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What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? Essay

The fourth of July is wounding to the African American. While it marks the freedom, of the nation, from colonialists and champions the resolution of equality, the oppressions against African Americans pertinent during the period of 1852 make any kind of commemoration ironical.

The day claims to symbolize the freedom that every American citizen enjoys. However, as Frederick Douglass shows, in his 1852 speech, the African American has no freedom to claim. He goes on, to show how the delivery of justice is biased.

Furthermore, he shows how Christianity, which claims to uphold the rule of equality, goes behind its own back, and supports the oppressors of the African American citizen. Besides all the gloom, Douglass envisions a day when the slave misery ceases.

Main Points

The day of independence celebrations reminds every one of the struggles that the fore fathers of America went through to deliver freedom to every citizen. Douglass cries at his present situation, which bears no resemblance to the freedom imagined by the freedom fighters of the nation.

He declares the nation free from the rule of the Englishmen, but within itself, slaves still live, at the mercy of their masters. The author narrates the ordeals of slaves. He mentions the forceful labor without a justifiable pay.

He mentions the humiliation, which men and women go through as they are traded like swine. He also mentions how the very meaning of freedom is trampled on when its reference is made to the African American. There is no justice in the legal system. In fact, the system works for the oppressors who benefit most by having the able African Americans sent to do compulsory labor.

The author decries the attitude, which some citizens take concerning the internal slave trade in America. He mentions how newspapers deliver editorials on how the trade of able men and women is lucrative. He calls this a peculiarity. According to him, the institutions of America have double standards.

He calls for the abolition of partisan acceptance of what is true and just. For those who think there is no slave trade in America, Douglass points them to the movement of slaves at night. He points to the existence of drudge markets as proof of slavery and calls for the abolishment of the trade.

The author tells his audience that there are people who agree to his calls for freedom and justice. Nevertheless, at the time of the speech, the recognition was too little to have an impact. He blames the corruption within the justice system and inhuman laws for the proliferation of slave trade.

The accusation also falls on the church because it let the interests of slave owners and traders alter its public voice. On Christianity, Douglass is very bitter. He condemns the people who proclaim the ideals of the religion and yet support the actions of others, which go against those epitomes.

He laments how the church has become a shoulder to lean on for the slave owners. He is disappointed that the church fails to recognize the slave as a child of God who needs fair treatment.

Lastly, Douglass mentions ways and examples that America should follow to redeem its dignity. He calls for laws and their interpretation to uphold the constitution, which gives civil liberties to every citizen. He also asks the church to ameliorate and improve the conditions of all Americans in an equal measure.

He tells his audience that the future will present the desired meaning of July 4 to the slaves. He then asks them to act in the present, for the necessary work of unchaining the slave from his misery lingers.

Thus, he calls for a change, of the attitude and way of business by the oppressors. He calls for the law and the church to step up to their honorable function of fighting for justice, for all citizens alike.

Evidence to Support the Points

To support his claim that, African-American men were equal, to other men, he mentions the different tasks they undertake, which are the same for all other cases. His calls for recognition of the equality of men ride on the fact that they all work, think, and perform roles as men and husbands, as well as fathers.

He uses the constitution to support his call for the abolition of slavery. There is no mention of slavery by the constitution, and no wording declares than one person should be a master over another such as to treat the other like an animal.

To counter arguments that say the constitution protects slavery, Douglass gives a literal interpretation and quotes persons whose judgment, on the constitution is authoritative.

For people who thought slavery was non-existent; he dedicates parts of his speech to mention the characteristics of internal slavery within America. Newspaper stories serve as his reliable evidence of slavery. He reminds the people of America that there is a trade of persons and at the time of his speech; their price was historically high (Douglass 9).

The quote of a specific street name and the person named Austin Woldfolk in relation to the grand slave mart shows that the speaker had facts to support his claims (Douglass 10).

The speaker also narrates his encounter with slaves, their owners and the predicaments that engulfed them. The account helps to create the context of the speech (Douglass 10). One could look at the details, of the relation, and draw conclusions on the validity, of the arguments contained within the speech.

He uses the controversy that surrounded the independence of America from England in 1776 to show that the current oppression of slaves is questionable (Douglass 2). He shows that if England finally admitted to its wrongdoing, then there is a lesson worth learning for America in the slave debate (Douglass 3).

He also bases his arguments of equality on the resolution passed by the Continental Congress just before the county’s independence. After the declaration, the nation kept the promise of remaining free from England, in the same manner; it should hold the promise of letting every citizen live freely (Douglass 3).


