If there is any one man who stands out pre-eminently as a determining factor in the great events that led up to the war of the rebellion, it was Frederick Douglass. There were many men and women, who contributed inestimable services in the cause of emancipation. The ranks of the Abolitionists were made up of hosts of noble-hearted men and women who devoted their whole lives and all they possessed in furthering the grand cause. Successful, however, as their efforts were in the main, there was needed to its perfect fruition an element of a more distinctly personal nature. As whites and Northerners, it could not but be felt very often that they were laboring for a bare, cold principle. In the great majority of cases there was no vitality, no passionate appeals torn out of a heart wrung by the agonizing trials of a distinctly personal interest in the slave. The arguments were those dictated by reason, and naturally unsatisfactory to a soul that hungered for feeling and action.
In the person of Frederick Douglass, there was given to the great movement of abolition the personal, human touch that at once vivified it and gave it the onward impulse that carried it to a successful conclusion. Here was a man of the very humblest origin possible to humanity, in any country, in any age of the world. Born a slave in a country which placed every obstacle in the way of mental, moral and physical development, by some strange psychological operations, the windows of his soul are opened and receives those first intimations of a higher destiny for himself and his kind in the world, than that of a despised and wretched slave to white men. As a slave, he witnesser the crimes and the ruin that slavery was responsible for. His mind took in the horrors of it all. It resoned upon the causes and remedies and when in the fullness of time, he was called upon to take his great part in the liberation of his people by word and pen, he was able to do so in the broadest and the most intelligent manner. He was of the slaves and therefore for them in the truest sense. In the face of tremendous difficulties, he came to win high honors and rewards and retained for more than a generation the esteem of good men in many lands.
The life of Frederick Douglass affords a striking example of what heights may be reached by sheer force of character and talents that neither slavery nor caste proscription could crush. In Charles W. Chesnutt's volume upon this great champion of an oppressed race, just issued in the popular "Beacon series," we have an excellent resume of his brilliant career. The biography, owing to its small size, is necessarily lacking in detail. As a comprehensive and sympathetic outline, however, it will be found to embrace all the essentials necessary to an understanding of the influences that were brought to bear upon the great orator's own life and the influences that were exercised by him in behalf of the destinies of his brothers in bondage.
Mr Chesnutt comes to his task of biographer with every qualification that office demands. He is thoroughly in sympathy with his subject and has drawn upon the sources of his information in a broad and intelligent spirit. He is not blind to the faults of Douglass and does not hesitate to criticize some of his views. Altogether the writer has given us a charming biography of a great subject. ["Frederick Douglasss," By Charles W. Chesnutt: Small, Maynard & Co., Boston, 75 cents.]