Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 254

Frederick Douglass's essay "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" is a powerful piece of English rhetoric and scathing condemnation of slavery. In his own words, Douglass answers the rhetorical question posed in the title of the essay: "a day that reveals to [the slave], more than all...

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Frederick Douglass's essay "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" is a powerful piece of English rhetoric and scathing condemnation of slavery. In his own words, Douglass answers the rhetorical question posed in the title of the essay: "a day that reveals to [the slave], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." This serves as Douglass’s main argument in the essay.

In order to support this main claim, Douglass draws on the historical and legislative context of slavery in the United states, from its inception to efforts towards abolition, and uses myriad literary and rhetorical devices to persuade his audience of his claims.

  • For more information on the historical context of Douglass's essay, read our extended analysis of the history of slavery in the United States.
  • For more information on the allusions, imagery, and metaphor used in "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?", read our extended analysis of the literary devices Douglass employs.
  • For more information on the rhetorical devices in the essay, read our extended analysis of how Douglass uses ethos, pathos, and logos for rhetorical effect.

From appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos, as well as potent imagery and metaphors, to biblical allusions, Douglass's "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" not only illustrates some of the best examples of rhetoric in US historical and informative texts but also conveys in unequivocal terms the urgency with which slavery must be abolished.

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Historical Context