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...