The author relies on historic events to support his arguments. He draws on the struggles and victories made in the country’s journey to independence. He explains how before America became free, it was under the colonialist government that carried out a similar oppression as the one witnessed with slavery.

The comparison of the colonial oppression and slavery infers to the audience the notion that the struggle to freedom is not over. The same spirit that drove Americans to fight for their independence is what Douglass is trying to evoke in his audience.

To support his calls for justice and equality, he refers to the nation’s fathers who advocated for reform. He goes ahead to explain the constitution in plain worlds to answer critics of his call to free the slaves. He strikes off the meaning of the day’s celebration by talking of how the founding fathers’ ideals are yet to see fruition, hence nothing to celebrate.

Douglass chooses to identity with the oppressed African-American who does not have the ability to defend his or her rights as a citizen. Figuratively, he begins his speech with a question on whether he is fitted to stand and address both the president and the people of America.

As he delivers his speech, he calls upon the audience to be sympathetic to his call by referring to his lowly status or limited practice. In some instances, he creates a mirror effect, with his words. He assumes an observing role and refers to events as an outsider.

The technique separates him from his speech and delivers the audience to the specified time, for them to invoke their own judgment. He does not take part in the commemoration of independence so that the citizens of America may see the alienation of slaves.

Although he is physically present, he distances himself, using words, from the people and events he mentions in his speech. He hands over possession to the audience by using words that refer specifically to them rather than collectively to everyone, including himself.

To get his argument right, Douglass spends more time on assessing the actual fighting, and the ideals fought for, against England. Then, he parallels the situation with the present slave misery. In creating the matches, he uses words that elicit the emotion of revolt.

He keeps on referring the audience to their shameful actions. He points to the corruption tolerant in the justice and law system. Then he wonders how the church can claim to preach the God’s word when it tolerated the destruction, of human life.

The use of a strong language makes the speech emotive. Its length also strengthens the arguments. Listeners hear the same thing is different versions and get examples to use in coming to conclusions.

World View

Douglass had heterodox views when it came to religion. He retorts that other beliefs or non-beliefs other than Christianity was welcome, other than the gospel of those who he considered the center of the tyranny he was fighting against (Douglass 13).

He does not identify with the Christian faith and throughout his speech addresses it as a foreign concept. We can assume that his audiences were mostly Christians, because he does not mention how other religions support or fight against slavery.

He assumes that the protection, of the right to property, does not cover slaves. According to Douglass, slaves are humans. Therefore, his argument, on the interpretation of the construction, takes for granted that everyone agrees slaves are citizens and not properties.

If the latter argument persists, then the claims to oppression by Douglass cease to have meaning. Kuypers (51) uses the fourth or July speech to call Douglass an abolitionist. Property owners have a right to trade their properties and use them as they deem fit (Brandon 59).

Douglass also assumes that everyone agrees to the Christian definition of virtuously wrong. He uses the identical understanding to label slavery as morally incorrect and to use the same assumption in interpreting the constitution (Douglass 16).

Douglass believed that the end of slave trade only applied to the Atlantic trade. He held the view that the abolishment of slavery within America required more than the rhetoric of the church and state organs like Congress. He also believed that the United States constitution did not approve the slaving of its citizens. He thought that if it did, then it was flawed (Colaiaco 97).

There are some viewpoints that are worth the author’s consideration. First, even if the constitution did not approve the practice of slavery, it also protected the private property rights. Therefore, slave owners also had a right to defend their actions (Mason 118).

The resolution of July 2 recognized the right of citizens and the independence of states. However, it did not mention the fate of existing slaves. Douglass takes it for granted that after independence, every slave became a free citizen.

The constitution’s silence leaves him with no basis of argument, on the fate of slaves during his period. In fact, the abolition of slavery happened after ratification to the constitution, which Douglass claimed was explicit, occurred (Van Cleve 154-168).

Works Cited

Brandon, Mark. Free in the World: American Slavery and Constitutional Failure. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998. Print.

Colaiaco, James. Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July. New York: Palgrave, 2006. Print.

Douglass, Frederick. What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? 1852. Web.

Kuypers, Jim. Rhetorical criticism: Perspectives in Action. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009. Print.

Mason, Matthew. Slavery and Politics in the Early American Republic. Baskerville: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Print.

Van Cleve, George William. A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic. Illinois: The University of Chicago Press Ltd, 2010. Print.

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"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" IvyPanda, 8 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/.

1. IvyPanda. "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" December 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" December 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'What to the Slave is the Fourth of July'. 8 December.

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