate his audience. That is why Douglass tends to stay away from open attack on the church in his text. He must keep his audience reading, and to say that the church of America was in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ would have been suicide for his story. I think Douglass realized this but was heavily influenced by men like Garrison, because he still makes comments in the story about the deeds of “pious” Christian men, but probably kept them toned down because of the pressure from his fellow abolitionists who knew the importance of not offending the reader. They were aware that to insult religion in America, especially if a slave did it, was only going to bring down the public opinion towards the anti-slavery movement.
The question arises again of why the Appendix. Why did Douglass choose to voice his opinion of the church and its people? Maybe the Appendix was suggested by friends because they felt Douglass had been too open about his dislike for the church in the main text and told him he needed to show that he supported religion. Maybe the Appendix was an idea of Douglass himself so he could be true to himself and more explicitly express himself. The language of the Appendix is stronger, the tone more aggressive and focused against a whole society. In the appendix he writes: “He who sells my sister, for the purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me” (154). Instead of just giving examples of the evils of slavery as he does in the text, Douglass states it in the Appendix. I believe that Douglass wrote it because he knew that the reader had already been exposed to the story and that the political agenda had been accomplished, but he still needed to express a deep anger within. He had politely told the story of his early life for the benefit of white America to act as a social mirror so they could see the ugliness in their faces. He had eloquently talked about the whippings, the cruelty that he and his fellow men and women had suffered and were still suffering, but never had the full emotional release he needed. Douglass had been held back in his story by a political aim that had not allowed him to state to the world in plain terms what he felt for the people who had enslaved him and the religion they used to cover up their deeds. The Appendix was his chance to act as a judge of the system that had judged him because of his skin colour alone.
The words and ideas that Douglass uses in his Appendix were very powerful and brave for him to write. Religion is an area that most people hold very dear and personal. It is an area that people put their faith into, and when life has only sorrow and pain, they look to for comfort. Douglass, in his Appendix, essentially calls this religion that America delivers in a sham. He writes in the appendix: “between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference” (153). He tells how the church is used by people to wash their hands of the evils they commit everyday. A moral Band-Aid to cover the ugly wound that is slavery. America’s Christianity is a religion that does not heal and better a man’s soul, but serves only to cover the evil within. Douglass writes, “The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity” (154-155). This statement of the corruption of the Christian people of America strikes at the core of the character of America, a country founded by people who were fleeing the corruption of the church in England. The once persecuted have become the persecutors. The height of Douglass’s attack comes when he compares the Christianity of America to the Judaism of the Pharisees. It essentially puts America as the crucifier and the slave population as the crucified. He takes Christianity and turns it against the South. In the short Appendix, Douglass lets forth a rage against this institution and its people, a rage he was not inclined to show in his narrative.
Douglass was influenced when he wrote this story. He held back a lifetime of anger to tell his story in manner that would be accepted by white America. He knew that the political importance of his book at the time outweighed his personal convictions. That is why he writes his story as he does. He gives names, events, and personal reactions, but holds back from personal judgment. It is also very likely he did this because he was told to by his abolitionist counterparts. In a way, Douglass was still being held down by the slave mentality of America because he could not write what he truly felt in his story because of the audience he was trying to reach. That is why the Appendix is so powerful. Even though he waits until after the telling of his story, Douglass throws off the chains of the political agenda and the fears of offending his audience and states the naked ugly truth. He looks America in the eye and tells her she is wrong and is in direct conflict with the Christ that she says she supports.