“What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July?” FREDERICK DOUGLASS SPEECH, 1852

picdouglassBestFellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today?What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?indie day inviteAre the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?declarationand 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?slave lifeWould to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? hallelujahWho so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man.credoIn a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the “lame man leap as an hart.” But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us.u.s. slave tradeam 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 light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me.contrabandThis Fourth of July is yours, not mine. yours not mineYou 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 today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! wrathI can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.”By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. daughters of zionHow can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! criesWhose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorry this day, “may my right hand cleave to the roof of my mouth”! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. slave POVStanding there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.

Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate, I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just….abolition mtg

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, and secretaries, having among us lawyers doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; and that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!…carpeauximage

_My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and His cause is the ever-living ___________________________________________________

“My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and His cause is the ever-living now.”  F. Douglass

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Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu

Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895

Douglass, Frederick (1808 (?) -1895) Black Leader.

Frederick Douglass was the most important Black American leader of the 19th Century. Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1808, the son of a slave woman, and in all likelihood, her white master. Upon his escape from slavery at age 20, Douglass adopted a new surname from the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake”.

Douglass immortalized his formative years as a slave in the first of three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, published in 1845;  My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). Written both as antislavery propaganda and as personal revelation, they are universally regarded as the finest examples of the slave narrative tradition and as classics of American autobiography.

Douglass’s public life ranged from his work as an abolitionist in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow segregation in the 1890s. Douglass lived the bulk of his career in Rochester, N.Y., where for 16 years he edited the most influential Black newspaper of the mid-19th century, called The North Star. Douglass achieved international fame as an orator and as a writer of persuasive power. In thousands of speeches and editorials Douglass levied an irresistible indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics, and preached his own brand of American ideals.

Douglass welcomed the Civil War in 1861 as a moral crusade to eradicate the evil of slavery.  Douglass made a major contribution to the intellectual tradition of millennial nationalism, the outlook from which many Americans, North and South, interpreted the Civil War.  As a stalwart Republican (the political party of Abraham Lincoln), he was appointed marshall (1877-81) and recorder of deeds (1881-86) for the District of Columbia, and chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo and minister to Haiti (1889-91).

Douglass had five children by his first wife Anna Murray, a free black woman from Baltimore who followed him out of slavery in 1838. Less than two years after Anna died in 1882, the 63-year-old Douglass married Helen Pitts, his white former secretary, an event of considerable controversy. Thus by birth and by his two marriages, Douglass is one of the South’s most famous examples of the region’s mixed racial heritage.

Douglass never lost a sense of attachment to the South. “Nothing but an intense love of personal freedom keeps us [fugitive slaves] from the South,” Douglass wrote in 1848.  Brilliant, heroic, and complex, Douglass became a symbol of his age and a unique American voice for humanism and social justice.

His life and thought will always speak profoundly to the dilemma of being Black in America. Douglass died of heart failure in 1895, the year Booker T. Washington rose to national prominence with his Atlanta Exposition speech suggesting black accommodation to racial segregation.

David W. Blight
North Central College
Naperville, Illinois

see also: John Blassingame, et al., The Frederick Douglass Papers, 2 vols. (1979-1982); Philip S. Foner, Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, 4 vols. (1955); August Meier, Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915 (1963); Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (1948).

jb signing off 8:35 a.m. July 4, 2015

One thought on ““What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July?” FREDERICK DOUGLASS SPEECH, 1852”

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