Option 2: Writing about Frederick Douglass’ “What is the Fourth of July to a Slave?”
One of Douglass’ most famous pieces of writing is a speech entitled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. After reading Douglass’ speech, as a pre-writing exercise, I want you to consider the rhetorical situation of this speech. What is the context of the speech? What was the occasion that called for this speech to be written? When was it delivered? Where was it delivered? Who was the intended audience? What do you consider Douglass’ intent to be in writing this piece. I also want you to think about how does Douglass evoke the use of his contemporary history, of slave laws, and how does he address what he deems to be “the hypocrisy of American democracy?” After reflecting upon these points, then write a two page response to the following question.
The formal question you are responding to in your response essay is one of thinking about the application of history: Frederick Douglass raises the question in his speech, “Should the slave celebrate the Fourth of July?,” given that the Fourth of July represents freedom, yet the slave was not free. In essence, one could claim that Frederick Douglass was suggesting that democracy can be expanded through forms of protest, non-participation, and civil disobedience as a means of calling attention to hypocrisies within the legal system, society, and culture.
Does Douglass’ speech have any relevancy for our society today for teaching us lessons on questioning forms of law, government, and on how to protest to expand democracy? Could his message still hold some power today when considering the way that discrimination (of any kind) may be combatted? Explain how, if yes, or how not, if no, as well as explain your reasoning process.
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