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"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Analysis of Frederick ...

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"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Analysis of Frederick Douglass's speech, how did he construct his argument and did he argue effectively.

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  • April 12, 2005
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In his speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, Frederick Douglass passionately argues that to the slave, and even to the freed African American, the Fourth of July is no more than a mockery of the grossest kind. Douglas uses many rhetorical strategies to convey his powerful emotions on the subject, and the end result is a very effectively argued point.

Douglass begins by asking a series of rhetorical questions, not without the use of sarcasm. He refers to "that" Declaration of Independence, instead of "the" Declaration of Independence, to stress the separation between his people and those who are not oppressed. In the next paragraph, he continues to ask rhetorical questions. The purpose of all these questions is to give the audience the perspective that what is suggested is not truly so. He did not choose to give a speech on the holiday that his people are reminded of the injustice forced upon them in order to express gratitude and joy for the independence of America, because he does not share in any of that joy, because he does not share in any of that independence. The third paragraph is where the line is visibly drawn for the audience. No more rhetorical questions at this point. The truth is laid out; the separation is made clear. Douglass prolifically uses the terms "you" and "me", "us" and "them", to stress the fact that this holiday is of a double-meaning, and for his people it is a day of mourning, while for the rest of them, it is a day of blind joy. In the text, such words are italicized, meaning that while he gave the speech, he made sure to put emphasis on these words in a way that would be comparable to squeezing the pressure points of his audience (you). An interesting point can be brought up at this moment: his immediate audience during the delivery of this speech in July of 1852 was comprised of white abolitionists. Meaning, he was addressing the people that were technically on his side, so to speak. Douglass calls for them to "argue...