What to the Slave Is the 4th of July Ananlysis

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Rhetorical Analysis of Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglas in his speech, “What to the Slaves, Is the Fourth of July?”,

eloquently establishes the hypocrisies prevalent in American society during the

1800’s. He was asked to give a speech at an anti-slavery meeting during a Fourth

of July celebration, and he took that opportunity to demoralize the institution of

slavery. He deemed it hypocritical for the anti-slavery constituents to ask him to

deliver such a speech. Considering he was, a black man and escaped slave it seemed

to Douglas a little oxymoronic to speak on this particular holiday. However, the

holiday created the perfect kairos for him to present his argument: why should

Black Americans, free or other wise, celebrate the Fourth of July? Douglas using

his knowledge of the audience to play on their already predisposed sympathies by

using a combination of ethos, pathos, and logos. The purpose of his speech was to

reinforce the ideals of why slaves should be set free.

Douglas found the occasion perfect to argue the on going debate about

slavery in America. Although karios is about that opportune moment and must

not be pre-composed it requires some prior knowledge of the topic. Douglas

acknowledges that he has been contemplating for some time the issue of slavery,

however, has never had the right opportunity to present his argument. Taking

advantage of kairos Douglas states, “The task before me is on which requires much

previous thought and study for its proper performance” (Douglas 230). Being

attuned to his kairos Douglas acknowledges the opposing arguments he faces, and

uses them to set up his major points. For example he proclaims:

But I fancy hear some of my audience say; it is just in this circumstance that

you and your brother abolitionist fail to make a favorable impression on the

public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade

more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed.

This example was very effective use of kairos because he acknowledges the

opposition and effectively uses his audience ideas about slavery to defend his

position. He uses their own rhetoric to his advantage. This recognition not only

exemplifies his use of kiaros but also builds ethos proving that he is versed in this

subject area. . He presents a series of questions they have posed to prove that a

slave is also a man, “On what branch of the subject do the people of this country

need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? The point is conceded

When analyzing the audience of the anti-slavery meeting it would be safe

to assume that they disagreed with slavery, therefore why would Douglas become

so aggressive? The mere fact that they asked Douglas to give this speech implied

that they did not understand the Fourth of July’s absurdity as a holiday for slaves.

Keeping their unintentional ignorance in mind Douglas eases into a more aggressive

approach in the later sections of the speech. Making the tone of the speech passive

aggressive. He spends a majority of the speech praising the white fore fathers.

Douglas elaborates in great detail on the history of the revolution using nostalgia

as a source of pathos. For example citing the emotions of the fore fathers, “Feeling

themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like

men of honesty, and men of spirit earnestly sought redress” (Douglas 232). This is

a good use of pathos because it is a holiday and the audience is probably already in

an up beat festive mood. Therefore, Douglas did not want to come across as being

negative. Instead he wanted to use their joy to remind them there are those who are

not allowed to celebrate the same freedoms.

Douglas goes to great lengths to distance himself from the audience. His

voice is He always is sure to call the...
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