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Analysis

Douglass’s “Reconstruction” is a call to action, and he relies on a variety of literary and rhetorical devices to advance his ideas. As Congress prepares to reconvene, it will need to address serious questions, he claims. Douglass uses personification almost immediately when he comments that difficult questions must be “manfully grappled with” and that “The occasion demands statesmanship.”

What follows is a lengthy appeal to pathos achieved through parallel structure. He suggests that Congress will determine whether the last four years of bloodshed will be in vain, asking whether the national tragedy will yield “a miserable failure… a scandalous and shocking waste… a strife for empire… an attempt to re-establish the Union by force… an effort to bring under Federal authority States into which no loyal man from the North may safely enter” or whether it will bring the desired outcome: “a solid nation… based on loyalty, liberty, and equality.”

Douglass then crafts an appeal to logos strengthened by metaphor, specifically personification. As Douglass puts it, the federal government has a long arm, but it’s not long enough to reach all citizens, who must empower and protect themselves. He goes on to personify slavery’s place in the current situation, saying it “has not neglected its own conservation. It has steadily exerted an influence upon all around it.” The norms that protected slavery are still firmly entrenched in the South, and it is not within the power of the federal government to destroy these norms without reverting to despotism. The answer is found in the right to vote, and Douglass emphasizes his point with vivid imagery built on yet another metaphor when he calls the elective franchise a “wall of fire” to protect the rights of every citizen.

Douglass returns to personification when he addresses the rebellion that caused the war, calling it “an impressive teacher, though a stern and terrible one… an instructor never a day before its time.” Perhaps gratitude is even in order; Douglass suggests that were it not for the rebellion, the United States might have remained a slave nation indefinitely. After all, he says, the average person is busy in her daily life and likely doesn’t notice “the dark outlines of approaching disasters,” particularly if viewed through the rosy lens of prosperity. Next, Douglass compares the pre-war divisions of the nation to a broken ship whose “yawning seam and corroded bolt conceal their defects from the mariner until the storm.” The United States was similarly corroded by slavery but might have continued to sail along indefinitely were it not for the outbreak of war, the figurative storm.

Douglass states his call to action in another dramatic appeal to pathos. Using another combination of vivid imagery and metaphor, he compares the state governments of the South to a dangerous poisonous tree. These governments must be completely overhauled, destroyed “root and branch, leaf and fibre, body and sap,” as if they were a “deadly upas.” This leads to another metaphor in which Douglass points out that truth “shines with brighter light and intenser heat.” He then continues to appeal to pathos through the rhythms of polysyndeton, saying the nation requires relief, as it is “torn and rent and bleeding.”

Returning to the importance of action on the part of the new Congress, Douglass suggests that while the previous session of Congress was hampered by an awkward situation with a dishonest president, the new session has no excuses. He makes his point through a combination of parallelism and biblical allusion:

“Where that investigated, this has the facts. Where that walked by faith, this may walk by sight. Where that halted, this must go forward,...

(The entire section is 915 words.)