A Degree of Slavery: Words From Frederick Douglas


I’ve been criticized at times for likening taxation to slavery. As the above meme demonstrates, almost everyone can agree that 100% taxation is slavery. So then a lesser percentage of forced labor, as I have argued, is also slavery, perhaps to a lesser degree.

Whether a cent or a million dollars is stolen, we call it theft, unless we call it taxation. And if someone forces you to work for them 1% of the time, or 100% of a time, that is still slavery. We need to stop letting the government off the hook by softening the perception of theft and slavery and allowing them to use the term taxation.

Frederick Douglas was a slave, by any reckoning. So it is interesting to read his own words, on the same subject of having his rightfully earned wages taken by force. First, he laments the state of his servitude, that all his hard work is confiscated from him.

Besides, I was now getting—as I have said—a dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it, worked for it, earned it, collected it; it was paid to me, and it was rightfully my own; and yet, upon every returning Saturday night, this money—my own hard earnings, every cent of it—was demanded of me, and taken from me by Master Hugh. He did not earn it; he had no hand in earning it; why, then, should he have it? I owed him nothing. He had given me no schooling, and I had received from him only my food and raiment; and for these, my services were supposed to pay, from the first. The right to take my earnings, was the right of the robber. He had the power to compel me to give him the fruits of my labor, and this power was his only right in the case. I became more and more dissatisfied with this state of things…

Frederick Douglas sees here what I see: that the only “right” the government has to take your money, is the right of the robber. Yes, they have enough power to force you to give them money, and that is the only thing that makes it “legitimate”. Douglas then muses about what conditions make slave-masters able to keep men enslaved.

To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man that takes his earnings, must be able to convince him that he has a perfect right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force; the slave must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. The whole relationship must not only demonstrate, to his mind, its necessity, but its absolute rightfulness. If there be one crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly rust off the slave’s chain.

And this is the same reason people accept taxation. We revere authority, and accept government as necessary, and still think we get some benefit out of our slavery. Of course people think this way, how often do you hear people support something because, “it is the law”. Is there no higher law than that which the government makes up for its own benefit, and then exerts through force? The will and force of government is the highest law we know.

But as soon as we realize that it is never okay to be robbed, no matter how small, the injustice is a potent demonstration that we are at the mercy of a thieving gang who has convinced most people that somehow in this case, theft and slavery are acceptable.

In case you are hung up on the percentage of stolen labor: it is interesting to note that Frederick Douglas did not always have 100% of his wages stolen from him by his masters.

I could see no reason why I should, at the end of each week, pour the reward of my toil into the purse of my master. When I carried to him my weekly wages, he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness, and ask, “Is this all?” He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent. He would, however, when I made him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole. The fact that he gave me any part of my wages was proof, to my mind, that he believed me entitled to the whole of them. I always felt worse for having received any thing; for I feared that the giving me a few cents would ease his conscience, and make him feel himself to be a pretty honorable sort of robber.

How often do people squeal that the rich need to pay their “fair share”? It doesn’t matter how much any person earns, the government always wants to steal more. And somehow they have convinced millions of people that the thieves are the good guys, and the wage earners deserve to be enslaved and robbed.

We also shouldn’t feel excited when we get out tax refunds, we should be all the more infuriated. The government knows and admits that it is our money, that we earned, to which they have no right. Yet they still take it, and we still stand by as helpless slaves while being robbed? The worst part is, that the robber undoubtedly thinks he is honorable in our circumstances! Welfare, roads, a military to “keep us safe”: our robbers, our slave masters, want us to thank them for giving back cents on the stolen dollar!

But I won’t accept it. I won’t pretend with the rest of the slaves that it is just. Yes, I will give up my wages at the point of a gun, but that is the only right the government has over me, the right of the robber.

He exhorted me to content myself, and be obedient. He told me, if I would be happy, I must lay out no plans for the future. He said, if I behaved myself properly, he would take care of me. Indeed, he advised me to complete thoughtlessness of the future, and taught me to depend solely upon him for happiness. He seemed to see fully the pressing necessity of setting aside my intellectual nature, in order to contentment in slavery. But in spite of him, and even in spite of myself, I continued to think, and to think about the injustice of my enslavement, and the means of escape.

That passage strikes an eery tone to me, because anyone can see the government has the exact same advice for us, as Frederick Douglas’ master had for him. Just sign up for Obamacare, pay your taxes, vote, pay into social security, it will all be fine! Don’t worry, you don’t need anything but us to be happy and content. If people feel dependent on the government, they are terrified to be free! The government will take care of you, just as long as you abandon your intellect, and push away any thoughts of influencing your future. Leave your fate to the hands of government.

