Douglass And The Declaration Of Independence Critical Thinking Example
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Frederick Douglass was one of the first great African-American orators. Douglass was an outspoken proponent of the abolition of slavery, and spoke repeatedly about the unfairness of the way in which his fellow African Americans were treated by the white majority in the United States during this time. In his landmark speech “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass addresses a variety of issues that faced the African American in American society, including the principles of natural freedom and justice, which he says are the rights that the men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence fought and even died for (Freemaninstitute.com).
One of the arguments that Douglass makes in his text is an argument regarding the Declaration of Independence and the men who wrote it. Because the speech was given not long after the end of the Revolutionary War, many individuals still remembered the Revolutionary War and fighting in the war. When Douglass references the Declaration of Independence—the document that officially separated the colonies from England—he is making an appeal to the listeners’ sense of patriotism and the very core of their being as Americans. It was a very intelligent argument that got the listeners emotionally involved in the discussion, rather than allowing them to purposefully shut down because they were racist or bigoted against African Americans (Freemaninstitute.com).
The Declaration of Independence is a document that gives all people broad, sweeping rights; during this time, most white people in the United States did not see African Americans or slaves as beings worthy of the rights granted under the Declaration of Independence. Douglass wanted to change their minds, so he asked the crowd: “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us [blacks]?” (Freemaninstitute.com). He goes on to suggest that the patriotic sentiment that most white people feel regarding the Fourth of July is something that African Americans cannot share, because they are still treated like animals.
The Declaration of Independence guarantees that all men have certain rights, and that these rights cannot be taken away by a government; however, Douglass says, the existence of slavery is such that these rights have been taken away from an entire race of people (Freemaninstitute.com). He also notes that it is not only unjust behavior, but also un-Christian behavior; although there were some Christian organizations that supported the abolitionist movement, Douglass was disgusted by the fact that most of these churches were unwilling to support abolitionism (Freemaninstitute.com).
After building up the Declaration of Independence and the ideals upon which the United States was founded, Douglass states: “your 4th of July is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license [for enslaving blacks] . . . your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery” (Freemaninstitute.com). To the patriotic Americans in the audience, the fact that he could feel this way would have been surprising and almost heartbreaking; most people were so supportive of the newly formed country that it would have been almost unfathomable that a man so intelligent and well-spoken could feel so negatively towards the United States. This was the reaction—the surprise and anger—that Douglass was counting on; it was this reaction that made “What To the Slave is Fourth of July?” such an important and impactful speech.
Archives.gov,. 'Declaration Of Independence - Text Transcript'. N.p., 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
Freemaninstitute.com,. 'What To The Slave Is 4Th Of July? -- 1841 Speech By Frederick Douglass'. N.p., 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
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