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What to the Slave is the Fourth of July Speech

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 2 months ago


Frederick Douglass      


     Frederick Douglass’s  speech What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? was given to anti-slavery individuals in Rochester, New York in 1852 (“What to the Slave” 105). His speech was given in second person. He used the words “you” and “your” when speaking about the ones who can really celebrate the Fourth of July. The speech is about how not all in America can really celebrate the Fourth of July, particularly slaves. Douglass proclaimed to the anti-slavery individuals that “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine” and “You may rejoice; I must mourn” (110). He claimed that by wanting him to join in on the celebration would insult and mock him (110). He said, "It is the birthday of your National Independence and of your political freedom" (106). He used those words to emphasize they (the non-slaves) get to enjoy freedom, but not the slaves. He could not join in on the celebration because of slavery. The slaves were not free so they would have no reason to celebrate freedom. In his speech he talked about the hypocrisy the whites and Christians have about freedom. For example, Douglass stated that seventy-six years ago, people left England because they found England's government "unjust, unreasonable and oppressive" and "they saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn" (107).  They came to America to have freedom and independence, which they achieved, but yet they have slaves.  Douglass quoted from the Declaration of Independence 'all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' (qtd. in “What to the Slave” 120).  He wondered if the rights that are stated in the Declaration of Independence, apply to everyone in America, because he believed they should (110).  He asked the question what the Fourth of July is to an American slave (113). He responded, that to the American slave that one day, is full of hypocrisy. He stated “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty…your shouts of liberty and equality” to the American slave is hypocrisy (114). Douglass wondered how can people celebrate liberty and equality when there was slavery in America. 

     Douglass also spoke about American Christianity.  He stated American Christianity favored "the rich against the poor;...which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves"  and  "boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation…is solemnly pledge to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen"(118-119). Americans boasted of their freedom and enjoyed it, but at the same time they supported or had slaves.  Douglass wondered how one can command "all men everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate…all men whose skins are not colored like your own" (120).  They claimed one thing (love one another), but practiced a different thing (hate others of different colors not like theirs). 

     To help support his idea of how horrible slavery was Douglass used imagery. He stated, "I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wait of fettered humanity on the way to slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep and swine, knocked off by the highest bidder" (116).  This made the people hearing the speech to picture people slowly walking, with bloody feet, going to these slave markets to be sold like pieces of property.  This painted a horrible picture in their mind. 

     At the end of the speech he spoke of hope that one day slavery will be gone.  He ended his speech with, "That year will come, and freedom's reign", "That day will come all feuds to end", THAT HOUR WILL COME, to each, to all" (122-123).  Douglass knew that one day, there would no longer be slavery in America.  For there not to be slavery in America, then possibly blacks would have something to celebrate for.





Work Cited


"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?." The American Studies Anthology. 2nd Ed. Ed. Richard P. Horwitz. Lanham, MD: SR Books, 2004. 105-123.

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