One of the greatest orators in American history, Fredrick Douglas was born a slave and worked tirelessly his entire life not only to escape his bondage, but to educate himself and be an active member of social and political causes. Born in 1818 in Maryland, Douglas was the son of a slave and an unknown white man. Douglas was taught basic reading and literacy skills by his master’s wife before being send to Edward Covey, a known ‘slave breaker’, where he experienced unbelievable cruelty before escaping in 1838. Douglas would go on to join the Abolitionist movement, become a member of a local black church, be inspired by and work with William Loyd Garrison, support the suffrage of women and even meet with and council Abraham Lincoln in the White House.
Below is a selection from one of Douglas’ most famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. Douglas was asked to deliver this speech by an abolitionist group in order to celebrate the anniversary of America’s independence on July 4th. While the organizers of the celebration no doubt expected a rousing speech y Douglas (who at this point was known as an amazing orator), they also expected a speech that would celebrate the ideals that America was founded upon and celebrating that 4th of July – the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and freedom and equality for all. Douglas did deliver a rousing speech that day, but one that very openly questioned the hypocrisy of asking an escaped slave to speak about freedom. Below you will find the PDF of the annotated version of this speech from my video – please make sure that as you walk through the analysis of the speech you pay close attention to Douglas’ use of parallelism and irony to achieve his purpose, as well as his use of rhetorical questions and imagery.
Please see videos below for an analysis of Douglas’ speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”