Working, from sunrise to sunset, with little nutrition, while being whipped and beaten all throughout the day, this was the everyday life of a slave. Slaves lived in usually harsh environments and were treated poorly by their masters and the plantation owners, causing a slave’s life span to be shorter than of the white people. Frederick Douglass was born around 1818 and this book is his narrative of his life as a slave and a portion of his life after he was declared a free man. Primary sources provide a great insight to the happenings of historical events. It gives us a firsthand view from someone who had lived and experienced everything that occurred in a certain time period. From the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to The Diary of Anne Frank, we learn a great deal about how it was to be a slave in America to being a Jew during the holocaust. With primary sources, more is known about not just slavery and the holocaust, but various battles, wars, and other significant events that have occurred all throughout history, in all parts of the world. Historians read and combine primary sources to get a better view and understanding on what happened. When they compile all the information into one source, it becomes a secondary source. A secondary source is still a historically correct document, but it was not someone who experienced, say slavery, personally. Rather, it is someone reflecting on the historical event after reading one or a few primary sources. Both sources are extremely insightful to the events, but the primary source gives us a personal, more emotional look on the event. The narrator can walk us through his or her personal experiences, and can help us feel and understand his or her emotions a little easier than through a secondary source. With Frederick Douglass’s narrative, we can see his journey as a slave, and then as a freeman. Included in his narrative is a preface written by William Lloyd Garrison and a letter from Wendell Phillips. These two documents are secondary sources concerning Frederick Douglass. William Garrison met Frederick Douglass at a convention and listened to him give a speech at an anti-slavery convention in Nantucket, and Wendell Phillips was good friends with Frederick Douglass. Both sources reflect slavery and the attitudes toward it in this time period.
Primary sources give us a firsthand view on history. They are able to give insight to what it was really like to live back in time. In the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, one can almost feel his emotions and feel his anger or sadness as he writes about his slave life. In the era of slavery, there were many different types of slave owners, masters and plantations. There were rich and poor masters, owners and plantations. Some masters were kind and gentle to the slaves, but that often did not last for long. Even the most angelic of women became corrupt with power. Douglass reflects on his new mistress, she is “a women of the kindest heart and finest feelings.”1 He continues on about her goodness and kindness, for a paragraph, and ends with a final remark: But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.2 Members of some slave-owning families taught some of the slaves how to read or write, but this was a very small number. Knowledge is power, and the masters did not want the slaves to have any power. Although slaves had no power, they were a symbol of power in the South: the more slaves one had, the wealthier one was. This was due to the fact that slaves were thought of as property, not people. Slaves had no rights and no freedom; they were replaceable to their owners. “Slaves know as...
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