Frederick Douglass spoke to Washington, DC in 1876: “We must either have all the rights of American citizens, or we must be exterminated, for we can never again be slaves…” (Foner, 1969, p. 320, as cited in Ballard, 2004, p. 53). This statement concretizes the inhumanity of slavery; its only equal is death. Douglass was born as a slave in Talbot County, Maryland. It was 1818 and slavery already existed for two hundred years in the United States (U. S. ). It took Douglass twenty years, before he escaped slavery.
Before his escape, Douglass surreptitiously learned to read and write, and he soon rose as one of the most eloquent orators of the abolitionists. Using speech premeditated to distress, educate, and sometimes infuriate, Frederick Douglass encouraged the abolitionist movement. Douglass used his speeches to distress people about their prejudice, so that they would be aware of its inequitable and dangerous outcomes. When people were distressed of the realities and results of slavery, they would be more attracted by the principles and goals of the abolitionists. Douglass argued that slavery produces no benefits for the society.
Slavery only leads to ignorance among blacks, which both negatively affects them and the whites. In “The Church and Prejudice,” Douglass asserted: “You degrade us, and then ask why we are degraded–you shut our mouths, and then ask why we don’t speak–you close our colleges and seminaries against us, and then ask why we don’t know more. ” The blacks were disadvantaged by unawareness, while the whites were deprived of intellectual forces that the black people could have provided. In his speeches, Douglass further aimed to speak to both whites and blacks, so that they could feel slavery’s demeaning consequences.
It was his way of using literacy to distribute power among the black people, without disempowering the whites. Lisa Sisco said that Douglass defined literacy as “shifting” as he showed an “understanding of literacy as a system of self-representation… and as an avenue for political representation as he attempts to speak and write for an oppressed people without alienating his white readership” (p. 213 as cited in Ryden, 2005, p. 7). Slavery also compounds prejudice that would have marred a critical victory for the nation during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Douglass criticized how the American government would even imagine being a bigot in times of need, by not recruiting blacks as soldiers. He asked the President of the United States: “…if this dark and terrible hour of the nation’s extremity is a time for consulting a mere vulgar and unnatural prejudice? ” Douglass spoke eloquently about how the blacks had helped the whites to rebel against the government, and so there should be no reason that the government would not employ black people to be soldiers of the state: “Rising above vulgar prejudice, the slaveholding rebel accepts the aid of the black man as readily as that of any other.
If a bad cause can do this, why should a good cause be less wisely conducted? ” He also made a compelling symbolism for a state fighting without the aid of the blacks: “Men in earnest don’t fight with one hand, when they might fight with two, and a man drowning would not refuse to be saved even by a colored hand. ” Through this speech, Douglass distressed the audience into thinking that slavery does not make any sense at all, and only its abolition can protect the state from another secessionist movement and other threats to national security and peace.
Douglass wanted to educate people about the grave failings of slavery through his speeches- slavery reduces people to beasts with no free will or self-control (DeLombard, 2001). If slavery was this immoral, Douglass could compel people to join the abolitionist movement. Slavery turns human beings into creatures of violence or submission, through a dialectical process embedded in the master-slave relationship.
An article compared Douglass’ understanding of slavery to Hegel’s: Hegel “knew about real slaves revolting against real masters, and he elaborated his dialectic of lordship and bondage deliberately within this contemporary context” (Buck-Morss, 2000, p. 844 as cited in Kohn, 2005, p. 498). Douglass’ speeches related the dialectical impacts of slavery to all parties involved. First, slavery dehumanizes slaves. Douglass described the horrendous experiences of slaves under the white man. The verbal and physical abuse could only fit animals. These experiences of the slaves underlined the inhumanity of slavery.
Second, Douglass argued that slavery dehumanizes masters as well. In “The Church and Prejudice,” he provided a fitting example of a slaveholder who acted like a vicious animal. Douglass said that there was a class leader master of the Methodist Church, who preached about deliverance and liberty. However, he also lashed Douglass’ cousin through the same thumbs that prayed, while using the words of the Bible to rationalize his illogical behavior: “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes! ” Douglass also educated people about the ills of prejudice on the protection of civil rights and liberties.
