What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

by Frederick Douglass
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What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? Rhetorical Analysis Activity

by eNotes

  • Released February 11, 2020
  • Language Arts, History, and Literature subjects
  • 12 pages
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This activity gives students an opportunity to practice examining and analyzing rhetorical appeals. Effective appeals address all aspects of the rhetorical situation in any text or speech: the speaker, the audience, and the message. With this rhetorical situation in mind, Aristotle sought a means to most effectively convey ideas. He identified three general persuasive strategies, known as appeals, that address the three elements of the rhetorical situation: ethos, the appeal to the speaker’s authority; pathos, the appeal to the audience’s emotions; and logos, the appeal to the message’s logic. In completing this activity, students will be able to examine and analyze Aristotle’s three rhetorical appeals in order to evaluate works of rhetoric and the techniques they employ.

On July 5th, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at the request of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association. By then Douglass was one of the leading figures of the abolitionist movement, and so he used the occasion to speak about slavery. Though Douglass at first discusses the legacy of the American Revolution in generous terms, he then explores the conflict of celebrating liberty at a time when slavery looms large in the United States. He personalizes the conflict, pointing out the tension he experiences as an African American asked to commemorate the Fourth of July. Douglass employs rhetorical appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos in order to convey his powerful criticisms of American slavery and all who support it.

Skills: analysis, close reading, drawing inferences from a text, examining the impact of diction on audience

Learning Objectives:

In completing this activity, students will

  • examine appeals in a text;
  • classify appeals in a text as ethos, pathos, or logos;
  • distinguish the methods that make the appeal effective;
  • evaluate how the appeal contributes to the overall message.


Our eNotes Classroom Activities give students opportunities to practice developing a variety of skills. Whether analyzing literary devices or interpreting connotative language, students will work directly with the text. The main components of our classroom activities include the following:

  • A handout defining the literary elements under discussion, complete with examples
  • A step-by-step guide to activity procedure
  • An answer key or selected examples for reference, depending on the activity

In completing these classroom activities, students will be able to classify and analyze different literary elements, thereby developing close-reading skills and drawing deeper inferences from the text.