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Frederick Douglass and “All Rights for All”

February 9, 2018

by Timothy Sandefur
February 10, 2018

At the top of his newspaper, Frederick Douglass printed a simple motto: “All rights for all.” It was an apt rejoinder to his former mentor, William Lloyd Garrison, who printed at the top of his newspaper, The Liberator, the motto “No union with slaveholders.” Douglass had come to reject Garrison’s belief that the antislavery cause was best served by separating from slaveowners and refusing the participate in the political system. Douglass instead believed that the work of freedom had to be inclusive: it had to mean political engagement, equal citizenship, and the principle of liberty for all Americans. But more than a century after his death, that tension remains with us today: on one side, those who believe most deeply in separation—in division and even relativism and tribalism—and those who believe that the principles of freedom are for everyone.

I spoke at the Cato Institute yesterday about my book, Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man, and addressed Douglass’s continuing relevance as a spokesman for individualism and equality. He stands today opposed to the advocates of separatism on both the left and the right, and as proof of the importance of personal pride and independence in maintaining a free society.

Timothy Sandefur is the vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.



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