Ralph Waldo Emerson Self- reliance (1841)


Frederick Douglass What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? Background



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Frederick Douglass

  • What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

Background

  • The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man
  • Born in February of 1818 as "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey“
  • Escaped from slavery and married Anna Murray in 1938, he changed his name to Frederick Douglass
  • He became a speaker for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society
  • William Lloyd Garrison became his mentor, but later would disagree him Garrison on issues such as the constitution and the dissolution of the Union
  • Douglass wrote an autobiography titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written By Himself in 1845
  • He also published his own four page weekly paper called the North Star
  • He conferred with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and recruited northern blacks for the Union Army. After the War he fought for the rights of women and African Americans alike.
  • He passed away in 1895
  • In 1852, he was invited to give a speech celebrating the Fourth of July.

The celebration of the Fourth of July is hypocritical and contradictory.

    • “Fellow-Citizens Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak her today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”
    • “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.”
    • “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
    • “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 cruelly to which he is the constant 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 denunciations 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 these United States, at this very hour.”

Slavery is unjust and against the Constitution. I should not have to argue this point.

    • “What point in the anti-slavery creed would you like me to argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light?”
    • “Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
    • “Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slave-holders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of these same crimes will subject a white man to like punishment.”

Freedmen have proven themselves just as capable as white men. They deserve liberty.

    • “For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!”

The time for persuasive arguing that slavery is wrong has passed, now is the time for the harsh reality.

    • “Oh had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.”
    • “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
  • My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
  •  
  • Frederick Douglass
  •  
  • MAIN POINTS:
  •  
  • 1. Slavery dehumanizes by destroying the family unit. It undermining family values of both slaves and slave owners.
  •  
  • The practice of separating children from their mother, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.
  •  
  • …My poor mother, like many other slave-women, had many children, but NO FAMILY!
  •  
  • Slavery has no use for fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation.
  •  
  • He [the master] can be father without being a husband, and may sell his child without incurring reproach, if the child be by a woman in whose veins courses one thirty-second part of African blood.
  •  
  • …[T]he fact remains, in all its odiousness, that, by the laws of slavery, children, in all cases, are reduced to the condition of their mothers. This arrangement admits of the greatest license to brutal slaveholders, and their profligate sons, brothers, relations and friends, and gives to the pleasure of sin, the additional attraction of profit.
  • My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
  •  Frederick Douglass
  • 2. Education of slaves was dangerous to slave owners because it empowered slaves and could possibly lead to their freedom.
  •  
  • Mr. Auld promptly forbade continuance of her instruction; telling her, in the first place, that the thing itself was unlawful; that it was also unsafe, and could only lead to mischief. (Douglass’ masters’ response to his wife teaching Douglass to read the Bible)
  •  
  • …If you learn him now to read, he’ll want to know how to write; and, this accomplished, he’ll be running away with himself.
  •  
  • It was a new and special revelation, dispelling a painful mystery, against which my youthful understanding had struggled, and struggled in vain, to wit: the white man’s power to perpetuate the enslavement of the black man. “Very well,” thought I; “knowledge unfits a child to be a slave.” I instinctively assented to the proposition; and from that moment I understood the direct pathway from slavery to freedom…
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 
  •  
  • 1813- Harriet Ann Jacobs is born
  • 1819- Harriet’s mother dies and she realizes she is a slave
  • 1825- Harriet Jacobs mistress dies and she becomes the slave to Dr. Flint’s 3 year old daughter
  • 1828- Dr. flint begins to harass Harriet and tries to sexually take advantage of her
  • 1829- Harriet and Mr. Sands son is born and the baby and Harriet move in with her grandmother
  • 1831- Harriet and Mr. Sands daughter is born
  • 1835- Harriet escapes and goes into hiding in the attic of her grandmothers house
  • 1842- Harriet Jacobs escapes to the North
  • 1844- Harriet moves to Boston with her 2 children
  • 1849- Harriet moves to Rochester, New York, while Dr. Flint’s daughter continues searching for her
  • 1852- Harriet finds out her owner is in New York, so she flees to California to join her brother. She becomes free when Cornelia Willis, her employer and friend, buys her freedom for $300
  • 1853- Harriet’s grandmother dies; she begins to write about her experiences in anonymous letters to a New York paper. Later she starts her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
  • 1858- She finishes her book, and travels to England to try to sell her story
  • 1861- Harriet’s book is published
  • 1897- Harriet Jacobs dies on March 7, in Washington D.C.
  •  
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 
  • Main Points:
  •  
  • 1) A slave was property and no legal rights, and therefore a slave could not go against their master’s will, even sexual affairs.
  •  
    • But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him---where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of my nature. He told me I was his property; that I must subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, for violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men.
  • 2) The people in the North would not ever believe what was taking place in the South, and they would not put up with it.
  •  
    • Surely, if you credited one half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless millions suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own soil, the mean and cruel work which trained bloodhounds and the lowest class of whites do for him at the south.
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 
  • Main Points:
  • 3) The mistress will end up hating the slave girl the most. If a slave is beautiful, jealousy and hatred could make her a victim of her slave owner.
  •  
    • She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s footfall. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That whish commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave.
  •  
  • 4) Sex between master and slave represent unequal power relationship, which is often exploited to the benefit of the master and the detriment of the slave.
    • My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mothers grave, his dark shadow fell on me even there. The light heart which nature had given me became heavy with sad forebodings........
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 
  • Main Points:
  • 5) A slave had no recourse against violations, and was often in a situation of isolation and loneliness.
    • I longed for some one to confide in…..But Mr. Flint swore he would kill me, if I was not as silent as the grave. Then although my grandmother was all in all to me, I feared her as well as loved her…..I was very young and felt shamefaced about telling her such impure things, especially as I knew her to be very strict on such subjects.
  •  
  •  
  • 6) The wives of the slave owners often also suffered from the unequal relations between their slave-master husbands and his female slaves. Moreover, she often blamed the slave for her husband’s infidelity.
  •  
    • I had entered my sixteenth year, and every day it became more apparent that my presence was intolerable to Mrs. Flint. Angry words frequently passed between her and her husband. He had never punished me himself, and he would not allow any body else to punish me. In that respect, she was never satisfied; but, in her angry moods, no terms were to vile for her to bestow upon me. Yet I, whom she detested so bitterly, had far more pity for her than he had, whose duty it was to make her life happy. I never wronged her; and one word of kindness from her would have brought me to her feet…
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 
  • Main Points: 
  • 7) Southern woman often looked at her husbands-slave children as unwanted objects, who didn’t deserve any special treatment, and might preferably be sold.
  •  
    • …..Southern woman often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation; and it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into the slave-trader’s hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of their sight.


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