Politics

Meet the Tea Party's Latest Hero: Frederick Douglass

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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A statue was erected last week in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington, D.C., to commemorate Frederick Douglass, a former slave, abolitionist leader, social reformer and statesman of the 19th century.

He actively supported women’s suffrage as well as equality for all people whether black, white, male, female, Native American or immigrant. When you think of Douglass, you might think of Abraham Lincoln, you might envision Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, but do you ever think of the Tea Party?

Somehow Douglass has become a hero of the conservative, libertarian, populist movement, reported Sean Coons in an article published on Salon.com.

With such a vastly progressive attitude, how could Douglass be associated with a group devoted to tradition?

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Ann Coulter told her Twitter followers last week that Douglass called the Republican Party “the party of freedom and progress.”

But his Republican party, founded by anti-slavery advocates in 1854, would be considered liberal by today’s standards.

“I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress,” Douglass once said.

K. Carl Smith, an African-American conservative who considers himself a “Frederick Douglass Republican,” told Coons, “Douglass is a bridge that will reignite America’s passion for liberty.”

“There’s a reason why it’s now  because the state of our country is in such an uproar in terms of the economy and social issues,” Smith said about the Douglass statue dedication. “We have a runaway federal government. It was Douglass who helped Lincoln save a country that was divided. And we need to look at Douglass again. Douglass is key.”

Conservative economist Thomas Sowell gave a backhanded compliment to the former slave’s take on government intervention on behalf of African Americans.

“Frederick Douglass had achieved a deeper understanding in the 19th century than any of the black ‘leaders’ of today,” Sowell said.

Christian Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., mentioned Douglass and his “the proposition that all men are created equal” at a recent speech at Hillsdale College, where Douglass was also a speaking guest in the Civil War era.

Now that Douglass has been claimed by the conservatives, it is apparently too late for liberals to call him a role model. Glenn Beck asked his audience of GBTV, “The reason he’s not celebrated as a hero by progressives? I don’t know? Because he decimates everything these guys stand for.”

Maybe the most apt Douglass quote for Beck’s sentiment is this: “People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.”

But in the end, there are just too many Douglassisms that end up on the other side of the spectrum.

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground,” Douglass said, implying quite the opposite of traditionalism and seeming to connect both progressive and libertarian ideology.

In what party would Douglass actually find himself in today?

Sources: Salon, Wonkette