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Rediscovering Frederick Douglass

Posted by Richard on July 7, 2009

Jonathan Bean:

Some 157 years ago, in 1852, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered his “Fourth of July Oration” condemning America for practicing slavery and thereby failing to live up to the humane ideals expressed by the Declaration of Independence.

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” Douglass thundered. “I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Douglass’s words might seem passé on Independence Day 2009, with Barack Obama occupying the White House, several black Americans serving as governors, and others running everything from the Republican National Committee to Fortune 500 companies. But the words of the Sage of Anacostia remain not only relevant, but essential. Why? Douglass unfailingly opposed any man’s exercising control over another, and he would be appalled, his writings suggest, by the new spirit of dependency and control ushered in with the Age of Obama. Douglass championed limited constitutional government, colorblind law, capitalism, hard work, and self-help. His principles are not the stuff of “New New Deals” but rather a brief for a “New Independence Day” based on small-government principles.

Read. The. Whole. Thing.

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2 Responses to “Rediscovering Frederick Douglass”

  1. Hathor said

    Here is a link to the speech.

  2. rgcombs said

    A wonderful speech — well worth reading in its entirety. Thanks! (Fixed your link. The trailing slash is what broke it.)

    Douglass was reputed to be a truly great orator, and I wish I could hear him actually delivering it. I bet it sent chills down listeners’ spines.

    Just reading it makes it clear that Bean’s characterization was exactly correct:

    … ”This sometimes is lost on modern readers of the speech, who tend to be overwhelmed by Douglass’s opening denunciation of American hypocrisy. In fact, Douglass was delivering a jeremiad — a type of speech well known to churchgoing Americans of the time. The form is this: First denounce the sins of the people, then offer salvation. Thus Douglass concluded: “I do not despair of this country. . . . ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain.””

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