What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

by Frederick Douglass

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Are there apocalyptic references in "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"?

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Apocalyptic images or references are those which come from the biblical book of Revelation. This book foretells an end time in which a beast under the rule of Satan will enter into a final conflict with the Christ, the lamb of God. This will be the ultimate battle between good and evil. Christ will win. The many people who worship the beast and come under the rule of Satan will be cast into hell. God will then merge heaven and earth, wipe all tears away, and rule his followers directly.

Douglass laces his speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" with frequent Biblical references and warnings, but he refers specifically to the book of Revelation and the apocalypse in the quote below:

Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Douglass is identifying the Satanic beast with the institution of slavery. He suggests Satan has infiltrated and insinuated his way into a land that is supposed to be dedicated to freedom and built on a Christian foundation. He calls slavery "a horrible reptile ...nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic," an image which evokes the idea that this beast will soon attack the tender flesh of the nation and eat it alive.

The apocalyptic imagery of Satan lying coiled at the breast of the nation and feeding from it is a frightening reminder to listeners of what happens to those who worship the beast: they will end up in the pit of hell. Instead of nursing evil, Douglass says, the country should crush slavery for once and for all.

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