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This Day in History: December 3rd

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The North Star, the antislavery newspaper established by Frederick Douglass, went into publication on December 3, 1847. Douglas started the newspaper using funds from his speaking engagements in Great Britain and Ireland.

The North Star was inspired by the actual North Star in the night sky, which was used as a guide to freedom for the enslaved people on the run. The motto of the newspaper was, “Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color. God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren.”

The North Star was published in Rochester, New York, a city known for its opposition to slavery. 

The first issue of the paper focused on Douglass’ explanation for establishing an African American-owned newspaper. He was sure to emphasize his gratitude for people such as William Lloyd Garrison, a white abolitionist who published the antislavery paper The Liberator. However, Douglass felt that it was only common sense for those who are suffering the injustices of bondage to have their own paper as a platform to share their voices.

Douglass created the newspaper with a goal of denouncing slavery and fighting for the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups. The North Star was published weekly and consisted of four pages with subscriptions sold for $2 per year. The newspaper was in circulation to more than 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe, and the West Indies. 

Each of the pages was designated for specific content. The first page focused on current events that involved abolitionist issues and occasionally featured Douglass’ commentary on discrimination in American society. Pages two and three of the paper were for editorials, letters from readers, articles, poetry and book reviews. The final page of the North Star was devoted to advertisements.

Douglas was unable to make the paper a financial success. He earned extra money by lecturing and he even had to mortgage his home to keep the newspaper going. After four years in circulation, financial difficulties forced Douglass to merge The North Star with the Liberty Party Paper, a newspaper published by the abolitionist Gerrit Smith

The merged publication, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, maintained a similar consistency in appearance and content of The North Star. The paper circulated under the new name until 1860. Frederick Douglass’ Paper permanently ceased publication after Douglass left the United States for a lecture tour in England.

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