Write a brief analysis of "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” is an 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass in which he condemns American hypocrisy in celebrating freedom while millions of Americans remain enslaved. While acknowledging the importance of American independence, he points out numerous, contradictory meanings. Douglass uses ethos, pathos, and logos as rhetorical strategies to generate sympathy from his predominantly white audience.

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Frederick Douglass, a well-known Black writer, orator, and abolitionist was asked to address an anti-slavery group on the July 4 holiday in 1852. He wrote and presented a speech that challenged the very idea of the holiday. Douglass speaks from his position as a free, formerly enslaved person; he had published his autobiographical narrative in 1845.

Douglass exposes hypocrisy as a central element in America’s approach to government, part of the bedrock of the nation’s original founding. His overall approach is bold and provocative, criticizing the celebration for its "bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy."

The speech utilizes classical rhetorical strategies of ethos, logos, and pathos. The ethical considerations he offers include the moral quandaries of a nation of people who celebrate independence even as they continue to enslave millions of other people, and to profit from the practice. He also uses logos or an appeal to rational thought, pointing out the flawed logical position in considering an entire whole country to be free when many of its residents are not.

The examples that Douglass includes further uses pathos to create emotional responses in his audience. Examples include his use of vivid imagery in an extended description of the practices that “slave-buyers” use. The “man-drovers” or “human flesh-jobbers” treat Black people like animals or “human stock.” He also uses second-person direct address, ordering the audience to put themselves within the action:

Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers.

By describing the brutality of the processes, he aim to invoke sympathy for the shared humanity and suffering of the “wretched people.”

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