Frederick Douglass's "What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?" Speech (1852)

By | July 2, 2020

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American orator, abolitionist, writer, and escaped slave, Frederick Douglass (1817–1895). (MPI/Getty Images)

"Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today?" Frederick Douglass asked the audience during a speech he delivered in 1852. The famed orator, abolitionist, and former slave had developed a reputation as a powerful speaker, but the speech he gave on July 5—titled "What To The Slave Is the Fourth of July?"—was especially poignant.

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Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. (

The World Of 1852

While white Americans in the 1850s touted their freedoms and pledged to uphold the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the plight of black Americans was the subject of much debate. The Southern states, with their sprawling cotton and tobacco plantations, relied on the slave labor of these people to keep their farming operations profitable. The industrial North, meanwhile abhorred the institution of slavery and feared that as Americans pushed further west, slavery would continue to spread. Fresh on the minds of Americans was the impact of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stow in 1852.