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“What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Among many in Frederick Douglass’s speech, this sentence demonstrates, through his narrative, the shame of slavery in the United States. His effective use of ethos, pathos, logos and proper use of certain standards made this speech very persuasive and powerful.

The effectiveness of his speech began by him giving credit to our “fathers” and all they did to declare independence in the United States. Passage 22 through 24 all discuss what great and brave men our fathers were. “Fellow citizens, I do not want in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age.” These passages end with Douglass stating, “Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.” This is effective because he does not seem to be complaining about what horrible people these men were. Instead, he states facts through his narrative, which builds upon his credibility and his direct experience through his years as a slave.

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He appeals to emotion throughout the entire speech; whether he is discussing a personal experience or a fact, he tells it to evoke empathy for himself, our fathers, or our country’s other members. The passage that discussed a mother and child is a good example of this. It states, “Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! Weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn!” Any person, slave or not, white or black, can identify on some level with a situation of this sort.

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He seems to have a certain gravitas and courage as his foundation and tone. It’s as if he knows people will listen to what he has to say no matter what is. He also had a certain form of gentleness by not directly accusing people of the wrongfulness of slavery right away. He doesn’t make it as though he feels that people should pay for what they did to the African Americans. He instead complements them on our independence and that people should be happy and proud of our fathers’ accomplishments. This is how he sets the common ground for the rest of his speech. He allows the audience to trust him and what he has to say by not being accusatory. He then can discuss his experience and other aspects, like the slave trade and all else that is wrong with the legalization and usage of slaves.

I liked how he kept asking the audience questions. He stated, “What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that a slave is a man?” He uses enthymemes or incomplete arguments to get the audience thinking and keep them on their toes, so to speak. This is an excellent means of persuasion for any speech. Along with this, his narrative contains both material and characterological coherence in that it fits with other narratives from slaves and, due to his credibility, is believable and identifiable. He has a sense of fidelity within his words, which makes him angry at the way he and others were treated. It was unfair, and he wants to make sure that everyone knows how he feels.

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I thought the genre of this narrative was effective through its style in that he seemed humble and courageous. He had every right to be angry about the issue of slavery, but he remained well-tempered even when he discussed the wrongfulness of it. He was able to draw common ground for the audience, which was done a great deal through his reference to religion and the Bible’s stories. Along with this, he concludes with a feeling of hope. “I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” So Douglass goes full circle with his speech, which is an important step in making it persuasive and coherent.

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