Douglass Launches Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although Frederick Douglass’s first newspaper struggled, it contributed a forceful African American voice to the abolition movement and helped to raise Douglass’s stature as a public figure.

Summary of Event

When the first issue of The North Star appeared on December 3, 1847, critics and readers discovered a newspaper that blended sardonic humor with moral urgency, written in a polished style. Some readers, however, were skeptical of editor Frederick Douglass’s sophistication. Fathered by a white man and born to the slave Harriet Bailey in Talbot County, Maryland, Douglass had begun his life as a slave. He had witnessed the full horrors of slavery, the brutal beatings, and even murder. In his teens, he had taught himself to read and write from a discarded speller and copybook and had learned public speaking by imitating orations appearing in The Columbian Orator, Columbian Orator, The an abolitionist publication. Indeed, The Columbian Orator led to his awareness of the abolitionist movement and influenced his writing style when he later published The North Star. After clashing with his master in 1838, Douglass had escaped from Baltimore to New York with Anna Murray, Douglass, Anna Murray a free black domestic servant. After they were married, they settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which offered sanctuary. To prevent recapture, Frederick changed his surname from Bailey to Douglass, in honor of a character in Sir Walter Scott’s Scott, Sir Walter 1810 poem The Lady of the Lake. Lady of the Lake, The (Scott) Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and The North Star[North Star] North Star, The Abolitionism;newspapers African Americans;newspapers Journalism;African American Journalism;abolitionist [kw]Douglass Launches The North Star (Dec. 3, 1847) [kw]Launches The North Star, Douglass (Dec. 3, 1847) [kw]North Star, Douglass Launches The (Dec. 3, 1847) Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and The North Star[North Star] North Star, The Abolitionism;newspapers African Americans;newspapers Journalism;African American Journalism;abolitionist [g]United States;Dec. 3, 1847: Douglas Launches The North Star[2540] [c]Journalism;Dec. 3, 1847: Douglass Launches The North Star[2540] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Dec. 3, 1847: Douglass Launches The North Star[2540] Douglass, Anna Murray Delaney, Martin Robison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] Smith, Gerrit Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass]

Douglass then became active in local abolitionist gatherings and discovered his gift as a compelling speaker who provided firsthand examples of barbaric slavery. He became a favorite on the lecture circuit during the early 1840’s. His Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;autobiography autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), sold more than thirty thousand copies over the next five years. Meanwhile, Douglass came under the tutelage of the leading abolitionist of the times, William Lloyd Garrison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and William Lloyd Garrison[Garrison] . From Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, Douglass no doubt learned much about newspaper operations.

As Douglass’s fame increased, so did his risk of capture as an escaped slave. In 1845, he sailed for England and then went to Scotland and Ireland, where he lectured passionately on the inhumane treatment of slaves in the United States. Moved by his personal plight, his newfound friends arranged to purchase his freedom from his former owner for $711.66. Before returning to the United States in 1847, he also received $2,175 in contributions to finance his own antislavery newspaper.

When Garrison Garrison, William Lloyd [p]Garrison, William Lloyd;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and William Lloyd Garrison[Garrison] objected to Douglass’s starting his own newspaper, the two close friends became estranged; eventually, they became bitter enemies. Douglass sensed that white abolitionists regarded him as a child who needed to be led, and he believed that African Americans must lead to gain respect. He held that his newspaper could create that leadership and help increase self-respect among African Americans. Douglass knew of the hazards in starting an African American newspaper, because about one hundred such papers then existed in the United States, the first having been started in 1827. He located in Rochester, New York, because it had strong antislavery sentiments. Also, by publishing his paper there reduced its competition with Garrison’s Liberator Liberator, The in Boston and the National Anti-Slavery Standard in New York City.

On December 3, 1847, the first issue of The North Star appeared. It was a four-page weekly with a subscription cost of two dollars per year. It had a circulation of between two and three thousand copies, and its publishing costs were about eighty dollars per week. It was printed in the first print shop owned by an African American. Douglass chose journalist Martin Robison Delaney Delaney, Martin Robison as his coeditor, but the two soon clashed over the issue of “colonization.” Colonization was a scheme promoted by the American Colonization Society American Colonization Society to resettle former slaves in Africa, rather than integrate them within American society. Delaney supported colonization, and Douglass vigorously opposed it. When a disgusted Delaney left in 1848 to found a colony along West Africa’s West Africa;African American settlers Niger River Niger River , Douglass became sole editor of his paper. He vigorously espoused the principle of integration throughout the rest of his life.

In the first issue of The North Star, Douglass urged African Americans to become politically active and pledged that his newspaper would aggressively attack slavery, work to free southern slaves, and promote African American morality and progress. The paper’s lead article recounted the convention of “colored people” of 1847, with its primary objectives of abolishing slavery and elevating free African Americans. In subsequent years, The North Star dealt with such burning issues as social injustice, inequality, racism, the dangers of drink and dissipation, the benefits of integrated school systems, the elimination of segregated Segregation hotels and railroads, the folly of war and capital punishment, the worth of laborers, the imperative need for racial unity among African Americans, and the unfair voting Voting rights;and black codes[Black codes] practices designed to handicap African Americans in northern states. The North Star came to the defense not only of persecuted African Americans but also of Native Americans, the Irish, and members of other immigrant groups. From its beginnings, The North Star lived up to its masthead:

Right Is of No Sex—Truth Is of No Color—God Is the Father of Us All, and All We Are Brethren.

