Throughout the nineteenth century, the issue of the slave trade and slavery was a critical argument in the young budding nation of America. For a country so promising with ambitions and expectations of industrial growth, the economy steadily grew at a rapid rate and industry boomed. To the confederate states, slavery was the backbone of their economy and the beneficiaries of this system defended their industry tooth and nail to ensure it wouldn’t be scraped off. The raging debate would see the young nation almost split apart by a vicious civil war. So this begs the question, were African-American slaves entitled to their share of the American dream and its promises of security and liberty as were white Americans?
What Is Frederick Douglass Known For?
Frederick Douglass is a famous 19th-century orator and human rights activist whose efforts and campaigns against slavery earned him a spot in the books of history as a defender of the rights of African - Americans. At the time of his death in Washington D.C in 1895, he had earned a respectable reputation not only as a human rights activist but also as a respectable author and high ranking government official with many crediting his achievement as the first African American to hold such the title of United States Ambassador to Haiti. Some of his famous works include Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845, My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1882.
What drove such an intellectual to pursue the cause of the afflicted minority is a question of importance if one is to analyze his writings. He comes off as a man who is passionate about his cause and would be willing to do whatever it takes to see it through. Many will tend to think that it could have been his ambition to rise to a position of prominence in government that moved and dominated the fire in his belly. Could it be that he wanted to be president? Could it be that he wanted prominence and wealth for himself? Was he simply a man of the less fortunate and a good Samaritan who wished to see the world a fair place for all? All these questions can be answered by analyzing his life experiences.
Frederick Douglass Short Biography
The fiery orator was born Frederick Washington Bailey in Maryland in the year 1818 and was raised partly by his grandmother. His mother died when he was at the tender age of 10 upon which he would go to work for Hugh Auld in Baltimore and his wife by the name of Sophia taught the young boy how to read and write. He would use this knowledge to teach other slaves literacy skills when he was hired out to William Freeland a fact that was highly opposed by other landowners making them carry out occasional raids with sticks just to disperse the gathered congregation. It was inevitable that he would move to the home of Edward Cowey a renowned slave torturer. The young boy would at a point have a fight with the man that would scare Cowey never beat the young boy again.
He later escaped and was on board a ship for Liverpool where his ardent supporters later raised enough money to purchase his freedom and he returned to the United States where his abolitionist momentum took off. He authored several papers that championed the freedoms of the black race in America and were particularly a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and their right to vote. The unending efforts earned him a nomination on the presidential ballot as a running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket during the presidential election of 1872.
American Fourth of July
The fourth of July is a particularly special day in American History as it is the day that a new nation was born from the ashes of British Colonial rule after a bitter armed struggle. Many had the hope and optimism that this new national entity would be ideal in granting both freedoms and opportunities to its citizens and all those who escape torture and persecutions elsewhere. The speaker chose this day specifically because it was an ironic comparison to the stark reality at hand. While most of the established white Americans were jubilant and jolly in their celebration a sharp contrast to the oppressed black men. He opines this by saying this Fourth July is yours not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
From these words, we see the use of imagery based on his description of the grand illuminated temple of liberty which he depicts as a magnificent place that epitomizes the ideals of liberty yet black people would not get a fair piece of that liberty as is their right. His usage of religious vocabulary is to insinuate that justice, liberty, and freedoms are God-given and should be respected. The word sacrilegious is used to depict that it is the will of God to see that all humans are treated in a proper and respectful manner. Therefore, the orator uses this thinking to declare that 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.
Frederick Douglass and Equal Rights
Frederick then goes on to emphasize the fact that the dignity of a slave as a fellow human is undoubtedly and that anyone who seeks to question it is committing ridicule both to God and the laws of nature. The emphasis he makes here is based on the fact that there were plenty of intellectual arguments about whether black slaves deserved the rights offered to white men at the time or whether they were below humans and hence did not deserve to be treated as humans. He condemns this line of thought with the statement How should I look today in the presence of Americans, dividing and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom, speaking of it both relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively? To do so would be to make myself ridiculous and to offer an insult to your understanding.
What Did Frederick Douglass Do to End Slavery?
The theme of selective justice features prominently when the orator demonstrates that the judicial system is biased against the black man. He argues that since it is not a matter of argument that the black man is indeed human, then the laws that condemn him and his race are preposterous and baseless. The slave owners who are the key perpetrators of this illegal vice have themselves agreed to this fact and utilize it when punishing their slaves. Therefore, anyone who uses this to legally discriminate is clearly being evil at heart. A good example the activist gives is that of the State of Virginia where he says There are seventy- two crimes in the State of Virginia, which if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to be punished to death, while only two of these same crimes will subject a white man to like punishment.
One has to appreciate the use of graphic expressions and words that move the audience towards a feeling of sorrow that catapults into sympathy for the suffering of the black man. The techniques of imagery vividly paint a mental picture that triggers one to denounce the inhumane treatment of slaves. The speech makes the listener view with sympathy the plight of the slave and in turn take a proactive stand against slavery. A direct quotation that depicts this “What! Am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters?”
Such depictions of the practice of the slave trade are demeaning and it is on such accounts that even the white majority supported the cause of abolitionist movements and religions. One recognizes that similar arguments convinced the political class to realize that time was ripe for the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Criticism of the American nation soon follows with the orator describing it as worse than other countries which are naturally expected to have poorer human rights records during the nineteenth century. The speech gives one the impression that America is a hypocritical nation that only celebrates liberties and freedoms in words but not really indeed. These words in the text bring out this strong feeling Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
However, in my opinion, I think this is quite overstated considering that at the time most of the world was a wild stretch of lawlessness. The state of carefree abuses was permitted by the void caused by the lack of legitimate frameworks to protect human rights. Many regions in Africa and South America were on the stage of atrocities against inhabitants without any consequences whatsoever.
Fredericks’s rallying cry is for the whole of America to rise up in protest against the abuse and demand an end to this injustice. He uses words OH! had I the ability and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed but fire, it is not the gentle shower but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened, the conscience of the nation must be roused, the propriety of the nation must be startled, the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed, and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.
From the speech, we can safely conclude that the orator is convincing and moving in his argument and presentation of the state of slavery. These deductions are created by the strong mental picture created in the listener’s mind that makes them imagine the plight of the slaves in the Nineteenth century. The listener is prompted to take a stand against the oppressive systems of slavery. It can be deduced that such intellectually sharp arguments prompted many Americans to demonize the vice. The words of Frederick Douglass in this speech are highly effective in convincing not only the black enslaved men and women but also the white race in America that the time is right to shun slavery and push for its abolition.
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