In “What the Black Man Wants,” Douglass explained that black people have suffrage rights, simply because as human beings they do: “We want it because it is our right, first of all. No class of men can, without insulting their own nature, be content with any deprivation of their rights. ” By asserting these rights, Douglass motivated people to believe that all human beings have human rights, so they would support the civil rights and freedoms that the abolitionist movement fought for. Douglass used his speeches to infuriate people into action, into destroying every form and face of slavery.
In the speech “The Church and Prejudice,” Douglass narrated his experiences of religious bigotry: “[A minister looked to the door, where the blacks were and breathed heavily] Come up, colored friends, come up! for you know God is no respecter of persons! ” This is an example of a speech that enraged people to question the sanity of slavery, when even “men of the altar” acted like beasts. This speech also uses humor to depict the dark comedy of slavery (Ganter, 2003). How can God differentiate between colored and white people? They are His children, are they not?
Douglass also infuriated people by illustrating the bleakness of slavery and its different forms. In “What the black man wants,” Douglass defended the right of the colored people to choose employment: “…when any individual or combination of individuals undertakes to decide for any man when he shall work, where he shall work, at what he shall work, and for what he shall work,” it is still a form of slavery. By underlining how the government and white people preserved slavery even after the Declaration of Independence, Douglass enraged people to eradicate slavery.
Douglass also incensed the people in his Fourth of July speech delivered in Rochester on July 5, 1852, where he assaulted the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. David W. Blight stressed that the attack came with Douglass repetitions of a harmless word, yours (p. 75 as cited in Ramsey, 2007, p. 29). Douglass said: “This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. ” The word “your” aimed to “alienate his audience as America has alienated him” (Ramsey, 2007, p. 29).
Douglass aggravated listeners by enunciating that there was no real independence, only social exclusion and neglect: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. ” Douglass’ rhetorical tactic meant to aggressively plead, by transferring the feeling of how the nation had abandoned him to listeners, so that they too would feel how difficult and iniquitous it was to be “orphaned” (Ramsey, 2007, p. 29; Waymer& Heath, 2007). His ending for speech emphasized his anger and resentment. He asked people to find another place that had been as vicious as the U.
S. in upturning civil liberties and freedoms: “for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival. ” This speech angered people to feel that racism brutally orphaned the whole society, and it was time to abolish slavery and its emerging forms. Douglass used the power of the spoken word to distress, educate, and sometimes infuriate, so that people would be persuaded to join the abolitionist movement. His speeches aroused emotions and intellectual understanding, which maximize logos and pathos as rhetorical strategies.
By combining these strategies, Douglass could reach out to as many hearts and minds as possible- in either side of the color line. His earnest aim was to change attitudes and behavior toward the colored race and the idea of freedom and humanity. Douglass’ speeches have effectively expressed his core vision of society, a society of free and equal whites and blacks. References Ballard, B. J. (2004). Frederick Douglass and the ideology of resistance. Critical Review of International Social & Political Philosophy, 7 (4), 51-75. DeLombard, J. (2001).
‘Eye-witness to the cruelty’: Southern violence and northern testimony in Frederick Douglass’s American Literature, 73 (2), 245-275. Douglass, F. (1841). The church and prejudice. Retrieved from http://www. frederickdouglass. org/speeches/ _______. (1852). “What to the slave is the 4th of July? ” Retrieved from http://www. freemaninstitute. com/douglass. htm _______. (1861). Fighting rebels with only one hand. Retrieved from http://www. frederickdouglass. org/speeches/ _______. (1865). What the black man wants. Retrieved from http://www. frederickdouglass. org/speeches/ Ganter, G. (2003).
“He made us laugh some”: Frederick Douglass’s humor. African American Review, 37 (4), 535-552. Kohn, M. (2005). Frederick Douglass’s master-slave dialectic. Journal of Politics, 67 (2), 497-514. Ramsey, W. M. (2007). Frederick Douglass, Southerner. Southern Literary Journal, 40 (1), 19-38. Ryden, W. (2005). Conflicted literacy: Frederick Douglass’s critical model. Journal of Basic Writing, 24 (1), 4-23. Waymer, D. & Heath, R. (2007). Non-profit activist public relations and the paradox of the positive: A case study of Frederick Douglass’ “Fourth of July Address. ” National Communication Association, Conference, 1-39.
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