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A change in the affairs of mankind – ‘The arm of commerce has borne away the gates …’

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879. George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 200-FL-22 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 113
Frederick A. Douglass (1818-1895)

Frederick A. Douglass


(Rochester, New York, July 4, 1852) – While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.

Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind.

Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other.

The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee

The wide world o’er!

When from their galling chains set free,

Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny

Like brutes no more.

That year will come, and freedom’s reign.

To man his plundered rights again


God speed the day when human blood

Shall cease to flow!

In every clime be understood,

The claims of human brotherhood,

And each return for evil, good,

Not blow for blow;

That day will come all feuds to end,

And change into a faithful friend

Each foe.


Editor’s Note: These words concluded the July 4, 1852 oration of American abolitionist and patriot Frederick A. Douglass, before a massive audience in Rochester, New York. It is perhaps his best known speech. Douglass, active in the Republican Party of his era, also wrote an autobiography (which appeared in severa varied editions) covering the early decades of his life (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). It was one of the best selling books of the Nineteenth Century. This excerpt from the speech was first posted at on February 2, 2017. Pat McGuigan, publisher of The City Sentinel and founder of CapitolBeatOK, is a certified teacher. He utilized the Rochester speech for a ‘reading day’ lesson at Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, a public charter alternative school, on December 1, 2015. He has employed the speech in teaching U.S. history throughout his career as an educator and journalist.




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