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A Detailed Analysis of Frederick Douglass's 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?' Speech

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Douglass uses the second person pronouns with words including “you” and “your” instead of the first person plural “we” and “us” because Douglass is primarily delivering this speech to his “fellow citizens” which not only includes his fellow slaves but also some of the Americans and figures responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence. By doing this, Douglass is able to emphasize that while many of the whites and Americans who fought for independence from Britain celebrate the Fourth of July as an important holiday where the American population recognizes their freedom, many African slaves don’t have the same rights and freedoms that the whites have which makes this holiday not as worth celebrating for the slave population. This is evident in the second paragraph where Douglass mentions that “This Fourth July is your, not mine” (line 14-15) and in the third paragraph where he mentions that the nation “never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July” (line 28-29). In addition, by using second person pronouns, Douglass is able to put his audience into his story of many of the issues regarding slavery and the Declaration of Independence not giving rights to slaves like him. On the other hand, Douglass refrains from using first person plural words such as “we” and “us” because by doing that, he would be significantly limiting the amount of influence and experience he shares as they would mostly pertain to himself rather than to the rest of the audience which is more achievable with second person pronouns. However, at the same time, by effectively handling his usage of second person pronouns, Douglass is able to get the audience engaged in his speech and putting them in his story and message.

Douglass’s style embodies or expresses “the immeasurable distance between us” especially in the second paragraph (line 7-18) because he emphasizes how some of the slaves as well as the American people view Independence Day in almost opposite ways. After he mentions “the immeasurable distance between us” this allows him to continue mentioning how slavery has taken a toll on the audience which primarily includes lots of slaves and points out the irony of the Declaration of Independence giving the people freedom and liberties compared to the slaves who have close to none of those things. This is evident in paragraph 6 where Douglass questions about the “wrongfulness of slavery” (line 48) as well as the “submission to their masters” (line 53) and in paragraph 8 where he continues to ask what the 4th of July is to the other slaves and explains his answer of it revealing the “gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim” (line 61-62). In addition, Douglass’s style which primarily includes loads of references to the lives of slaves expected after the Declaration of Independence and what it actually is like and expresses lots of his criticisms of this ideology being inconsistent with slavery which allows him to further share his view and persuade his “fellow citizens” to engage with his speech.

While Douglass doesn’t directly model his speech after the Declaration, he includes lots of elements and references to it as well as many premises of human rights and the way the government should act. For example, after he questions whether the “principles of political freedom and of natural justice” (line 3-4) extended to the slaves in paragraph 1, in the following paragraph, Douglass notes how the “rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence” (line 12-13) is not shared onto himself. In addition, Douglass continues to argue that despite the Declarations sayings that “man is entitled to liberty” (line 47) that shouldn’t be taken away by the government, there are still many instances of slaves being treated poorly such as by “[robbing] them of their liberty and to work without wages” (line 49-50). After mentioning many references to the Declaration of Independence to support his point, Douglass finishes by mention how he drew lots of encouragement from the Declaration of Independence and the “great principles it contains” (line 146) including human rights and the proper role of the government mentioned earlier.

Douglass includes many grievances in his entire speech to advocate for blacks to have justice and rights that the other whites have. For example, in paragraph 6, Douglass establishes that “God did not establish it [slavery]” (line 56) and concludes that there is “blasphemy in the thought” (line 57) and is therefore something that is unfair to his people. In addition, Douglass demonstrates in paragraph 9 that the church “does not esteem the Fugitive Slave Law” (line 101-102) which ultimately implies that the church views religions “simply as a form of worship” (line 104) which can be conducted by persons who “refuse to give shelter to the houseless” (line 107-108). Furthermore, Douglass in paragraph 13 ultimately reveals the “dark picture” (line 140) of America with its treatment on slaves that completely goes against the Declaration of Independence and argues that they must “work the downfall of slavery” (line 142). By including these grievances, Douglass points out just how flawed most of America and its treatment on people are especially slaves and argues that in order for the Declaration to truly be a turning point and something that is actually genuine and doesn’t do something against its saying, it must give equal rights and fair treatments to the slaves as well.

Douglass ultimately comes to a conclusion about expanding liberty onto the slaves mainly in paragraph 12-14 after he mentions all of the irony and issues about slaves and their rights and freedoms and what the Declaration of Independence was supposed to do. In paragraph 12, Douglass explains that in order to have such men be supported, the people must begin by supporting the efforts of “the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains” (line 138). Once that is taken care of, not only will more slaves be arguing for the rights and liberties of blacks but some other whites who support giving out rights will also support the cause of expanding liberties given from the Declaration to them. Douglass continues to mention in paragraph 13 and 14 that there are people who will “work the downfall of slavery” (line 142) and that the “doom of slavery is certain” (line 144) which expresses much of his confidence that his conclusions and his motivations will ultimately be successful in allowing liberty to be expanded among the slaves.

