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Frederick Douglass Fight For Freedom History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In his speech, The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, Frederick Douglass enforces his main concept of inequality in the nation and the cruelty of slavery. Douglass endured a rough childhood of slavery in Maryland without the presence or help from his parents. From the very beginning of his life, Douglass knew nothing about the whereabouts of his father nonetheless who he was and barely ever saw his mother. During a tough period of a nation infested with segregation and inequality, Douglass applied to his master to have the right to find work for himself. During employment, he concocted a plan to escape slavery. After a successful getaway, Douglass assisted the Underground Railroad. At this time, the country was in great need of change. Certain historical events that occurred during the time period, such as the Compromise of 1850, and Douglass’s rugged life experiences as a slave are applied to help frame the speech and convey how African Americans feel on Independence Day. Through a tone progressing from earnest to inflammatory and the use of rhetorical questions, biblical allusions, and puns, the delivery of The Hypocrisy of American Slavery effectively brings forth an awareness of the deterioration of the nation, the inequality between races and reveals how African Americans are affected by the harsh treatment they receive to help persuade the audience that slavery must be abolished.

The Compromise of 1850 and Douglass’s life as a slave during this time are important factors that help shape Douglass’s speech. To help please the nation, The Compromise of 1850 was passed in an attempt to abolish and control slavery. The document states that “it is inexpedient to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia whilst that institution continues to exist in the State of Maryland…” (“Compromise”). This affected Douglass negatively as well as other states in America because as long as Maryland accepted slavery, other places were not allowed to abolish it. To Douglass, this was unfair and contributed to his reasoning on why he spoke to the public emphasizing the need of a free nation. Douglass lived a good part of his life in Maryland and had to endure the challenging life of a slave because he did not live in a free state. As a child, Frederick Douglass did not get to live a luxury life like whites. In an excerpt from his novel he writes “I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night” (“Frederick”, “Being”). Douglass never got to have a relationship with his parents thus forcing him to grow up faster. In effect, it made him a stronger person in the end. He got split up from his mother because of silly things like the color of his skin. Later in his speech, Douglass references these silly things by referring to America as a blacker nation which is a pun between race and the status of the nation. The African Americans of the audience are captivated by the speech as they relate to the common struggles endured. Also, Douglass was educated about religion when he was young which explicated his frequent use of biblical allusions. He states that “…if their increase do no other good, it will do away the force of the argument, that God cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right” (“Frederick”, “Being”). Things pertaining to God were always present in his life which explains his use of biblical allusions. These biblical references appealed to his audience that comprised of Christians. Also, the irrelevant claims towards why slavery is acceptable are recognized. All of this information about history and Douglass’s life are important components when understanding Douglass’s purpose for giving his speech.

Douglass’s experiences of suffering and mistreatment along with being asked by the leading citizens of Rochester on Independence Day led him to his exigency. He passionately expresses his feelings about the life he endured during slavery in an excerpt of the narrative of his life:

I say, let him place himself in my situation- without home or friends- without money or credit- wanting shelter, and no one to give it- wanting bread, and no money to buy it, – and at the same time let him feel that he is pursued by merciless men-hunter, and in total darkness as to what to do, where to go, or where to stay,- perfectly helpless both as to the means of defense and means of escape,- in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawings of hunger,- in the midst of houses, yet having no home,- among fellow-men, yet feeling as if in the midst of wild beasts, whose greediness to swallow up the trembling and half-famished fugitive is only equaled by that with which the monsters of the deep swallow up the helpless fish upon which they subside,- I say, let him be placed in this most trying situation,- the situation in which I was placed,- then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave. (“Frederick”, “Narrative”)

At this point in his life it is evident that he is already fed up with the struggles of hunger and homelessness along with the rights he was not able to enjoy. Frederick Douglass was finally ready to speak his mind to the dark world. Another reason for his exigency is the concept of freedom. Frederick Douglass was all for Lincolns “platform…free soil, free men, and free labor” (“Abolition”). Knowing that could possibly become the outcome of his efforts, he was quickly enthused to deliver his speech. The overall concept that drove him to give the speech was the possibility of a better future for him as well as the entire nation and to persuade his audience at Corinthian Hall in Rochester that slavery must be abolished.

