After returning from a triumphal lecture tour in the British Isles with the purchase of a printing press in 1847, Frederick Douglass resolved to launch his own newspaper, the North Star, an African American newspaper to engage the anti-slavery movement politically, and broaden the horizon of his readership greatly. He shared this idea and his rationale with his mentors for, «I still see before me a life of toil and trials…, but, justice must be done, the truth must be told…I will not be silent.» On October 28, 1847, Douglass, «… finally decided on publishing the North Star in Rochester and to make that city my future home.»
The first issue of the paper came out on December 3, 1847. Just a look at that maiden issue gives one certain proof of its been a well thought out and articulated manifesto of the start of an important social and political weapon for a whole black emancipation movement as well as an excellent literary piece where Douglass who is no doubt the young writer referred to in the piece itself gives a long fervent and graphic account of the ordeals he, representing those the whole suffering and struggling black race, has gone through to come to that point which in itself gives further testimony of Douglass’ perfection of his craft as a writer.
The editorial piece o «Our Paper and Its Prospects», which is what is in evidence now runs into six well structured and written paragraphs, some of uneven length, setting out their aims and purposes in setting up the paper, their readiness in terms of equipment and willing and committed personnel and setting a background of the wounded and maimed spirit of the Black man in a racist society which was enough stimulus to have roused them up to write and campaign for their emancipation.
The article itself as culled from The North Star, 3 December 1847and Reprinted in Philip Foner, ed., Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1950), p. 280. is reproduced almost fully here and divided into paragraphs and italicised and each paragraph is followed by notes, comments and analysis from this writer in normal fonts.
The Opening Paragraph
- We are now about to assume the management of the editorial department of a newspaper, devoted to the cause of Liberty, Humanity and Progress. The position is one which, with the purest motives, we have long desired to occupy. It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression
This opening paragraph announces with much flourish the launching of a new era of blacks who have been the immediate victims of slavery and oppression assuming a powerful position of owning and managing a newspaper which is in essence an important instrument through which they could right their wrongs, challenge social ills and assert their position and rights as citizens. It had been a long-held dream to be fulfilled so its realisation in a land whose negatives in the superlatives and its intensity represented in the multiplicity of being «slave-holding, slave-trading and negro hating.» is a remarkable and promising breakthrough. Though each of this is implied in the other, Douglass has separated them and reiterated each to emphasize the monumental task the paper has in its task to rid minds of those negative attitudes.
The Second Paragraph
- Animated by this intense desire, we have pursued our object, till on the threshold of obtaining it. .. . The sincere wish of our heart, so long and so devoutly cherished seems now upon the eve of complete realization.
This second paragraph picks up from the suggestion in the previous one that it had for long been their desire to establish under black ownership and control in the slave-holding, slave-trading and Negro-hating land, emphatically referred to as such in the last paragraph, a printing press and newspaper, which they had identified as the most appropriate instrument through which they could promote their cause in their fight for liberty not just from slavery and oppression but in establishing and safeguarding their humanity where they could be counted as just as human as the other races with equal rights to citizenship and fight for progress. He goes on to elaborate details to demonstrate their readiness for the task: press and printing materials bought; secured and well-situated offices in town; well-recommended printers poised for work; rapidly growing list of subscribers; the best minds in the country ready to write; moral and financial support from friends and patrons; and then to crown it all, an industrious and amiable young man who is devoted wholely to improving the human lot. With this painstaking itemization of their strengths, aptitude, spirit and resources readers then would have had no doubt about their eventual success given such analysis of their preparedness.
The Third Paragraph
- It is scarcely necessary for us to say that our desire to occupy our present position at the head of an Antislavery Journal, has resulted from no unworthy distrust or ungrateful want of appreciation of the zeal, integrity, or ability of the noble band of white laborers, in this department of our cause; but, from a sincere and settled conviction that such a Journal, if conducted with only moderate skill and ability, would do a most important and indispensable work, which it would be wholly impossible for our white friends to do for us.
This third paragraph with much skill pays homage to whites who have been fighting for abolition and emancipation and stating that their taking over the fight themselves should not be seen as distrust or ingratitude nor lack of appreciation of their zeal in their effort towards their cause, but that it was just a realisation that what they blacks could achieve for themselves in championing their own cause themselves even with moderate skills would not be possibly gained through their white friends working for them.
The Fourth Paragraph
- It is neither a reflection on the fidelity, nor a disparagement of the ability of our friends and fellow-laborers, to assert what «common sense affirms and only folly denies,» that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,-that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT-and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty. It is evident we must be our own representatives and advocates, not exclusively, but peculiarly-not distinct from, but in connection with our white friends. In the grand struggle for liberty and equality now waging, it is meet, right and essential that there should arise in our ranks authors and editors, as well as orators, for it is in these capacities that the most permanent good can be rendered to our cause.
