‘WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS YOUR FOURTH OF JULY?’

Occasion: Meeting sponsored by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, Rochester Hall, Rochester, N.Y. To illustrate the full shame of slavery, Douglass delivered a speech that took aim at the pieties of the nation -- the cherished memories of its revolution, its principles of liberty, and its moral and religious foundation. The Fourth of July, a day celebrating freedom, was used by Douglass to remind his audience of liberty’s unfinished business.


What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
...“What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?...

...But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!...

The speech was originally published as a pamphlet. It can be located in James M. Gregory’s, Frederick Douglass, the Orator (1893). More recent publications of the speech include Philip Foner’s, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (1950) and The Frederick Douglass Papers (1982), edited by John W. Blassingame.

Full Text: Manhood, Race, and Culture - http://www.manhoodraceculture.com/2014/07/04/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-frederick-douglass-speaks/ Accessed on 07/04/2014.