Douglass begins with an earnest tone and polite diction to appeal to his audience’s feelings and uses rhetorical questions to get everyone thinking about the issues between the nation’s need of freedom and equality. At the start of his speech he declares “Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerably by the jubilant shouts the reach them?” (Douglass). Douglass uses nice words that contrast with harsh words like fellow citizens, to ease the seriousness of the critical references to slavery. Rhetorical questions were incorporated into his speech to make his audience feel accountable for the greatly needed equality and freedom in the nation. Most importantly, he asks “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” (Douglass). This one question forces everyone to think about what rights exist in the nation and who they are extended to. Also, Frederick Douglass became fed up with the inequality of the nation because of race. He expresses that “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn” (Douglass). He feels very strongly about the indifference of the nation and its status between the freedom and rights extended to all people. Douglass brings up a valid point that the Declaration guarantees the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and that slaves are not all blacks are privileged to enjoy these. Douglass’s first half of his speech captivated his audience and enabled him to shift to more serious matters.

The speech soon shifts to a vexed tone as Douglass explicates the obstacles of slavery and uses biblical references to point out the injustice of the mistreatment of slaves. Douglass becomes irritated when he complains “Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood and stained with pollution is wrong? No – I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply” (Douglass). Douglass progressively becomes more passionate with his words as he becomes annoyed. He states here that it is ridiculous for people to not understand how seriously wrong slavery is and hopes it is a wakeup call to everybody. Next, he uses biblical references to relate to the audience. When mentioning the act of selfish men that would not rejoice when slaves are free, he implies that “I am not that man. In case that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart”” (Douglass). The meaning behind this biblical reference is that a man is healed by God and then leaps like a deer. Douglass acknowledges that he would be the one to rejoice when slaves were finally free. Certain references that come from the Bible relate to everyone because it points out the mistreatment of slaves and reminds everyone that God would not approve of this injustice. Both his tone and his references have transformed to be more harsh and unpleasant.

Lastly, the tone is shifted to sound inflammatory and Douglass uses puns in order to point out the status of the nation due to race. Douglass’s tone becomes bombastic towards his audience when he begins to bring up similarities between blacks and whites to prove that they are equal. He implies “…that we are engaged in all the enterprises common to other men-digging gold in California, …feeding …cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in the families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian God…-we are called upon to prove that we are men?” (Douglass). Douglass’s inductive argument continues to incorporate references to God and rhetorical questions. These things repetitively remind the audience to think of what they can do to change the nation because God would not approve of such behavior. Finally, Douglass cleverly incorporates a pun into his speech. He reasons “I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July” (Douglass). He cunningly uses “blacker” to reference race as well as the shadowing darkness the nation lies under. Usually puns are used for comic relief; this one is not. Frederick Douglass effectively conveys his message to his audience by all three of those rhetorical strategies along with his change in tone.

Douglass’s remarkable speech led to many accomplishments like abolitionist movements with William Lloyd Garrison as well as contributions to the Emancipation Proclamation. In the end, the Thirteenth Amendment was passed which completely abolished slavery in all of America. With the efforts of Garrison and the delivery of Douglass’s speech, life in America was greatly impacted. It is recorded that “In 1841, Garrison hired Frederick Douglass, a former slave, as an agent for the society. Douglass was an immediate success on the lecture circuit, first in the North and later on a six-month tour of meeting halls throughout the American West” (“Abolition”). Both men teamed together and became a successful duo. Douglass and Garrison started successful abolition movements in the North and rattled the South. Soon after, propaganda in the South arose. It is concluded that “When Lincoln was elected, the South saw him as a threat to Southern institutions and resorted to secession. And the Civil War began” (“Abolition”). It can be assumed that the efforts of Douglass and Lincoln began the Civil War. The war led to an outcome of abolishing slavery for which Douglass speech will always be remembered. Finally, “In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves in the Southern secessionist states free. Two years later, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude” shall exist in the United States, was ratified, and the abolitionists finally had their victory” (“Abolition”). The country finally saw change and began to lighten up. Slavery was finally abolished as an effect of the hard work of Garrison, Lincoln, and Douglass. Most importantly, Douglass’s efforts will always be remembered because it caused an unforgettable change in America.

Frederick Douglass was an outstanding man with great character and strong beliefs. He did not care what others would think of him and stood strongly for what he believed and knew was right. The struggles of being a slave child shaped him to be the man he turned out to be. Also, historical events including the Compromise of 1850, shaped the phenomenal speech he gave on July 4th, 1852. By using rhetorical questions, biblical allusions, and puns, Douglass effectively conveyed his message that the freedom of slaves all around America was essential and that the nation was unhealthy, unjust, and slowly deteriorating as time progressed. Another key element he incorporated were shifts in tone. Douglass starts off nice and not over bearing but evolves to a bombastic tone. The legacy of his speech will forever be remembered because of the astounding things it caused including but not limited to abolitionist movements, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and most importantly the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. If it were not for the hard work of Frederick Douglass, slavery may not have been abolished to this day.

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