Frederick Douglas had incredible insight into the true nature of slavery. He was the self aware slave that every master fears. Frederick Douglas was at times even placed in the same type of slavery we find ourselves in today, where we have the appearance of freedom. But it is really the worst of both worlds.

I was to be allowed all my time, make all contracts with those for whom I worked, and find my own employment; and, in return for this liberty, I was to pay him three dollars at the end of each week; find myself in calking tools, and in board and clothing. My board was two dollars and a half per week. This, with the wear and tear of clothing and calking tools, made my regular expenses about six dollars per week. This amount I was compelled to make up, or relinquish the privilege of hiring my time. Rain or shine, work or no work, at the end of each week the money must be forthcoming, or I must give up my privilege. This arrangement, it will be perceived, was decidedly in my master’s favor. It relieved him of all need of looking after me. His money was sure. He received all the benefits of slaveholding without its evils; while I endured all the evils of a slave, and suffered all the care and anxiety of a freeman. 

Precisely. We are “free”! Just so long as you give the government protection money at the end of each work week. If you can’t find work, you still need to buy healthcare, you still need to pay your property taxes, you still need to pay sales tax, and so on and so forth. We have all the stress of free men, without the benefit! And the government has all the benefits of a slave-holder, without all the intricacies of owning slaves.

The criticisms that Frederick Douglas expresses of his masters are perfectly interchangeable with all the criticisms I have for government. Heed his words. Douglas was 100% a slave at times, 99% a slave at other times, and even at a point 50% a slave, according to how much of his labor was confiscated.

But he was still a slave. Don’t let the masters keep you a thoughtless slave.

20 thoughts on “A Degree of Slavery: Words From Frederick Douglas

  1. Joe, my wife read your piece on F.D .and was impressed by it. She has put her story below. This recently transpired and she has passed it on to you. It is an illustration of the price of freedom.

    Joe, This is jay 352’s wife, I was just released from my slavery in the county lock down for 3 weeks. I dared to ask my master “am I under arrest” after an illegal stop ,of which I was a passenger in the vehicle. I was berated by Judge Donald Horax of the 6th circuit of Pinellas County Florida, as I was sentenced for daring to ask a question of an officer of the law.

    I never in my life have committed a crime . Fascism is coming here and now. This judge hates anything that resembles freedom, yet this public servant believed he had the right to imprison me for my husband’s writings and my friends right to say no to a routine traffic stop.

    They could not even find a charge for me and 8 months after “The crime” I was charged with disobeying a lawful order (Although I was charged with resisting a wildlife officer) . So everything that resembles human rights now is labeled as “resisting with or without violence and obstruction.” Again all I had to do is ask “am I under arrest.” And bear in mind this was at a state park. The FWC arresting ranger was given broad powers in 2012. He perjured himself in court because the stop found no drugs or any illegal doings whatsoever. Tsongaris is this jerks name and his other lying sack of shit partner is Martinez. They were allowed to lie in court and even then it was not well may ,if I might add. Well I just leave it at this for now. They think they got my freedom and dignity for free;. free it is not. lol

    Jay352: At her sentencing the arresting officer was allowed to give a “Victim’s impact statement”. He handed the judge an article from my blog. After reading the article and discerning that I belonged to some objectionable “Group” the judge sentenced my wife to 30 days in jail. Freedom isn’t free Joe, nor is speech. I am not telling you to be careful, as I am not, I am simply telling you the truth. Why, might you ask, would this be posted here? When I told my wife what high regard I hold you in, she decided to post that story to your site. Even though, in the end , you and I have a basic disagreement, I think that you are a bright young man with a great mind and a heart for freedom.

    • Jay, thank you so much for sharing that here! It is very scary to think that free speech does not exist. I am appalled that the trumped-up charges did not get dropped. And then to use something YOU wrote to sentence your wife takes the trampling of rights to a whole new level. Not only are we to be oppressed for what we rightfully say, but our families are also in danger?! Is this case over, or is it continuing? Have you talked to anyone from copblock, or are there any recordings?

      • The Rutherford institute is interested in handling the appeal which has been filed already. Right now we are waiting for the trial transcripts.

      • If you can get them on perjury, that would be great. Too often “authorities” lie with horrible consequences for people like us. One person’s word should never be enough to convict someone.

      • It speaks to the “Moral” authority automatically being handed to LEO simply because they are sworn officers. Take the cop in SC as an example that shot the guy in the back. How many people have been convicted of crimes on his sworn testimony and still remain that way? And as for the perjury, the attorney caught the cop time after time changing his story. In this case though, it was the judge who was prejudiced and he constantly told our attorney “Take it up at appeal”. It was a straight up railroad. Evidence about a gun and badge, which in no way was connected to my wife, was allowed in even after he agreed not to allow it because it was prejudicial. It was a joke of a trial and reminded me of something out of the USSR.

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