“What to Slave is the Fourth of July” by Douglass Frederick

Frederick Douglass speech is all about slavery and freeing if African American’s. Frederick is a renowned artist who passionately delivers his speech on slavery, a speech which was termed as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” Frederick Douglass constructed his speech effectively a situation which made his arguments reach targeted audience African Americans to depth (Baym et al, 25). This article shall analyze the whole speech as well as revealed the hidden meaning of some passages in the speech by Frederick Douglass. Interpretation of several passages will be important for this paper as Frederick uses many rhetorical strategies. All these strategies convey the undisputed emotion in his arguments.

​At the start of it all, Frederick asks series of questions. Douglass uses some passages to deliver his message. He first refers to “That” as declaration of independence. The meaning of this is that he wanted to create some sense of separation between the oppressors and those oppressed (Baym et al, 67). This as well shows a clear indication that he was cracking some differentiation to show the social difference between his oppressed colleagues and those who lived a free life. This passage further indicates that there was a huge social difference between the oppressed and the freed (Robert L. et al, 195-225).

​Frederick Douglass starts the speech by posing questions to his audience. The main reason for these rhetorical questions was to gift his audience the sense that what was suggested is not true. Frederick chooses not to deliver a speech about joy he didn’t have or independence he didn’t share (Baym et al, 78). Despite the speech being much of a chance to condemn slavery and oppression, Frederick Douglass choos4es not to deliver a speech on that since it was a holiday when the slaves in United States of America were seen to be reminded the oppression and injustice they had experienced for decades.

​At a point, Frederick quotes some rhetorical questions and draws them to his audience. At this point, Frederick sidelines the hidden speech nature. Its in this point at the third paragraph of the speech were the truth is laid out. This is the first part of the speech when Douglass uses straight terms like “them” and “us”. In the term “them”, Douglass meant the white Americans and the oppressors while “us” was a reference of himself and the other group of Africa Americans who faced injustice and inhuman in slavery. He directly attacked slave masters as well showing the double meaning of the so called holiday. He said and I quote, “This, for the purpose of celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your national Independence, and of your political freedom.” (1251)

​During the speech, there was interesting moments from the audience. Frederick made sure that he put emphasis on words like “me” and “you”, a situation which raised concern in the audience bench. The most interesting thing during the deliverance is that there was presence of many whites amongst the audience but they were all slavery abolitionists. In 1952 during the speech, most of the audience was white men who were abolitionists of slavery. This definitely meant he was free to exploit his mind since everybody in the room was definitely on his side.

​It’s in the first page of the speech where Douglass makes reference of the bible. Douglass‘s speech rotates around his own situation and relates himself with the one who has been described in the bible quote. He describes the situation he is in, cracking that he can never express joy as his fellow blacks were in pain. This means that he had dedicated himself to fight for equality and end slavery in America (Levine & Robert S, 73-91). Frederick Douglass sets explanation about the holiday in bid to help them build thinking on the hidden meaning of the holiday. One of the meanings included in the speech is that the holiday was meant for people to rejoice under grounds of enjoying freedom and liberty. Frederick says, and I quote, “This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence and of your political freedom.” (1251) He directly says that his people have no freedom and they have nothing to rejoice as per the day. The conclusion about the holiday which Douglass made was that, the holiday was more a mockery to his people than the thought rejoicing.

​Douglass Fredrick shows frustration during deliverance as he rebukes his fellow blacks for being dormant and allowing the oppression. He emphasized that it was the best time for them to rise and fight for their families and a new country. Douglass knowing that he was addressing people who were on his side, he took that chance and called his audience to stand on their feet say enough is enough. He says and I quote, “argue more and denounce less… persuade more and rebuke less, your case will be much more likely to succeed” (1252). This statement clearly shows how he tried to educate his people on resisting harsh treatment and inhumanity. The statement can be best interpreted as “cease fighting and you will die a slave.” The harsh speech to his own people and the whites who were on his side doesn’t mean he was angry with them, it just revealed how passionate he felt about his people.

​ Let us now go back to the first page of his speech. He refers to the bible. ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion…” (1251). He compares his situation with the one he talks about in the biblical reference. He cannot abandon his people. He is one who will never express joy when his people are down with pains. This is amongst the strongest of his and brings his as an en example and perfection of a true leader. Although this is his opinion, it is still worthy to argue that Douglass perfects the qualities of a good leader. This is proven many times by the simple logic presented in his speech.

​His statements to his audience are essential pointers to his leadership qualities. For example the following important issues he made clear during the speech. “This Holiday is made to rejoice for the sake of freedom and liberty.” This meant the oppressed were supposed to rejoice as he had inaugurated the ceremony for their freedom. This was done on the faces of the oppressors a pointer to his daring trait. He says that “my people have no freedom, have no liberty.” This he says directly to the oppressors. He adds that the oppressors rejoice when his people mourn. He calls the holiday a mockery of him and his people he makes this reference of ridicule sometimes during his speech (Gates, 98). He, however, uses simple logical statements which are arguably valid. The makes the fight for freedom real. He enlightens his people about all the torture they have been going through from the Americans. This statement creates awareness among his people that they have been suffering as they had a savior.

​He goes ahead and speaks about the wrongs done by the Americans and how they have made an irreversible situation. He argues that any impartial man can discern their true words. He backs up his arguments with simultaneously references from the constitution, the Bible, and God.” the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed, and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.” (1253). with these references, it is possible even to say that a man may dare to disagree with the devil. He goes into deep details of the different aspects of the life of why the black Americans have the same rights and friends as any other human being. He develops an argument that a slave is a man entitled to liberty and it was very wrong to view them as useless creatures “brutes” (1253). He finalized this by saying slavery was not divine. He states that freedom is a fundamental natural right for every person. He states that each of his arguments was very implicitly basic and required being argued. Arguing against the fact of freedom being an integral right of all men is synonymous with arguing against a proven scientific principle.

​If a man is a man, then freedom was an entitled right since his birth. If the right to freedom is not seen then arguing for it will do no good at all. After making this point, he makes a powerful statement in support of his argument saying that “For it is not light that is needed but fire” (1253). The light is a symbolic meaning the freedom and he used fire to mean the denial of freedom for men. Light is what is needed desperately. This will involve drastically awakening the Americans to their crimes against humanity, and then form an imperative to change this fact which does not seem to be undone but getting worse. His flow of words is fervid in a way that it cannot be stopped (Gates, 47). When one reads the speech, they normally feel like they were present during the speech presentation by Douglass himself. Douglass is comparable to a preacher preaching against the devil and all its evil ways. Making it clear with fire and brimstones. He does not only make his point but also forces them to the audience. His tone displays this fact.

He ends his speech with a statement that he had been trying to explain and prove all through the address. The four of July is a sad reminder to him and the people of his people. They are undergoing a cruel treatment from the Americans, and it was terrific that America wanted to cover such mockery. This was a painful experience for them since the ‘blind’ rejoiced as the oppressed suffered under the hands of the oppressors. He calls and advocates for change in this speech (Gates, 79). A argues that change the only thing America can hope for as the obsolete past cannot be undone and the horrible present must be accepted. He adamantly recommends a cease to the damage exposed to the African Americans. “ …and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy”(1254)

Work Cited

  1. Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Eighth ​International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company, 2011.
  2. Gates, Henry, and Nellie Y. McKay. African American Literature. Vol. 997. New York: Norton, ​1997.