To My Old Master

I examined a letter of Douglass’s which he had printed in a newspaper (the North Star), titled “To My Old Master”. The letter was written to Douglass’s former master,  Thomas Auld.

The letter was written September 3rd, 1848, ten years after Douglass escaped to freedom. It is twelve pages long. The first page and a half is Douglass’s explanation of why he wrote and published the letter in such a public manner; he indirectly accuses Mr. Auld of committing theft and murder by holding slaves. Several pages are then devoted to Douglass informing his former master about his life since his escape from slavery, and he ends with an appeal for Mr. Auld to send his old grandmother north, and let him know how his sisters are doing.

One interesting thing about this letter is that, while Douglass is frankly insulting, he apparently does expect Mr. Auld to comply with his demands. he calls Mr. Auld a thief and a murderer, refers to his “wickedness and cruelty”, and calls his actions “an outrage upon the soul”. Despite this, he still appears to expect Mr. Auld to send him news of his family, for no other reason than that Douglass asked him.

Was this attitude common at the time? Was there a general expectation that one would accommodate someone who insulted you in this way? Perhaps Douglass was actually trying to make it easier for Mr. Auld to accede to his demands; Auld would certainly look the bigger man if he agreed.