Frederick Douglass: “Fourth of July” Speech

(1852)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In the introductory section of his “Fourth of July” Speech, Douglass establishes a tone of humility, expressing his gratitude to the event's organizers for deeming him worthy of addressing American independence. Here he juxtaposes himself as a former slave with those in the audience who he deems the true beneficiaries of the Declaration of Independence. He notes the considerable distance between “this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped.” He further reveals humility by discounting the amount of preparation put into the address. In reality, the oration is carefully crafted to offer the utmost contrast between the celebration of Independence Day and the continuance of racial slavery in the United States. Douglass would write to his friend and fellow abolitionist Gerrit Smith on July 7, 1852, that writing the oration took “much of my extra time for the last two or three weeks” (Blassingame, p. 359).

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Frederick Douglass (Library of Congress)

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