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A Selfish Liberty : American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass contrasts two kinds of ‘nationalist’.
A Selfish Liberty

From ‘The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass from 1817 to 1882, Written by Himself’.

American anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass visited Ireland in 1845, and loved it. But in time he came to realise that there are two kinds of nationalist: those who want freedom everywhere, and those who want it only for themselves, and will enslave any other land or people in order to get it.

IT was not long after my seeing Mr O’Connell that his health broke down, and his career ended in death.* I felt that a great champion of freedom had fallen, and that the cause of the American slave, not less than the cause of his country, had met with a great loss.

All the more was this felt, when I saw the kind of men who came to the front when the voice of O’Connell was no longer heard in Ireland. He was succeeded by the Duffys, Mitchells, Meagher, and others, — men who loved liberty for themselves and their country, but were utterly destitute of sympathy with the cause of liberty in countries other than their own.

One of the first utterances of John Mitchell on reaching the United States, from his exile and bondage, was a wish for a “slave plantation, well stocked with slaves.”*

* Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) was a landowner and barrister who, following the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, urged his fellow Irishmen to pursue independence from Westminster through peaceful constitutional change, and, above all, through classical liberal ideals and a rediscovery of Ireland’s traditional Catholic identity.

* John Mitchel (1815-1875) was a firebrand Irish nationalist. Tried before judge Thomas Lefroy (at one time a friend of Jane Austen) and convicted of treason, he was sentenced to transportation to Bermuda and then Tasmania. He was maltreated and used for forced labour, but escaped in 1853 and fled to the USA, where he baffled Douglass by supporting the slave-owning South in the civil war.

From ‘The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass from 1817 to 1882, Written by Himself’.

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Picture: © John Comloquoy, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Daniel O’Connell’s home, Derrynane House near Caherdaniel in County Kerry, Ireland. O’Connell believed that the spirit of British classical liberalism, which Douglass also admired and found in such figures as Richard Cobden, would in time set Ireland free from the very real injustices of Westminster’s heavy-handed government.
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By Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)

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