The Frederick Douglass game introduces students to a time and place almost unimaginable today, when advocating an end to slavery was far more controversial than supporting its perpetuation: the United States in 1845. Class debates focus on the intellectual and cultural clashes between the “Defenders of the Constitution”—the entrenched, respectable defenders of American slavery—and the Abolitionists—a small but dedicated movement calling for slavery’s immediate and universal abolition. Many characters are independent of both factions.
The question facing the country in 1845 was not a civil war—which was then unimaginable—but whether abolitionist critics of slavery were legitimate. Can the abolitionists be suppressed outright? The many violent anti-abolitionist mobs in the North showed that this was hardly just a “southern” demand. Thus, in the first part of the game, all characters “review” the newly published “The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself” at a literary forum hosted by the illustrious English author Charles Dickens in New York. (This forum brings together a range of people whose ideas and interests, while actually engaged with one another, never actually meet face to face.) Later, characters address the U.S. Constitution and its clear protection of slaveholders’ power, such as its assertion that fugitive slaves must be returned. Are Americans accountable to the Constitution or to a “higher law”?
Using the Game
Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading. Basic game materials (Gamebook, Role Sheets, Instructor's Guide, and Handouts) are available to any instructor through the publisher.
Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives.
.zip file of .pdf files.
Mark Higbee is a Professor of History and Philosophy at Eastern Michigan University.
James Brewer Stewart
James Brewer Stewart (Emeriti Faculty at Macalester College) taught about the Western Hemisphere and the United States prior to the 20th century, emphasizing the topics of race, politics, law and social movements. He also has an interest in comparative indigenous civilizations, processes of conquest and labor systems in the U.S, the Caribbean and Latin America. His books and articles address the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and the politics of the conflict over slavery and the struggles for racial justice. In 2008 he completed a half-time appointment as James Wallace Professor of History, devoted largely to research, writing, editing and consulting for foundations.
"This game has many strengths: the variety and quality of resources, the suggestions for players on their role sheets for further reading, and the charts on each role sheet clearly outlining game assignments and expectations for each player."
"This is one of the few games that tackle the difficult questions of race, slavery, and American attitudes in antebellum United States. By centering the game around debate and counterfactual situations of the men and women, white and black, northern, southern, and international in a room to debate ideas helps students more concretely understand why slavery and racism both persisted and could coexist with American democratic notions of freedom, citizenship, and identity as defined by the Constitution."
"Every RTTP game has a distinct personality, and I particularly like the personality of this game. I like things like The Lottery of Bad Luck, Extraordinary Game Actions, Money, and the plots that may or may not be floating around. My Daniel Webster sewed a flag, by hand, during class, so that he could raise the flag. This personality is fun, but it also performs a significant function. This game talks about serious issues which the United States is still not past."