Thoughts for All Time

Through his words, Frederick Douglass has shaped the ways that we think about race, democracy, and the meaning of freedom. Some of his most influential quotes can be found in "Thoughts for All Time," an exhibit in the visitor center at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. These quotes come from his speeches and writings.
A statue of Frederick Douglass standing next to text panels
A statue of Frederick Douglass by sculptor Ed Dwight (1981) stands in the visitor center next to a wall of quotes.

NPS / N. Johnson

"No, I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lighting scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins." ~ "Love of God, Love of Man, Love of Country," speech at Market Hall, New York City, October 22, 1847

"It may be said that I am growing old and am easily satisfied with things as they are. When our young men shall have worked and waited for victory as long as I have worked and waited, they will not only learn to have patience with the men opposed to them, but with me also for having patience with such." ~ "The Race Problem," speech at the Bethel Literacy and Historical Association, October 21, 1890

"Though slavery was abolished, the wrongs of my people were not ended. Though they were not slaves, they were not quite free. No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling, and action of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defecting, and maintaining that liberty." ~ Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, and unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence,; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, more bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy, a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages." ~ "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech in Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

"We are fighting for unity; unity of idea; unity of sentiment, unity of object, unity of institutions, in which there shall be no North, no South, no East, no West, no black, no white, but solidarity of the nation, making every slave free, and every free man a voter." ~ “Our Work Is Not Done,” speech at the Annual Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 3-4, 1863

"I have made up my mind wherever I go, I shall go as a man, and not as a slave… I shall always aim to be courteous and mild in deportment towards all with whom I come in contact, at the same time firmly and constantly endeavoring to assert my equal right as a man and a brother." ~ Address to the American Colonization Society, Faneuil Hall Boston, Massachusetts, June 8, 1849

"In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man… all the political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women." ~ “The Rights of Women,” North Star, July 28, 1848

"Mankind differs as the waves, but they are one as the sea." ~ "A Sentimental Visit to England," September 22, 1887

"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong." ~ "The Anti-Slavery Movement," Rochester, New York, 1855

"It is something to give the Negro religion. It is more to give him justice. It is something to give him the Bible; it is more to give him the ballot. It is something to tell him that there is a place for him in the Christian’s heaven; it is more to let him have a place in this Christian country to live upon in peace." ~ letter to W. H. Thomas, July 16, 1886

"Men may combine to prevent cruelty to animals, for they are dumb and cannot speak for themselves; but we are men and must speak for ourselves, or we shall not be spoken for at all." ~ "Address to the People of the United States," delivered at a Convention of Colored Men, Louisville, Kentucky, September 25, 1883

"When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of woman, self was out of the question." ~ "Address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association," April 14, 1888

"I would give a woman vote, give her motive to qualify herself to vote, precisely as I insisted upon giving the colored man the right to vote." ~ Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881

"Standing as we do upon the watch-tower of human freedom, we cannot be deterred from an expression of our approbation of any movement, however humble, to improve and elevate the character and condition of any members of the human family." ~ North Star, July 28, 1848

"Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color. God is the Father of us all, and all we are brethren." ~ masthead of the North Star
A close-up of a statue of Frederick Douglass focusing on his face
Frederick Douglass's strength and determination are captured in this statue by Ed Dwight (1981) that stands in the visitor center.

NPS / N. Johnson

"We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and you must do your work." ~ "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech in Rochester New York, July 5, 1852

"Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay our facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival." ~ Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881

"The story of our inferiority is an old dodge, as I have said; for whenever 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." ~ “What the Black Man Wants” speech at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Boston, Massachusetts, April 1865

"The American people have this lesson to learn: That 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 or property will be safe." ~ “Southern Barbarism” speech on the occasion of the 24th Anniversary of Emancipation, Washington, D.C., 1886

"I know of no class of my fellowmen, however just, enlightened, and humane, which can be wisely and safely trusted absolutely with the liberties of any other class." ~ Life and Times Of Frederick Douglass, 1881

"Though I am more closely connected and identified with one class of outraged, oppressed and enslaved people, I cannot allow myself to be insensible to the wrongs and sufferings of any part of the great family of man. I am not an American slave, but a man, and as such, am bound to use my powers for the welfare of the whole human brotherhood." ~ letter from Montrose, Scotland, to William Lloyd Garrison, February 26, 1846

"I have stood on each side of Mason and Dixon’s line; I have endured the frightful horrors of slavery, and have enjoyed the blessings of freemen. I am one of yourselves, enduring daily the proscription and confronting the tide of malignant prejudice by which the free colored man of the North is continually and universally opposed." ~ speech at West India Emancipation celebration, Rochester, New York, August 1, 1848

"Negroes can never have impartial portraits at the hands of white artists. It seems to us next to impossible for white men to take likenesses of black men, without most grossly exaggerating, their distinctive features… 'I am black but comely,' is as true now, as it was in the days of Solomon." ~ Liberator, April 20, 1849

"Our minds are made up to live here if we can, or die here if we must; so every attempt to remove us, will be, as it ought to be, labor lost. Here we are, and here we shall remain." ~ North Star, January 26, 1849

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want the rain without thunder and lighting. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, and it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will." ~ "West India Emancipation” speech in Canandaigua, New York, August 4, 1857

"Neither we, nor any other people, will ever be respected till we respect ourselves, and we will never respect ourselves till we have the means to live respectably." ~ Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1881

Last updated: March 5, 2017

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