Published Aug. 27, 2019, 11:32 a.m. by Moderator

Frederick Douglass was born as a slave in Maryland, Virginia in the mid 1800s but he was able to partially regain his freedom in 1938 when he escaped to the emancipated Northern states and settled in New Bedford in Massachusetts. He then worked as a laborer and eventually became a member of the New England Anti Slavery movement and became a leading light in advocating for the abolition of slavery. He published his autobiography: 'The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave' which led to the possibility of his re-enslavement. He had to seek asylum in Great Britain where he continued his work. Freedom came in 1847 when he raised enough money and bought his way back to Rochester, New York as a free man and started an anti – slavery newspaper ‘The North Star’ and helped smuggle slaves through the underground rail system to Canada. He also fought segregation in the Rochester public school system. This famous speech by Mr. Douglass focuses on the events that happened in Rochester in 1852. He was invited as a key-note speaker at the July 4th celebrations. This became the stage for his scathing attack on the illusion of nationhood that America was celebrating and gave an emotional and powerful call for the freedom of his brethren.

                    Ethos is when a speaker uses language and chooses a subject that resonates well and connects with his intended audience. The writer uses familiar and appropriate vocabulary to introduce himself to the audience to show the ownership of the title of the speaker. In this speech Mr. Douglas starts to connect with his audience by showing loyalty to the nation when he says,”I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men” but contradicts the compliment when he goes on to say, “the point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration”. Francis Douglass deploys syllogistic reasoning to gain authority with the white audience to look upon his speech as a sort of soul searching exercise but also connects with his black audience whom he represents. He uses a lot of imagery and animal metaphors to give a ‘picturesque paint book’ look at slavery. He appeals to the conscience of his white audience by using syllogistic reasoning. He uses this method to chide the white masters without bordering on the offensive. The slaves were treated worse than the master’s animals and then on goes to imply that even in God’s nature the black person is regarded as man not beast which questioned the judgment of the slave master.

                    He introduces pathos to appeal to the emotions of the audience and he cleverly captures it in the second paragraph and an example is when he says, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common”. He stirs anger and resentment in his black audience by sharing their pain with the whole nation and also attracts empathy from his white audience. He uses pathos in a ‘rhetorical manner’, “My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery”, to show that he has suffered the same pain and this is meant to identify with his black audience. The statements, “this Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn” and “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 4th of July!” shows powerful use of pathos to show defiance and the color black to symbolize the bleak situation facing the blacks and serve as an ambiguous reference to the color of the skin which was the only criteria for slavery. 

                    Francis Douglass uses religion to portray slavery as evil in the eyes of a just God by the ubiquitous biblical verses. He uses the biblical verse, “"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion”, he does this to give a graphic image and incite anger and sympathy within both sides of his. He is able to show the evil of slavery by using the authority of the scriptures. He uses these to protect himself from being portrayed as an anarchist and to be seen as religious man rather than an anti- slavery movement speaker. He claims more universality in the eyes of the audience. In other words Mr. Douglass was not writing for the Fourth of July but he was using the podium to call for the end of enslavement of all slaves anywhere in the world.

                    He uses logos when he mentions the penalties imposed on the black man when he says, “there are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man that subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment.”  He gains credence from this statement and to stamp any questions on the credibility of his speech since laws are common knowledge and enshrined in the constitution.  He also employs logos when he gives account of all the developmental activities that are going in the country that have been from the black man’s sweat yet he was still not regarded as an equal benefactor when the harvest time arrived.

                    He gives hope with the use of   "the Declaration of Independence," and naming the American Institutions that should lead the change. In conclusion, Frederick Douglass showed his intelligence and ability to connect to both audiences.  he praised the good values that the country espoused and then tore apart the elements of the American society that were there to promote the denial of freedom to a whole race that wanted to live and die happy as enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence.

Works cited

"Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself. ." Documenting the American South homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2012. <


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