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Reading Frederick Douglass - Speech

David Blight called Douglass' Fourth of July address “abolition's rhetorical masterpiece.” Here's an excerpt from that famous Douglass' speech:

"Fellow citizens, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?"

Here are various lengths of Frederick Douglass' 4th of July Speech.

abridged - short
(4,526 words = approximately 30 minutes)
abridged - medium
(5,370 words = approximately 35 minutes)

full text
(10, 387 words)

 

HISTORY: In his fiery July 5, 1852 speech, the great orator famously took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. What brought him to this moment? What did he try to achieve? Was he un-patriotic or ultra-American? Did he actually dissociate himself from American citizenship or embrace it with this speech? It behooves us to read the speech and learn.

1838 1845 1850 1852
Frederick Bailey escapes from slavery and settles in New Bedford, MA, where he takes the name Douglass. A radicalized Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative, announcing to the world he is an escaped slave. He then leaves New England to avoid capture by slave catchers while he travels and lectures in England, supporters buy his freedom. Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act -- it is now a federal offense to harbor a person who is "legally" a slave. In his Independence Day speech, Douglass, who clearly feels like an American (why else return?), goes so far as to refer to your United States and your Founding Fathers.

 


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