“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
The Fourth of July is a time in which Americans can celebrate their independence and freedom. In 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech titled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” at the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, NY. Douglass, a former slave, was invited to speak on July 5th. Douglass uses this opportunity to voice a major concern of his – the abolition of slavery. His powerful use of rhetoric must have captivated his audience. Douglass’ most convincing points are when he uses language to separate himself from America’s most patriotic holiday, and how he later uses pronouns to unite with his audience to give America a sense of hope for change.
Douglass begins his speech by telling his audience how nervous he is. This is partly because he claimed to not have a prepared speech. In the beginning of his speech, he separates himself from White America and those who celebrate the Fourth of July. He does this by describing freedom as “yours” instead of “ours”: “It is the birthday of your National Independence and of your political freedom” (Douglass 498). Douglass uses these pronouns in this political way throughout the first half of his speech. It is a very effective rhetorical device. He emphasizes the fact that it is the day of their independence, not his. Douglass is correct when he says this because it really is not his day. He was a former slave and thousands of African Americans still desired independence from their owners. It is brilliant of him because this technique holds the attention of his listeners. Douglass reminds his audience of what their forefathers fought for – freedom. Douglass states, “They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression” (501). Our forefathers still fought for their freedom and their ultimate goal was revolution. To...
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