Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: Black Abolitionist Arguments Against Slavery

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In the mid-1800s the issue of slavery had emerged in the U.S. as a major conflict. In the northern states a small but very articulate group of abolitionists formed to speak out against the abomination of slavery. Several of the most influential and outspoken abolitionists were actually former slaves. Three such speakers during that time were Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs. All born into slavery, and having witnessed its horrors first-hand, these three black reformers publicly took a stand against the atrocity of enslaving fellow human beings. They argued for their rights as men and women. However, they each went about their arguments using different modes of persuasion. While the main message of each abolitionist was individual freedom and they were very impassioned about this cause, Sojourner Truth mainly used ethos and Biblical references in her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech to appeal to her audience based on her character as a woman, Harriet Jacobs applied mostly pathos in her raw and first-person narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and lastly Frederick Douglas utilized primarily logos and political references in his fervent “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech. Each method of persuasion was used to emphasize why every man and woman deserved the power of self-determination. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery, but was liberated by the New York State Emancipation Act of 1827. After earning her freedom, Truth began to travel and earned herself a reputation as a leading female abolitionist and supporter of universal suffrage. Her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech took place at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in May 1951. Truth opened her speech saying that she was an embodiment of a woman’s rights. “I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man…and can any man do more than that?” She had a powerful argument based on her background as a slave. As she went on she made the biblical...
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