By: Ralston Tucker
Last month, Hillsdale College installed a statue of Frederick Douglass on its campus, joining a collection of seven similar bronze statues, featuring the likenesses of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and others. The statue was erected near a memorial of past Hillsdale College students that fought for the Union in the Civil War. Douglass’ statue – placed across from that of Abraham Lincoln – faces the soldiers, symbolizing his dedication to the Union cause.
As a former slave, Douglass devoted his free life to ensuring that slavery would be eradicated from American soil. He worked tirelessly to advocate for the thousands of voiceless victims of slavery, while still upholding and championing American ideals and values instilled in its citizens from the Founding documents. Dr. Lucas Morel, who was invited to speak to the crowd after the unveiling, noted that Douglass could have been hostile against his country, and resentful of his enslavement, yet miraculously he retained a fierce admiration for the founding principles. Douglass fought, not to eliminate the ideas that America was founded upon, but to ensure that African Americans would be able to take part in the opportunities the American system aspired to provide for its citizens.
Frederick Douglass did not champion the progressive thought, which has eventually become the belief that the Constitution is outdated and must be periodically revised. As one of the original abolitionists, Douglass appreciated and celebrated the Founders’ idea of unalienable rights. Rather than belittling or tearing down the institution that enslaved his people, Douglass believed that he and every Black American had the right to be considered men and chose to work within the system. This revealed his trust in principles of the nascent American system, recognizing it was wholly different from any other form of government before it
Douglass maintained that the Civil War, a great turning point for the nation, would eventually give Black Americans the opportunity to prove themselves worthy and capable of defending their honor and homeland. Douglass did not see the United States as an oppressor, and he knew that the fault did not lie in the founding documents. He believed that America was a nation of great opportunity, and its founders intended to allow all citizens, regardless of race, to enjoy that opportunity.
In an age where the values of the American Founding are often decried as racist and outmoded, it is critical that we remember to look to the past for facts and not false narratives as we seek to understand our laudable history. It is often overlooked that conservative values are wholly in opposition to racism. In fact, many are still unaware that one of the most conservative colleges in the nation was the first to admit women and African Americans before the civil war. Hillsdale College played and continues to play an important role in the fight against racism and exemplifies this fact in their tribute to Frederick Douglass.