Frederick Douglass

 I decided that I would like to just express my appreciation for Douglass’ essay, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” I found, that if I was honest with myself, I knew that I (at first) agreed with the idea that “Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed” (989). To imagine a speech like this aimed at me, if I had been part of the privileged members of the audience that heard it, would have made me defensive, ashamed, and I think perhaps shocked. Despite problems in America now, it seems that many of us still want to believe her to be a truly great country. A place where being free really does mean liberty for all. However, the very fact that Douglass’ speech made me feel ashamed, even now, speaks to its power. I could not help but to read it out loud by the time he is listing off the fact that African-American men, women and children are doing all of the exact same things as every other American–and yet “we are called upon to prove that we are men!” (990) His condemnation of America is biting and it cuts even more deeply because of the day he was speaking on. 

“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival” (991).

This speech is truly terrifying, and I cannot help but think that his cruelty towards America in the speech is a warranted reaction to the cruelties he is speaking about. It is not short of the truth to say I was left speechless and breathless by the end of this speech, it’s a slap in the face of what the 4th of July is meant to stand for, and it leaves a chill once it has ended.

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One Response to Frederick Douglass

  1. ldhare says:

    I think what makes this speech so powerful is Douglass’ powerful use of logic and rhetoric. Douglass knew his audience and targeted them with points extracted from well-understood and revered documents (the US constitution, the Bible). These logical arguments were targeted directly at those who needed to hear them. As a result, this speech aided the abolitionist movement greatly. Also, it speaks to the ideals which America was founded on and provides us now with a historical recounting of some of the early problems we faced as a nation.

    There’s something I’ve been wondering in this class that I figure I’ll just ask here: what defines good literature? Can that be answered simply? What gives this speech literary merit? Also, we talked earlier about the oral traditions of Native Americans and if spoken stories could be considered literature. Speeches are also oral, so how does this relate?

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