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Frederick Douglass


									Frederick Douglass, “What to
  the Slave is the Fourth of
                     Delivered July 5th, 1852
                          Corinthian Hall
                      Rochester, New York

• Rochester Ladies’ Antislavery Society of Rochester
• 500-600 people, 12 1/2 cents each
• FD letter to Gerrit Smith: 2-3 weeks of preparation (cf. opening:
  “no elaborate preparation”; “I have been able to throw my
  thoughts hastily and imperfectly together”)
• Prayer; reading of the Declaration; speech; “universal burst of

John W. Blassingame, ed. The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One. Speeches, Debates,
    and Interviews. Vol. 2. 1847-54. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. 359-88.
• Request for publication
  in pamphlet form
• 700 “subscriptions” on
  the occasion
• Published in Frederick
  Douglass’ Paper
  (formerly the North
  Star), 9 July 1852.
  Issue 29, col. D: “The
  Celebration at
  Corinthian Hall”
   The structure of the speech
• Douglass’ headings
    –   [Intro]
    –   The Internal Slave Trade Internal Slavery
    –   Religious Liberty
    –   The Church Responsible
    –   Religion in England and Religion in America
    –   The Constitution

• Three parts (Blight): “three essential rhetorical moves”
    – Setting patriotic Americans at ease
    – “Bitter critique”
    – Ending with hope
      Another way to think about structure:
from Cicero, De Oratore (On the Ideal Orator, 1st
                century B.C.E.)

   • exordium – introduction; exhorts (calls to) people to
     attend to the speaker’s presence and themes

   • narratio – the story or historical context for the issue
     under discussion

   • confirmatio – the case being made: what is argued

   • refutatio – refuting counter arguments: what do people
     say against the position and how are they wrong

   • peroration – the “outside” of the oration: the conclusion
       Ethos, structure, irony
• Caleb Bingham’s Columbian Orator (1797): rhetorical
  instruction focused on delivery, not “disposition”
• Douglass would have learned inductively: by reading
• Douglass refers to but inverts or treats ironically almost
  every structural element of the classical oration
• [irony: incongruity or discordance between what is
  expected and the state of things]
• This inversion of expectations contributes to the central
  irony of his situation as speaker: “why am I called upon to
  speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do
  with your national independence?” (155).
• Irony rather than argument: “At a time like this, scorching
  irony, not convincing argument is needed” (158).
                  Exordium (¶ 1-3):
• Douglass: I won’t “grace my
  speech with any high
  sounding exordium” (148).
• Little learning
• Modesty trope - a
• BUT consider the rhetorical
  questions: Who speaks? To
  whom? (slavery, race,
• Distance: “between this
  platform and the slave
  plantation, from which I
  escaped” (148)
 Narratio: the story, historical context (¶4-31; 149-56)

• Occasion, exigence (situation): what calls forth the rhetorical
  act? What genre is required?
   – 4th of July celebration: epideictic (ceremonial, occasional)
   – Slavery: abolitionist advocacy (deliberative, toward changes
     in policy)
• Time: past, present, and future
   – The childhood of the Republic of America - hope,
     consolation: “Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might
     be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier” (149). MLK, Jr.,
     “I Have Dream” August 1963: “the tranquilizing drug of
   – Geological time: analogy of nation to river
   – A “simple story” -- well-known: “as a people, Americans are
     remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own
     favor: a national trait, a national weakness” (154)
A way of viewing time becomes an argument: the time
 of ceremony is redefined: from static principles and
     “simple story” to precarious chain of destiny

• Narratio as argument
• “Just here . . . Was a startling idea born” (151): the
   novel, inaugural quality of the Declaration
• An uncompleted project: “The 4th of July is the first
   great fact in your nation’s history--the very ring-bolt in
   the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny” (152).
• “The Declaration of Independence is the Ring-Bolt to
   the chain of your nation’s destiny . . . Stand by those
   principles” (152)
• “That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost”
   (152). The ship of state imperiled: crisis
    Ethos, time, and the founding fathers
• The most obvious feature of Douglass’ ethos is dis-identification
  with “Americans”: “your National Independence” (149)

• My thesis: Despite the many overt moves to differentiate
  himself from the audience--to create distance--Douglass forges
  identification with the founding fathers and his abolitionist
  audience by emphasizing the courageous character of American
  revolutionaries in the moment. He seeks to persuade the
  listeners to accept his chronology and take responsibility for
  realizing in their own moment the uncompleted project launched
  by the Declaration by acting against slavery.