Some implicit conclusions that Douglass comes to that aren’t as direct as some other conclusions is that the church is also significantly involved in the result of slaves having less liberties than the average white citizen. For instance, in paragraph 11, Douglass believes that the church is “not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slaves” (line 113) but that it also “sides with the oppressors” (line 114) which has resulted in the increased amount of practice of slavery and harsher treatments of the slaves overall. Likewise, Douglass continues to mention that the church has taught people that blacks could “be a slave” (line 117) and that this relation is “ordained of God” (line 118) to reveal that not only is the Church siding with the whites on this issue but it is also acting like slaveholders as they are treating them just as harsh. Because of this, Douglass implies that the current situation of many slaves is not necessarily just because of the government but also because of the Church.

By using religious language and allusions to scriptures, the rhetorical effect of using this discourse is that he is able to establish that he knows quite a lot about the religious situation going on especially with the Church supporting the use and treatments of slaves. For instance, in paragraph 11, Douglass mentions some of the church activities including that a worship “conducted by a person who refuses to give shelter” (line 107) or do other nice deeds is a curse rather than a blessing. With this religious language, Douglass is able to appeal to the “fellow citizens” about the impact of religions on them as well as how these religious leader may not be as great as originally viewed as they can often do stuff that goes against the Declaration. In addition, Douglass continues discussing in paragraph 11 that the Bible describes everyone who doesn’t do good to others as “hypocrites” (line 110) who have “omitted the weightier matters of the law” (line 111). By making such an allusion to scripture, Douglass emphasizes that even though both the Declaration and the Bible state that people including slaves must be treated with care, this rarely happens in America which he believes must happen.

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By referring to his own experiences in his speech, Douglass is able to provide and strengthen his credibility because by mentioning that he had experienced much of these events himself, Douglass shows that many of the things he discusses are indeed factual and not something that was easily made up out of thin air. For example, in paragraph 3, Douglass mentions how, with all his emphasis, believes that he dares to denounces “everything that serves to perpetuate slavery” (line 35-36). Douglass continues by explaining that the relationship between the slaves and the slaveowners is anything but a good one as the slaveowners often “beat them with sticks” (line 50-51) and “starve them into obedience” (line 53) which are only a few of the very harsh treatments. This experience from Douglass is able to strengthen his credibility significantly as a personal experience with a certain event better allows for a deeper evaluation of the event and put more trust on him overall. Without the personal experience, Douglass wouldn’t be as likely to be credible as he could easily be making up “facts” and describing things he didn’t actually experience firsthand.

These experiences that Douglass shares also provides logical support for his claims because it shows just how ironic it is that slaves still don’t have as much liberties despite the Declaration recognizing these freedoms for everyone else. For example, in paragraph 7, Douglass answers that the 4th of July is a reveal of reality and expresses the “cruelty to which he [the slaves] are the constant victim” (line 61-62). Douglass continues in paragraph 8 by mentioning that by the acts of the American Congress, slavery officially became “nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form” (line 71-72). This experience from Douglass is able to provide logical support because it shows the connection between the documents that established many rights and liberties and the continued existence of slavery that still occurred. Without the logical support between these events, there wouldn’t be much of a connection as these events could entirely be independent or used as a means to get people more involved in giving slaves more rights.

Douglass’s experiences also appeal to the emotion because they emphasize many of the harsh treatments that the slaves were forced to endure and shows that the treatments of slaves as well as their lack of liberties wasn’t something to be ignored and had to be considered and acted as soon as possible. For example, Douglass explains in paragraph 5 that the relationship between the slaves and the slaveowners is anything but a good one as the slaveowners often “beat them with sticks” (line 50-51) and “starve them into obedience” (line 53) which are only a few of the very harsh treatments. In addition, Douglass mentions more of the life of slaves including that they have been “hunted down” (line 84) and “consigned to slavery and excruciating torture” (line 84-85). This experience allows Douglass to depict just how difficult life is for the slaves and that their treatment is harsh to the point where it begins to hurt them really bad unlike the slaveowners who don’t have as much treatment. Without the appeal to emotion, the experience may not feel as interesting or worth listening to as the emotional appeal lets the “fellow citizens” know that the slaves have significantly been impacted by these policies and events.

