Equality in Early American History Essay

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The meaning of equality is difficult to define in a common definition. One’s own definition is dependent on past and present circumstance as well as societal pressures and norms. Three great men in America’s history, Fredrick Douglass, Chief Joseph, and William Graham Sumner, all strove for equality, though their definitions of what equality stands for may differ. It is obvious that the issue of ‘equality’ is on the forefront of America’s mind during this time of westward expansion, civil rights, and suffrage movements. Their personal backgrounds and current contexts heavily influence Fredrick Douglass’, Chief Joseph, and William Graham Sumner’s meanings of the term equality and aid in the explanation of why these men define equality the way they did. In 1838, Fredrick Douglass escaped the confines of slavery and lived the remainder of his life as a free man in a northern state. By the start of the Civil War in 1861, Douglass had already been a free man for over 20 years. During his enslavement, Douglass sought out education and learned how to read and write, which is extremely rare for slave. His continued education as a free man and his prowess as a writer granted him incredible opportunity unbeknownst to the common slave or Negro. Douglass’ extraordinary background allowed him to have a different and more demanding outlook on what real equality is than the majority of Negros at this time. Douglass’ main argument in his speech “What the Black Man Wants” is the push for Negro suffrage. Douglass’ takes a very strong stance on equality early on in his speech, stating, “I am for the immediate, unconditional, and universal enfranchisement of the black man.” His idea of equality is complete and total equality, not just freedom from slavery, but also societal and legislative equality between blacks and whites. Douglass’ strong stance differs from the views of recently

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