Frederick Douglass On The Three Boxes Of Civil Rights

frederick-douglass“A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.”

Speech, 15 November 1867 as quoted in Robin Van Auken, Louis E. Hunsinger, Williamsport: Boomtown on the Susquehanna (Charleston, SC : Arcadia, 2003), 57.

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  1. Very interesting quote! Too bad he mentions the cartridge box but does not elaborate more on it’s importance in safe guarding ones rights. I wonder if he is not referring more to the right of military service than to the right of personal ownership of arms. He could have meant both. This non academic source gives a little more context:

    • Mark,

      Knowing a little bit about Douglass’ life (he was a freed slave, who understood the power of self-defense against those who had enslaved him) and the history of freed African-Americans, until Jim Crow (and even during), I’m certain he was referring to the private ownership and use of firearms. Free black people armed themselves,as they could, all through Jim Crow. More than once black people defended themselves against the Klan by the use of firearms. Indeed, firearms restrictions occurred in more than one jurisdiction as part of an attempt to disarm black Americans so they could be oppressed. See Robert F. Williams, Negroes With Guns (New York: Marzani & Munsell, 1962). As much as I respect Ronald Reagan, one of his greatest mistakes was pushing “gun control” in California, in 1968, because the sight of armed Black Panthers (not shooting, just holding firearms) scared white folk.

    • I’m pretty sure Mark wrote “too bad” because he would have liked Douglass to have elaborated further, not because he disagreed with the point Douglass was making.

      • Yes, Mr. Roper understood my “too bad” correctly. I wish Douglas had been more explicit: meaning clear and complete. We conservatives are persuaded and can likely agree with all the inferences in Dr. Clark’s comment. I can see others challenging our interpretation because they think militia means those in military service.

        • Such an anachronistic interpretation would have a difficult time accounting for Douglass’ own life and his many other words. He was a prolific speaker. Remember, in the 19th century, it was commmon (as it was, in some places in America until the 1980s—I remember when rifle racks, with rifles in them, were a common sight) to see people with firearms holstered on their hip or in hand. Today, such a sight would provoke 911 calls but there would have been no such alarm in the 19th century, except in those places where black men were supposed to be subservient.

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