Frederick Douglass and Adam Smith Together

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As Frederick Douglass stepped into freedom on September 3rd, 1838, he put into physical motion the theories Adam Smith held about slavery and its role in the economy. Any previous shades of doubt that Douglass had about the stability of the North's economy was gone when Frederick Douglass witnessed the success of non-slaveholders. In this new free-market environment, Douglass witnessed a change in society; workers were stronger, healthier, happier, and more able to work. In contrast to his life before complete freedom, he witnessed absolute greed and power in his masters—especially Hugh Auld, who allowed him to seek employment, but held most of his wages. Douglass speculated that the mere fact he was receiving some of his wages from his guilty master meant that he should be receiving all of his wages. Upon arrival in New Bedford, Douglass finds the honest economy of the free market to be lacking in the thievery of slaveholders, and the fruits of the laborers are enjoyed by more than slaveholders. These sentiments run parallel with Smith's sentiments that slavery cannot be good for the economy; as it is not free trade because it runs short of the accepted criteria. Slave trade is not a voluntary exchange in which both sides enjoy mutual benefits. Smith points out that goods and services to be traded must have rightful owners, and men cannot be owned. Beyond these conclusions, which form the basis for the comparison of Douglass and Smith, Douglass' experiences and observations correlate with the theories of Smith on free market society and the robbery of slave markets.

In his Wealth of Nations, Smith supports the free man's right to work in the economy, even to the lower classes (eg.: freed slaves): "It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of division of labor, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of people."(Smith, Wealth of Nations,...
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