This fourth paragraph is closely linked with the previous paragraph in amplifying why they should now take up the fight themselves rather than sit back whilst others who are not feeling the pain directly keep fighting for them. He therefore calls for the conscription of writers, authors, editors and orators from their ranks and harness their communicative skills so that the most permanent good would come to their cause. The plausibility of the statements Douglass has adduced to support his claims for the justifiability of Blacks taking over championing their own cause cannot be denied, but that cause and other causes could be far more efficacious when it has support from those who are not directly hit but are only morally revolted at the aberration. These are the ones who deserve the greatest honor, for sacrificing their own comfort to fight for the oppressed.
The Fifth Paragraph
- Hitherto the immediate victims of slavery and prejudice, owing to various causes, have had little share in this department of effort: they have frequently undertaken, and almost as frequently failed. This latter fact has often been urged by our friends against our engaging in the present enterprise; but, so far from convincing us of the impolicy of our course, it serves to confirm us in the necessity, if not the wisdom of our undertaking. That others have failed, is a reason for OUR earnestly endeavoring to succeed. Our race must be vindicated from the embarrassing imputations resulting from former non-success. We believe that what ought to be done, can be done. We say this, in no self-confident or boastful spirit, but with a full sense of our weakness and unworthiness, relying upon the Most High for wisdom and strength to support us in our righteous undertaking. We are not wholly unaware of the duties, hardships and responsibilities of our position. We have easily imagined some, and friends have not hesitated to inform us of others. Many doubtless are yet to be revealed by that infallible teacher, experience. A view of them solemnize, but do not appal us. We have counted the cost. Our mind is made up, and we are resolved to go forward.
Douglass goes on in this next paragraph in bemoaning the fact that they the victims of slavery and prejudice have for far too long taken a back seat in championing their cause and articulating their desires. He goes on further to regret the many attempts at that that have failed and that such multiplicities of failures has been often used as a rationale for arguing against making further efforts or even dissuading others like himself from further attempts. But the writer here argues that past failures should be enough incentives to earnestly endeavour to reverse that trend by striving towards success. Going on further he states that they also need to vindicate their race from being associated with perpetual failure for he believes strongly that what ought to be done, can be done, through a strong will and a sense of purpose. They are fully aware of their role, responsibilities and the enormity of the task. But far from frightening them such enormous and gargantuan role, tasks and responsibilities have solemnized and given them an unrelenting spirit and a resolute mind to press forward and not look backwards until they succeed..
The Concluding Paragraph
And in this last paragraph the writer through a careful chronicle of Douglass’ long march from the scourge of slavery to a lecturer and his been armed through the generous contributions of his generous and philanthropic white friends with a printing press, being the principal instrument of their trade, makes it become clearly apparent that those dreadful circumstances endured along with divine providence have solemnly sanctioned the success of their cause. An amazing effect is achieved in conveying Douglass’ efforts, afflictions, marching forward and triumphs as those of the whole black race defiantly pressing forward and overturning in the process all hurdles placed on their track.
- In aspiring to our present position, the aid of circumstances has been so strikingly apparent as to almost stamp our humble aspirations with the solemn sanctions of a Divine Providence. Nine years ago, as most of our readers are aware, we were held as a slave, shrouded in the midnight ignorance of that infernal system-sunken in the depths of senility and degradation-registered with four footed beasts and creeping things- regarded as property-compelled to toil without wages-with a heart swollen with bitter anguish-and a spirit crushed and broken. By a singular combination of circumstances we finally succeeded in escaping from the grasp of the man who claimed us as his property, and succeeded in safely reaching New Bedford, Mass. In this town we worked three years as a daily laborer on the wharves. Six years ago we became a Lecturer on Slavery. Under the apprehension of being re-taken into bondage, two years ago we embarked for England. During our stay in that country, kind friends, anxious for our safety, ransomed us from slavery, by the payment of a large sum. The same friends, as unexpectedly as generously, placed in our hands the necessary means of purchasing a printing press and printing materials. Finding ourself now in a favorable position for aiming an important blow at slavery and prejudice, we feel urged on in our enterprise by a sense of duty to God and man, firmly believing that our effort will be crowned with entire success.
This last paragraph is indeed the climax of all the preceding ones in terms of details as well as rhetorical effects which make it echo the Gettsyberg address of Abraham Lincoln, who significantly had much influence on Douglass
Douglass achieved an unconstrained independence as he wrote freely on various topics covering the Constitution as an antislavery document, political action as a necessary step to bringing emancipation, and the support of the women’s rights’ movement. .
The North Star soon gained a circulation of over 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean serving as a forum not only for abolitionist views, but also in support of the feminist movement and the emancipation of other oppressed groups thus being seen as a considerable step forward in giving African Americans a voice in the abolitionist movement by providing their leaders an open forum in the community, from 1847 to 1863.