The nature of Fredrick Douglass’ argument in “What To the Slave Is the Forth of July?” clearly demonstrates to us readers and to his audience that he has a masterful way of conveying his message and rallying a group around his point. He had a brilliant way of captivating his audience and opening them up to what he has to say, while at the same time critiquing an entire nation’s bad habits, in a way that did not turn the listener off to the point of distaste.
He got his point across in a very clear articulate manner without ever coming across angrier than an upset yet stern father. Douglass was largely able to do this through contrasting points of view. He could compare and contrast vantage points to make the listener feel included and also understand where he was coming from. It is especially evident in his introduction, where he establishes a humbling camaraderie with the audience, in “The present” where he question his own authenticity as a speaker on the day of America’s independence, and in “The Internal Slave Trade,” where he creates a vast separation from the listeners. I’m sure after leaving one of Fredrick Douglass speeches; it was hard to feel like we’re not completely on his side.
In a very heated time in American history, just before the civil war, with the nation spilt in two over the issue of slavery, Fredrick Douglas had the daunting task of speaking in front of a well-to-do predominately white crowd on the Fourth of July. As present day Americans, we know the importance of this day; we know that after a long war with the British, this was a glorious day celebrating a time in which our founding fathers declared freedom from the oppression of British rule. Taking all of this into account, Douglass had to let the audience know the emotions that he was feeling. “I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust in my ability, than I do this day.” (2102) Douglass doesn’t come out immediately with the harsh details of African American Slavery, he was nervous and he took the time to humble himself to the crowd.
In doing so, Douglass assures that both he and the audience are on the same level from the beginning. Douglass also wastes no time with a premonition to the audience of his personal message that he plans to convey, without doing it in a distasteful way. He reminds them that he was once a slave that he is a very long way from where he once was to be able to stand and preach to them on that day. At the same time, Douglass does not want to alienate his listeners to the point of tuning him out. He tells the story of America’s independence, telling of the bravery of the audiences’ fathers. How young America, realized that it didn’t like what the British were doing to them and decided to do something about it. “Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress.” (2104) He instilled memories of the brazen acts of the previous generation.
He stroked the egos, bolstered their confidence and brought a strong sense of patriotism. Without directly saying it, Douglass real point of the Independence story, is to get the audience thinking of a revolution. He references oppression and he wants them to realize that the same oppression our nation once endured from the British is being felt tenfold by African American citizens in our own nation. He reminds them of the bravery of their fathers to argue that a revolution happened once and it so desperately needs to happen again. In the sections labeled “The Present,” Douglass begins to separate himself from the audience. He begins by moving away from the past, towards the present day conditions and by putting God behind his cause. “My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.” (2106) By bringing God behind him, Douglass assures the audience that the anti-slavery cause is just.
In contrast to the previous section where he connects the audience to their deceased fathers, he brings a shameful feeling in this one. “You have no right wear out and waste the hard earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence.” (2107) Douglass is again exhorting his audience to make a stand against slavery. He tells the audience that they are hiding under their father’s revolution and living under false pretenses of a free country. They have used up the “revolution card” and our nation was free for a select few but for millions of African Americans it is a terrible place of captivity. Douglass also uses “The Present” to ask his audience why he was chosen to speak on the day our nation’s independence. He can see through the transparency of the day that almost everyone else was too afraid to see. “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural injustice embodied in that Declaration of Independence extended to us? (2107) This day of joyous freedom, according to Douglass, is the exact opposite. What it really represents is the oppression that millions receive on a daily basis. Why would he be asked to speak of the luxuries that come along with freedom, when he and his people experience none of them? What does this day really mean to the African American slaves? In truth, if it means anything, it means irony. “This Forth of July is yours, not mine.” (2108) Using the contrast between “your” and “our,” Douglass begins the ultimate separation.
A nation that was founded on equality for all has turned to that of equality for white men and no one else. Douglass takes this speech as opportunity to challenge his audience to do the right thing and clearly labels his cause as the fight against slavery. The separation that Douglass began in “The Present” takes even greater strides in “The Internal Slave Trade.” He begins by telling that the internal slave trade is no more than a clever nickname for the foreign slave trade which has been denounced the federal government. In reality there is no difference. Douglass uses the point of view of the actual slaves in this section to drive his point to the audience. “Behold the practical operation of the internal slave trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion.
Here you will see men and women traded like swine for the market.” (2111) Douglass goes into the gross detail of American slavery and gives the crowd a feeling of what is it like to be a slave; as if they could hardly imagine it. Young mothers and the elderly alike cannot ecaspe the horrors that go along with Slavery. Though he is speaking in front of an audience in Rochester, NY and the Slave trade takes place mostly in the south, it is an issue that effects and permeates the whole country. Most people in the North did not know, or did not care to know, about the true details of the slave trade. “I was born amid such sights and scenes.
To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality.” (2111) Until Douglass escaped his horrid captivity; he had not known anything but the slave trade. He is calling American’s out for turning a blind indifference to the disparity of millions. “The Internal Slave Trade” serves as an avenue for Douglass to criticize not only the American people, but also the government and laws created to uphold slavery throughout the nation. “In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administrating law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation.” He is attacking the government, going against its previous doctrines of the Mason Dixon Line, creating a North and South, for mandating that escaped slaves be returned to their “owners” no matter where they are “caught.”
He is saying that as Americans, we should be ashamed of this, and that we have to find the power and the courage to stand up and do something about it. In the end, Fredrick Douglass was asking for two things. He wanted slavery and all of the horrors that came along with it to cease and he knew that in order to do so, the American people, average citizens and the government alike, had to stand up and do something about it. His argument is put together masterfully, rallying his whole speech with underlying cause of revolution. Throughout the whole speech and more so in each section, Douglass uses contrasting points of view to create the sense of urgency for what needs to be done; for a revolution.