Unit 2: Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum America

For this unit, our main autobiography will be The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, first published in 1845 at the height of the abolition movement in the United States. As part of our study, you will write a paper that explores how people who escaped slavery used their life stories as part of the abolition movement. The assignment will develop your skill in crafting a historical argument using a comparison of at least two primary sources, as well as to relate those primary sources to historical events in the same time period.

In the Narrative of the Life, Douglass employed a common subgenre of autobiography—the escaped slave narrative—to make a political argument. Based on our study of Douglass and the abolition movement, you will develop a historical argument that explains how Douglass sought to advance his political agenda through his autobiography. To begin, answer the following two questions using the autobiography, the other writings of Douglass that we have discussed, and your knowledge of the background of the American abolition movement:

  1. What were the main themes that Douglass highlighted to describe the evils of slavery in his Narrative, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” and the North Star?
  2. What parts of the Narrative did Douglass use to advance these goals?

You should then craft a thesis statement that connects the evidence you amassed on one of the themes to answer those two questions. In other words, you should address in your thesis how and/or why Douglass used that theme in the Narrative to argue against slavery. You should support your argument with reference to significant evidence from the readings and lecture notes.


Section 01F: Essay due on Monday, November 12 by 11:59 p.m. Follow the instructions to submit via Dropbox.

Section 002: Essay due on Tuesday, November 13 by 11:59 p.m. Follow the instructions to submit via Dropbox.


  • The paper should be 800-1,200 words (excluding footnotes).
  • You must use as evidence the Narrative of the Life, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and at least one essay from the North Star.
  • You should use any other readings from the syllabus and references to lecture notes as they relate to your argument.
  • You must cite all evidence, including both readings and lecture notes, in Chicago format (see below for examples).
  • You may not use any outside sources.
  • The paper will be graded according to a standard rubric.

Citation Guide

First use

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1995), 81.

Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass Project, University of Rochester, https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/2945.

Frederick Douglass, “Bibles for the Slaves,” [Rochester, NY] North Star, Jan. 14, 1848.

Joseph Locke and Ben Wright, eds., The American Yawp, ch. 10, section V, http://www.americanyawp.com/text/10-religion-and-reform/#V_Antislavery_and_Abolitionism.

Joseph M. Adelman, “Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum America,” Lecture, Oct. 15, 2018.

Subsequent Use

Douglass, Narrative of the Life, 74.

Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Douglass, “Bibles for the Slaves.”

Locke and Wright, eds., The American Yawp, ch. 11, section IV, http://www.americanyawp.com/text/10-religion-and-reform/#V_Antislavery_and_Abolitionism.

Adelman, “Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum America.”