‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’: Frederick Douglass Speaks

Fellow Citizens,

I am not wanting 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 frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory….

…pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national wilmington 2independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him?…

…But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, Selma 3rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!…

…Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, 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 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting.

America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to ferguson1perpetuate slavery the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just…

…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 lynch5constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and lync1despotism of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival….


3 thoughts on “‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’: Frederick Douglass Speaks”


    In a war the first thing our adversary does is take what yours and make it theirs so for no other reason than because of what the 4th of July means to our adversary I say we take it from them and make it yours.

    For those of us left standing I recommend that we take the 4th of July to celebrate the fact that we are not locked down doing 75 years to life, homeless or unmercifully depending on the generosity of strangers.

    In as much as black people are under siege in this country the 4th of July can mean to us and denote that if we are free, independent and have not been swept up by the evil forces that roam the streets day and night like slave catchers looking to take us down then for black people this is the most exciting time to be alive.

    I advocate that we commemorate the 4th as our freedom from the slave catchers and for the black people such as ourselves that is doing for self and successfully staying off the radar..

    1. Brother I would not be too hasty in such an early celebration from the slave catcher. Nor would I want to celebrate escaping the evils, and perils of this world as an African American, while there are so many who cannot say the same. Whether they were slain by drugs, violence, economic castration or indifference.

      There was a section in Hidden Colors 2, where one of the commentators discussed antique shopping. How one could buy things of the past from differing eras. One thing he noted is, you could not find the outfits of the Klu Klux Klan. The ones they wore when they went out committing domestic terrorism. There were no places to his knowledge or mine where you could buy an outfit, nor could one find them in the trash.

      The only reasonable explanation left is that they were held onto as keepsakes, for those who shared in the barbaric ideology. Those who carried the mentality of the slave catcher traded their whips for hooded masks and burning crosses. Now the time has come and they have traded in their hoods for suits and ties, police badges, and judicial robes. Evil does not simply go away but take another form.

      I do not want to take away your zeal, but hope that you keep an open mind to all options that avail themselves to African-Americans. I would dare to say taking the Fourth of July would garner no more respect for us as a people than taking the N-word and using it as a term of endearment.

    2. Brother we have nothing to celebrate on the 4th of July! We better be getting organized to save our people we better be getting an understanding of the term Black First!! We are not free, so we must fight until we are free. And free indeed Trust and Believe Truth has come to you~

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