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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Religion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Bryant/Freneau
Text 2. John Mayfield
Text 3. Alexis de Tocqueville
Text 4. Frederick Douglass
» Reading Guide
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Text 5. George Fitzhugh
Text 6. Charles Colcock Jones
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
Text 8. Mormons

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
4.  Frederick Douglass, Appendix to Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, 1845

A study of religion in antebellum America must include its role in the debate over slavery. In a nation that heralded itself as the bastion of liberty, the continued enslavement of millions of people was an enormous incongruity, producing tortuous rationalizations from southerners and fierce condemnations from abolitionist northerners, including former slave Frederick Douglass. In an appendix to his autobiography, Douglass indicts the "Christianity of this land"—which he differentiates from true Christianity—as the "grossest of all libels," and he catalogues its hypocrisies with unyielding contempt. He closes with a poem, written by an unnamed northern minister who provides another witness to his charges. Important to pair with the southern justifications of slavery from Fitzhugh and Jones. Also important to compare with Douglass's speech "What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July?" delivered seven years later (included in the section "America in 1850"). With adequate introduction, can be used in the classroom. 5 1/2 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  Why does Douglass feel the need to clarify his views on religion? Why does he later emphasize his duty to do so?
  ·  How does he distinguish the "Christianity of this land" from the "Christianity of Christ"?
  ·  How does he equate the "religion of the south" with the "religion of the north"? Why is the North also culpable?
  ·  What price will the nation pay for its hypocrisy, according to Douglass?
  ·  How would Douglass respond to the religious justifications for slavery presented by southerners George Fitzhugh and Charles Colcock Jones?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the rhetorical techniques (some biblical) that Douglass employs to illustrate the hypocrisy of American Christianity. What is the effect of his relentless listing of "horrible inconsistencies"?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did American Christianity reflect the nation's ideals of democracy, individualism, and progress?
  •  As the nation became more sectionalized, what role did religion play in defining individual and group identity?
  •  How did religion inform the debate over slavery?
  •  How did religious groups outside the mainstream of American Protestantism reflect American culture, even in the act of rejecting it?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
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