Many of the world's biggest milestones begin with passionate individuals speaking up with their inspiring speeches to spark change. Without resilient men and women who rose against the prejudices America faced from the first settlers and beyond, America would not be at its current state today. Although racism is still present in the modern day, America has made tremendous progress towards equal rights from the Civil War and Reconstruction era. One major example of an inspiring orator would be Frederick Douglass and his speech, "What to the Slave if the Fourth of July" given on July 5th, 1852 to an audience of privileged Americans and abolitionists of slavery. Douglass strategically incorporates literary devices such as ethos, pathos, and logos in his speech, so he can persuade his audience to act against the injustices African-Americans face and, be recognized as citizens of their free nation.
To begin, Frederick Douglass effectively captures the trust of his audience in the beginning of his speech by establishing his credibility, or ethos. Through his tone and his ability to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, Douglass effectively establishes himself as a trustworthy man. Douglass's candid tone is of someone who self-aware. He states in the beginning of his speech, "should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me," (Douglass 1) which reveals a sense of vulnerability to the audience. In addition, he relays an appreciative tone by stating "that I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude" (Douglass 1). His self-awareness and vulnerability are important to be established in the introduction; he conveys to the audience that if he is open and honest with his feelings from the start of his speech, then his speech is one that comes from an open and honest man. Therefore, the audience is more likely to trust him. In addition, Douglass's gratefulness is also important because it reflects to the audience that he is a humble man that does not loosely take advantage of the opportunities he has worked tirelessly for; therefore, it relays to the audience that his speech is of high importance. Douglass further strengthens his credibility by referring to the credibility of the Founding Fathers. He states, "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" (Douglass 3). By acknowledging the accomplishments and importance of the Founding Fathers, it reflects the audience that Douglass is honorable since some people tend to only boast about themselves and undermine other people's credibility. Compared to his white counterparts, Douglass is naturally looked down upon compared to his white counterparts, it is important for the audience to see him as highly trustworthy, humble, and honorable. In other words, he must work harder than most privileged people to gain his credibility and respect. Despite his hardship as a slave and successes as a human rights advocate, he will still be looked down upon because of the color of his skin. But because he created a lasting first impression, his audience is bound to trust him, and further help abolishes slavery. To further enhance his captivating credibility, Douglass also effectively grasps the emotional appeal of his audience and further helps influences the American people to work towards more equality through the states.
To expand, Douglass skillfully appeals to the emotions of his audience by utilizing pathos; his unique set of diction encourages people to speak against the harsh treatment of African Americans. Douglass analyzes the relationship Americans have with other nations in the world and how America offers sympathy and compassion, but "in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse!" (Douglass 11). By incorporating words such as "wrongs…enforce… strict silence… enemy," (Douglass 11) Douglass effectively conveys a sense of anger through his tone. Furthermore, by using strong, negative connotation words such as these, it invokes a sense of guilt within the audience. As a result, the audience will carefully reflect upon their treatment towards their neighbors and be inspired to aid those who have faced injustice. To further appeal to the audience's emotions, Douglass also recites a powerful poem at the end of his speech. He utilizes imagery filled phrases such as "chains set free… bend the knee… human blood" (Douglass 13), to illustrate how desperately slaves strive to be free. Ultimately, the more privileged part of the audience will obtain a deeper understanding of how slaves must feel and will feel more accountable in taking responsibility for their people's actions. Thus, American citizens are more likely to be persuaded by their emotion in changing these injustices. To strengthen his mission of eliminating injustice in the African American community, Douglass also appeals to the audience with a sense of logic.
Finally, Douglass further influences his audience by incorporating an element of logic, or logos, into his speech. By alluding to Christianity and the Constitution of the United States, he brings attention to the hypocrisy of the American public. Douglass asserts, "you profess to believe "that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth," and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own" (Douglass 11). In other words, the religious claims many American Christian make about unity and equality, are hypocritical compared to their actions of owning and abusing people of color. With this statement, he reveals that if the people of the nation claim to be so holy and religious, then instead of promoting slavery, they should be pushing for equality for all people if everyone is made the same in God's eyes. By alluding to their personal beliefs, people will have a more difficult time in trying to justify slavery if it contradicts their faith. Furthermore, Douglass alludes to the Declaration of Independence by saying, "you declare, before the world… that you "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" and yet," (Douglass 11) people still practice slavery, which promotes inequality. Douglass mentions this important document because it played a major part in establishing the nation as an independent. He emphasizes that if people want to keep their nation accountable for upholding the wishes of the nation's fathers, then they must start acting in relation to an equal and just society. In comparison to the Declaration, Douglass states that it does not add up to justify slavery if all men are to be created equal. Thus, by referring to the roots the nation was born with, Douglass efficiently helps promote citizenship for African Americans.
It took many years to build the nation into what it is today. Although America still has its ways to go, history helps reassure Americans that justice will prevail. After all, many inspirational speeches have proved to help create major turning points in history. By analyzing the effective language orators utilize in their speeches, many more world-changing stories are yet to be made. Frederick Douglass's strategic use of rhetorical devices clearly moved a nation towards a more just and equal society. To this day, his work is still studied and used as a model in effective writing. Without the help of Frederick Douglass's speech, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July," Americans would lose one more important reference in what a credible, emotion provoking, and logical play in changing the progression of the slave trade in America.
Douglass, Frederick. "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" America in Class,
National Humanities Center, 2013.1