“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”


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In 1852, the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York, invited Frederick Douglass to give a July Fourth speech. Douglass opted to speak on July 5 instead, and, addressing an audience of about 600, he delivered one of his most iconic speeches that would become known by the name “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This episode explores Douglass’ oration on racial injustice and the broken promises of equality and liberty laid out in the Declaration of Independence. David Blight, Pulitzer Prize-winning Douglass biographer, and Lucas Morel, an expert on Douglass and African American history and politics, join host Jeffrey Rosen. They discuss the context and content of the speech, which Blight calls “the rhetorical masterpiece of abolition.” They also explore Douglass’ views of the Declaration of Independence—including that the principles expressed in the Declaration are eternal, but America does not live up to them in practice—as well as the Constitution. Finally, they reflect on what Douglass can teach us about the challenges America faces today, including the ongoing fight for racial justice and efforts to remove monuments around the country.

The full text of the speech is available here https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/

Questions or comments about the show? Email us at podcast@constitutioncenter.org.

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