Douglass vigorously supported the women’s rights movement, Women’s movement[Womens movement];and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and women’s movement[Womens movement] linking enslaved women to the abolition movement itself. At the Seneca Falls Convention Seneca Falls Convention (1848);and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] in 1848, Douglass, one of thirty-two men who attended, spoke and voted in favor of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Stanton, Elizabeth Cady [p]Stanton, Elizabeth Cady;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] Declaration of Sentiments, which demanded equality for women. He effectively used The North Star to promote Stanton’s feminist cause.

Despite its strong editorial start, The North Star foundered financially after six months. Douglass mortgaged his house and used his lecture fees to keep the paper going. From time to time, he received financial gifts from Gerrit Smith Smith, Gerrit , a philanthropist, reformer, and wealthy New York landowner. In 1851, the two men agreed to merge the financially troubled North Star with Smith’s struggling Liberty Party Paper. Douglass maintained editorial control over the paper while including political news of the Liberty Party Liberty Party . The merger allowed him to broaden his audience to four thousand readers, and he accepted a comfortable subsidy from Smith.

The new effort, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, appeared in June, 1851, and lasted until 1859. Douglass used the paper to continue his crusades in favor of abolition, racial equality, and women’s rights. He also dabbled in the Liberty Party Liberty Party;and Frederick Douglass[Douglass] campaigns, endorsing Smith Smith, Gerrit and helping him win a seat in Congress. In 1852, Douglass himself became the first African American nominated for vice president on the Equal Rights Party Equal Rights Party ticket of 1852.

Recurring financial problems forced Douglass to reduce the size of his paper and to publish it less frequently in 1859. His third effort, Douglass’ Monthly, which circulated in England as well as in the United States, lasted until 1863—the middle of the Civil War. Like Douglass’s first two papers, Douglass’ Monthly remained a magnet for African American writers and reformers and framed Douglass’s own inimitable style and wit as well.

Meanwhile, Douglass actively recruited African American soldiers for the Union during the war. He viewed Abraham Lincoln as the best hope for his race and pressed for the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln delivered in 1863. He proposed land reform, federally financed education, and a national association for African Americans. He believed that interracial marriages Marriage;interracial would someday eliminate racial hatred.


After the Civil War, Douglass moved to Washington, D.C. There he published the New National Era, New National Era focusing on the interests of the newly freed African Americans. During that paper’s existence (1870-1873), Douglass editorialized on Reconstruction, the rise of mob lynchings in the South, race relations, politics, labor, and education. From 1873 until his death in 1895, Douglass continued to be heard on the lecture circuit and in leading newspapers. A self-made man, who rose against great odds from slavery to publisher, race leader, prominent abolitionist, social reformer, and political activist, Douglass is one of the most important African Americans of the nineteenth century and became a powerful symbol in the Civil Rights movement throughout the twentieth century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chesebrough, David B. Frederick Douglass: Oratory from Slavery. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Exploration of Douglass’s oratory skills and techniques that opens with a biographical sketch.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Douglass, Frederick. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Edited by John W. Blassingame and John R. McKivigan. 5 vols. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979-1992. Reconstruction of Douglass’s thoughts and opinions from fragmentary newspapers, such as The North Star, and manuscript sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Huggins, Nathan I. Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980. Analyzes the complexities of abolition ideology and portrays Frederick Douglass as a troubled and occasionally self-contradictory thinker.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lawson, Bill E., and Frank M. Kirkland, eds. Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. Collection of fifteen essays by leading American philosophers who revisit Douglass and the place his work has in modern social and political thought.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Waldo E. The Mind of Frederick Douglass. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. Focuses on Douglass’s formative years and the reworking of his views on slavery, inequality, and injustice.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meltzer, Milton, ed. Frederick Douglass, in His Own Words. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt, Brace, 1995. Profiles people surrounding Douglass. Offers sample articles from The North Star and Douglass’s other newspapers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rogers, William B.“We Are All Together Now”: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Prophetic Tradition. New York: Garland, 1995. Comparative study of the values, beliefs, and actions of Douglass and Garrison.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Voss, Frederick S. Majestic in His Wrath: A Pictorial Life of Frederick Douglass. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. Brings together rare photos and commentary to commemorate the centennial of Douglass’s death.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wu, Jin-Ping. Frederick Douglass and the Black Liberation Movement: The North Star of American Blacks. New York: Garland, 2000. Reassessment of Douglass’s place in the history of the black liberation movement, focusing on his impact on other black leaders.

Southerners Advance Proslavery Arguments

Garrison Begins Publishing The Liberator

Birth of the Penny Press

American Anti-Slavery Society Is Founded

Seneca Falls Convention

Underground Railroad Flourishes

Stowe Publishes Uncle Tom’s Cabin

National Council of Colored People Is Founded

Lincoln Issues the Emancipation Proclamation

Thirteenth Amendment Is Ratified

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Mary Ann Shadd Cary; Frederick Douglass; William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass, Frederick [p]Douglass, Frederick;and The North Star[North Star] North Star, The Abolitionism;newspapers African Americans;newspapers Journalism;African American Journalism;abolitionist

Categories: History