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Viewpoint: Happy Valentines Day and Happy 200th Birthday Frederick Douglass

Editor's note: This viewpoint was written by RoxAnn Klugman, J.D., LL.M. (Masters of Tax Laws), Hudson.

Runaway slave, courageous lover of freedom, Frederick Douglass, was born 200 years ago on Feb. 14, 1818. Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland and separated from his mother at a young age. He never knew the exact date of his birthday, but chose to celebrate it on Feb. 14.

As a young man Douglass taught himself to read and even held a Sunday school class teaching other slaves to read the New Testament. After several attempts, he escaped slavery in 1838 at the age of 20.

He worked hard, became a successful writer, orator and abolitionist. He died a wealthy man in 1895. How he accomplished this is worth looking into.

The key to his success is revealed in a speech he gave, "Self-Made Men," to the students of the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1859. Douglass defined a self-made man as the architect of his own good fortunes: "If he has traveled far he has made the road on which he has traveled; if he has ascended high he has built his own ladder."

Douglass did not think much of the popular theories that success is due to luck or chance: "The lazy man is the unlucky man and the man of luck is the man of work." "Allowing only ordinary ability and opportunity, we may explain success mainly by one word and the word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! Not transient fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work into which the whole heart is put, and which, in both temporal and spiritual affairs, is the true miracle worker. Everyone may avail himself of this marvelous power, if he will." The emphasis is his.

Douglass believed the element of necessity is the cause of industry: "Necessity is not only the mother of invention, but the mainspring of exertion." "All men are about as lazy as they can afford to be." His wisdom explains how the modern "Welfare State" creates a permanent underclass by removing the necessity to work. Douglass also warned, "If you wish to make your son helpless, you need not cripple him with a bullet or bludgeon, but simply place him beyond the reach of necessity and surround him with ease and luxury." This wisdom is a caveat to the successful.

Douglass advised the Indian students and we can also benefit: "I will give you, in one simple statement, my idea, my observation and my experience of the chief agent in the success of self-made men. It is not luck, nor is it great mental endowments, but it is well directed, honest toil." And most importantly, "If each man in the world did his share of honest work, the world would teem with abundance, and the temptation to evil in a thousand directions, would disappear."

Frederick Douglass gave this eloquent motivational speech many more times. I urge you to read it in its entirety online at the Library of Congress. Lastly, let's apply the wisdom of this great man.

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