Fredrick Douglass Argument in “What to the Slave is the Forth of July?”

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Fredrick Douglass’ argument in “What To the Slave Is the Forth of July?” showcases his skill in delivering a compelling message and uniting a group behind his viewpoint. His ability to captivate his audience and encourage them to listen to his words is exceptional. Furthermore, he effectively critiques the negative actions of a whole nation without alienating his listeners or causing them to react negatively.

Douglass effectively conveyed his message in a manner that was not excessively angry, but rather resembled a concerned and strict father figure. He achieved this by presenting contrasting points of view, allowing the listener to relate to his perspective and understand his stance. This is evident in his introduction, where he establishes humility and camaraderie with the audience. Similarly, in “The present,” he questions his own credibility as a speaker on America’s Independence Day, while in “The Internal Slave Trade,” he creates a significant disconnect between himself and the listeners. Attending one of Fredrick Douglass’s speeches would undoubtedly align one with him completely.

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During a tumultuous period in American history, just prior to the Civil War, the nation was deeply divided over slavery. Fredrick Douglas faced the daunting task of delivering a speech on July 4th to an affluent audience, primarily consisting of white individuals. As contemporary Americans, we understand the significance of this day; it commemorates the hard-fought victory against British oppression, as declared by our founding fathers. Given these circumstances, Douglas needed to express his genuine emotions to the audience. He admitted, “I have never before stood before an audience with such hesitation or lack of confidence in my abilities as I do today” (2102). Instead of immediately delving into the harsh realities of African American enslavement, Douglas acknowledged his nervousness and strove to humble himself before the crowd.

Douglass establishes a common ground between himself and his listeners by starting his speech this way. He also avoids being tactless in directly stating his personal message. He emphasizes that he used to be a slave and acknowledges the vast difference between his past and present circumstances. However, Douglass aims to connect with his audience without alienating them too much. He recounts America’s struggle for independence, emphasizing the bravery of their ancestors. Young America realized they were dissatisfied with British oppression and took action to fix it. Douglass brings up audacious acts performed by previous generations to invoke memories.

He stroked their egos, boosted their confidence, and instilled a strong sense of patriotism. With a subtle approach, Douglass’s main intention in the Independence story is to prompt the audience to contemplate a revolution. He indirectly alludes to oppression and aims to make them realize that the African American community in our nation is currently experiencing oppression that surpasses what our nation once endured from the British. He reminds them of the bravery displayed by their forefathers to emphasize that a revolution occurred before and desperately needs to happen again. In the sections titled “The Present,” Douglass begins to distance himself from the audience. He shifts from discussing the past to addressing the current conditions and emphasizes that his cause is supported by God. “My purpose, if I have any today, is focused on the present. The opportune time for God and his cause is always now.” (2106) By aligning himself with God, Douglass assures the audience that the fight against slavery is just.

In contrast to the previous section where he connects the audience to their deceased fathers, Douglass brings a shameful feeling in this one, stating, “You have no right wear out and waste the hard earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence” (2107). He urges the audience to take a stand against slavery and emphasizes that they are hiding under their father’s revolution, living under false pretenses of a free country. They have exhausted the “revolution card,” and while our nation may be free for a select few, it remains a place of terrible captivity for millions of African Americans. Douglass also questions why he was chosen to speak on the day of our nation’s independence, seeing through the transparency of the day that others were too afraid to acknowledge. He asks, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”

According to Douglass, the great principles of political freedom and natural injustice expressed in the Declaration of Independence are not extended to African Americans. He believes that this day of joyous freedom actually represents the daily oppression that millions of African Americans face. Douglass questions why he would be asked to speak about the privileges that come with freedom, when he and his people do not experience them. To African American slaves, this day holds irony and does not hold the same meaning as it does for others. As Douglass declares, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.” Through the contrast between “your” and “our,” Douglass highlights the ultimate separation. (2107, 2108)

The text addresses the change in equality within a nation that was originally founded on equal treatment for all, but now prioritizes equal treatment solely for white men. Douglass takes advantage of this opportunity to urge his audience to take action and clearly defines his cause as the fight against slavery. The division that Douglass initially introduced in “The Present” further develops in “The Internal Slave Trade.” He begins by asserting that the internal slave trade is essentially just another term for the foreign slave trade, which has been condemned by the federal government. In reality, there is no distinction between the two. Douglass uses the perspective of actual slaves in this section to emphasize his point to the audience. He declares, “Examine the real consequences of the internal slave trade, also known as the American slave-trade, supported by American politics and American religion.”

Here you will witness men and women being bought and sold like pigs in the market,” Douglass states (2111), describing the appalling reality of American slavery and evoking a sense of the unimaginable burdens endured by slaves. The horrors of slavery spare no one, regardless of age or gender. Although Douglass addresses an audience in Rochester, NY, and acknowledges that the slave trade primarily occurs in the South, he emphasizes that it is a nationwide issue that affects and permeates the entire country. Many Northern residents remain unaware or indifferent to the true extent of the slave trade. “I was born amidst such appalling sights and experiences.”

Douglass expresses his strong condemnation of the American slave-trade, stating that it is a horrific reality. He criticizes the American people for their indifference towards the suffering of millions. In his work titled “The Internal Slave Trade,” Douglass not only criticizes the American people but also attacks the government and the laws that support slavery. He highlights the injustice, disregard for law, and deceitful tactics involved in the Fugitive Slave Law, which mandates the return of escaped slaves to their “owners,” regardless of where they are found. Douglass argues that this law goes against the government’s previous doctrines and further deepens the divide between the North and South created by the Mason Dixon Line.

According to him, as Americans, we should feel ashamed of this situation and we must gather the strength and bravery to take action. Ultimately, Fredrick Douglass made two requests. One was for the abolition of slavery and all its associated atrocities, and he understood that achieving this required both average citizens and the government coming together to address the issue. His argument is skillfully crafted, as he unifies his entire speech with the underlying motive of revolution. Throughout the speech, particularly in each section, Douglass skillfully employs contrasting perspectives to emphasize the urgency and necessity of taking action, ultimately calling for a revolution.

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Fredrick Douglass Argument in “What to the Slave is the Forth of July?”. (2016, May 05). Retrieved from

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