A Rhetorical Criticism to a section of Frederick Douglass’ speech
“What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
When “the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society” asked Frederick Douglass to speak “in Corinthian Hall on the Fourth of July”, he declined to speak on that particular day but agreed to do so the following day (McFeely, 172). Barely allowing the American people a day to wallow in their Independence Day celebrations, Douglass delivered his scathing Fifth of July speech entitled “What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass claimed that the democratic ideals of Liberty, Justice, and Equality were one-sided, because these rights only extended to the white segment of the population and excluded the black members of society. During his speech, Douglass exposed the paradoxical nature of the Fourth of July, because he noted that while the whites commenced to celebrate their freedom and rights, the blacks continued to be second-class citizens who faced gross injustices and who were denied basic rights. And so by looking at the Fourth of July from the perspective of an African American, Douglass made note of the deep racial divisions in American society that lay beneath the thin covering of national celebrations like the Fourth of July.
In this paper, a historical analysis will be provided to help understand why Douglass gave the speech, a descriptive analysis will be used to highlight Douglass’ most effective rhetorical techniques, a critical perspective will be developed to explain the descriptive analysis, an evaluation of the speech will be given, and a conclusion will be drawn.
To help understand why Frederick Douglass gave this speech, we need to examine the historical context of the time period in which the speech was delivered. During the era of the 1850’s, America was in the process of undergoing social reform. At the core of this reform, lay the question of whether slavery was...