Douglass in his ceremonial speech is praising the Declaration of Independence’s efforts to expand natural rights and liberties as well as the efforts to abolish slavery but is also blaming the government and church for not only not fully enforcing the rights to the slaves and siding against them but also significantly contributing in some of the slave activities. In paragraph 1, Douglass questions whether the Declaration of Independence extended the “principles of political freedom and of natural justice” (line 4-5) to the salves. Likewise, Douglass in paragraph 10, emphasizes how the church is “not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love, and good will” (line 104-105) because it is behaving similar to the government in not fully extending the rights and liberties to the blacks. Douglass, with this evidence, and experience praises some of the efforts to help better the treatments of slaves but is blaming their lack of actually taking these events seriously as both the government and church do make some efforts to help the blacks but are also ultimately conforming to the slaveholders and whites rather than the Declaration of Independence and the rights listed there.

Douglass uses much of the present moment to make connections to the past and the future to help depict how the current situation of the slaves is as a direct result of what happened in the past and that the present will effect what will happen in the future which means that action must be taken quickly. For example, in paragraph 3, Douglass believes that if the present moment is bad, then it is very likely that the past was bad and “false” (line 31) but also expresses hope that the future can improve even though it is also as likely to be bad. However, Douglass also presents a response that he still has “hope” (line 145) because of the Declaration of the Independence and its intentions to the people. Douglass, with these events from the past, present, and future, recognizes that much of these events are directly related to one another and if things are kept the same then so will the future events which will very likely not allow for black to have the same liberties as whites.

The logical basis that Douglass shares provides support for his claims because it shows just how ironic it is that slaves still don’t have as much liberties despite the Declaration recognizing these freedoms for everyone else. For example, in paragraph 7, Douglass answers that the 4th of July is a reveal of reality and expresses the “cruelty to which he [the slaves] are the constant victim” (line 61-62). Douglass continues in paragraph 8 by mentioning that by the acts of the American Congress, slavery has become more serious as there is “neither law nor justice, humanity nor religion” (line 88) which has happened as the “Fugitive Slave Law makes mercy” to these actions (line 89-90). This experience from Douglass is able to provide logical support because it shows the connection between the documents that established many rights and liberties and the continued existence of slavery that still occurred. As a result, Douglass establishes a line of connection between the events above and realizes that what happens to one of these situations will significantly impact the other in a similar way.

Douglass is able to establish and strengthen his credibility because by mentioning that he had experienced much of these events himself, Douglass shows that many of the things he discusses are not fiction and something that he experienced firsthand. For example, in paragraph 3, Douglass begins talking about slavery and elaborates on many of the popular characteristics from a “slave’s point of view” (line 26) and believes that the “conduct of this nation never looked blacker” (line 28-29) than on the 4th of July. In addition, in paragraph 5, Douglass questions whether the audience should have him “argue that man is entitled to liberty” (line 47) and follows by saying that it has already been “declared” (line 48). This experience from Douglass is able to strengthen his credibility significantly as a personal experience with a certain event better allows for a deeper evaluation of the event and put more trust on him overall. Because of this, Douglass is able to establish himself as a prominent slave figure who had experienced many of the pain that a slave had to endure which makes him more credible overall.

Douglass’s uses emotion because he emphasizes many of the harsh treatments that the slaves were forced to endure and shows that the treatments of slaves as well as their lack of liberties wasn’t something to be ignored and had to be considered and acted as soon as possible. For example, Douglass explains in paragraph 5 that the relationship between the slaves and the slaveowners is a very bad one at best as the slaveowners often “keep them ignorant of their relations” (line 50) and “load their limbs with iron” (line 51) and “knock out their teeth” (line 52) which are only a few of the very harsh treatments. In addition, Douglass mentions more of the life of slaves including that they have been “hunted down” (line 84) and “consigned to slavery and excruciating torture” (line 84-85). By using emotions, Douglass emphasizes how many of the slaves including himself felt about the treatments upon them which ultimately allows for some of the audience to feel the same emotion. As a result, the emotions are more likely able to cause some of these people to listen to the situation and express some sympathy.

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A Detailed Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ Speech. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-detailed-analysis-of-frederick-douglasss-what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-speech/
“A Detailed Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ Speech.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/a-detailed-analysis-of-frederick-douglasss-what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-speech/
A Detailed Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ Speech. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-detailed-analysis-of-frederick-douglasss-what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-speech/> [Accessed 3 Feb. 2023].
A Detailed Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ Speech [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/a-detailed-analysis-of-frederick-douglasss-what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-speech/
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