David Blight argues in his essay The Meaning or The Fight: Frederick Douglass and The Memory of The Fifty Fourth Massachusetts that the effort to rally support during the Civil War took its toll on Frederick Douglass over the course of time. He argues that Douglas was correct in noting the struggle faced by black people both within the military and outside of its bounds. Black soldiers, it seems, were almost constantly fighting for equal pay and equal treatment. The author agrees with the arguments of Douglass, understanding that during this time in the United States, black people were disenfranchised in many different ways. He argues that Douglass became fatigued over time because, while the cause for which the man worked was a good one, he received tremendous pushback as he attempted to communicate his worthy ideas to a nation – and a union – that increasingly failed to understand where he was coming from.
The author primarily works with primary source documentation of the speeches and other works of Douglass. Because he is trying to principally prove the idea that Douglass was feeling fatigued by the constancy of the effort facing him down, the author had to establish not only what the surrounding environment was like for Douglass, but what Douglass’s actual thoughts might have been. In doing so, the author reviews many of the relevant speeches that Douglass gave during this time. Douglass would regularly speak to crowds, trying to drum up support for abolition. The author focused specifically on the ways in which Douglass would communicate his own experience. At the end of the day, Douglass regularly discussed his experience as a slave in order to communicate the horrors of slavery, in hopes of winning public support for the anti-slavery movement. The author’s focus on these primary source documents adds strength to this particular work.
One of the chief strengths of this article is the precision with which the author writes about the arguments and experiences of Frederick Douglass. The author writes with clarity about the ways in which Douglass advocated and argued. In addition to that, the article is strong in part because of the way the author provides useful background information on the struggle of Douglass. One reading this article with an already meaningful understanding of Frederick Douglass can benefit from the article, gaining a better appreciation for the things that Douglass struggled through both publicly and in private. Beyond that, a person who came to this article with little understanding of the role of Frederick Douglass could also digest this article. It is that ability to provide something useful for both the seasoned historian and the novice that makes this article one that contributes positively to the body of knowledge on this subject.
One of the weaknesses of this particular article has to do with the lack of discussion about the role that Abraham Lincoln played in the shaping of the views of Frederick Douglass. While the article does provide some background on how Douglass interacted with the political leaders of his day, it fails to capture the extensive relationship that Douglass had with Lincoln, and how that relationship led to interaction that would eventually contribute to the demise of slavery. At the end of the day, Douglass benefitted significantly from the things he learned from Lincoln. Above that, Douglass found himself often looking to Lincoln in order to provide policy-based support for some of the efforts that Lincoln advocated for. This article could have been improved significantly if the author had made this one of his focus areas, especially when providing the useful background that he provided.