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.

from Frederick Douglass – What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? on Rap Genius

Meaning

Here begins the central, titular passage of the speech. Historian Philip S. Foner has called this section “the most moving passage in all of Douglass' speeches” (Selected Speeches, 188). From the perspective of the slave (or former slave), the meaning of the 4th of July and the larger meanings of American identity and history which it celebrates are ironic.

Aside from pointing out the hypocrisy of American antebellum celebrations of freedom and democracy, this rhetorical turn from a celebration of the 4th of July and American independence to an argument for the emancipation of African-American slaves aligns a general patriotic audience with the highly divisive cause of abolition at the time.

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