• “To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against
  the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! Here
   lies the merit” (150).
   Standpoint - distance reconsidered
 “The point from which I am compelled to
              view them . . .” (152)

Distance creates authority: D. moves from “living
  evidence” (supplicant, informant) in the Narrative to
  instructor on fidelity to the principles of the
  Declaration: “stand by those principles . . . At
  whatever cost” (152)
And yet, “I will unite with you to honor their memory”
  (152): an oscillation between division and
       Identification through style
• A scene “simple, dignified, and sublime” (152(
• “They were peace men . . .”: antithesis
• “Their statesmanship looked beyond the
  passing moment, and stretched away in
  strength into the distant future” (153).
• The national superstructure rising in grandeur
  around you: “Fully appreciating . . ., firmly
  believing . . .” (153)
 Competing visions: the static edifice vs.
    the storm-tossed ship of state
• “ My business is with the present . . . the
  ever-living now” “Now is the time, the
  important time” “ You must live and must die,
  and you must do your work” (¶29, 154).
• Washington’s monument built “by the price of
  human blood,” yet Washington “broke the
  chains” of his slaves (155).
• Enlightenment principles performed rather
  than asserted
    Sharp reminders of distance/division
Genealogical (154)
Legal/civic (155)

• “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine” (156)
         “to drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple
   of liberty . . . sere sacrilegious irony” (156)
• Why I am called upon to speak? “By the rivers of Babylon . . .”
   (156) -- Psalms 137: 1-6: the captive forced to sing
• Douglass’s performance is not a command performance of the
   captive but an act of political freedom in the moment; an act of
     Confirmatio merged with narratio and refutatio:
 epideictic speech becomes deliberative, but argument
        (properly speaking) is “reversed” or denied
• “My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I
  shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the
  slave’s point of view.” (156)
• “America is false to the past . . . present . . . and future” (¶32;
• “But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say . . . argue
  more, denounce less; persuade more, rebuke less . . .” (157)
• “Where all is plain there is nothing to be argued.”
   – My thesis continued: Douglass declines to make an
      argument. He can do so because of his identification with an
      abolitionist audience. The fact that he proceeds to make
      arguments contributes to the ironic quality of the speech.
   What does not need to be argued:
• 1. The slave is a man: legal evidence
        “We” are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of
          mechanical tools . . .
        Douglass’s identification (1st person plural) with “the negro
          race”; the rhetoric of the list (157)
• 2. The slave owns his/her body -- “natural right to freedom”
  does not need the devices of argument (158): “There is not a
  man [sic] beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know
  that slavery is wrong for him” (158).
• 1. Internal slave trade
       “Behold” - enargeia: bringing vividly before the
  eyes; human as animal (horse, sheep, swine)
       Douglass’ narrative: Why here? How different
  from the autobiography?
• 2. Fugitive Slave Law (162); “religious liberty” - the
  fusion of religious and civic identities
       The law as a “declaration of war”: religion as “an
  empty ceremony, and not a vital principle requiring
  active benevolence, justice, love and good will
  towards man” (163).
      Confirmation continued
• 3. The church as bulwark of slavery: criticism of
  Northern ministers who teach that “we ought to obey
  man’s law before the law of God” (165).

• 4. “National inconsistency”: comparing national
  religious practices

• 4. Constitution as “glorious liberation document”
• Garrison’s position: abolitionists should not vote
  because America’s government was pro-slavery;
  rejection of a corrupt political process; freedom in the
  north for blacks did not grant voting rights
• Douglass, 1851: refusing to pursue the vote is
  acquiescing in discrimination; joined the Liberty and
  Free Soil parties to get emancipation before major
  political leaders; the oppressed should participate in
  the political process
     Peroration (¶63-64; 169-71)
• He still has hope for the country: drawing
  encouragement from the Declaration of
  Independence in the context of
• “walled cities and empires have become
  unfashionable” (170)
• Ethiopianism -- an Africanist African-
  American philosophy
• Garrisonian sentiments: bonds across
  division within abolitionist movement
    Declarations in Dialogue
• A text becomes an intertext: circulation,
  imitation, warrant
• Republic of letters: public and private
  spheres, counterpublics (social
  movements; advocacy)
• The redefinition of the human: who will
  count as “man”
21st-century publics: new genres, new
                                     Rhetoric is your friend
Rhetorical questions will help you as a writer in any context: Who
  speaks? To whom? In what situation? In what genre(s)? For what
   purpose? In what styles?

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