The Confounding Ambiguity Concerning The Status Of The “American” Slave

2069 words - 8 pages

The nationality of the antebellum slave is difficult to define. The original slaves were of African descent, and so, one could argue that the great continent of Africa is the source of their nationality. However, even if this were the case, this provision only encompasses the first generation of Africans bound by American slavery. Well, what about the slaves that were born in America? If one were to consider the principle definition of nationality: “the status of belonging to a particular nation, whether by birth or naturalization,” then the slaves born in America would be American, but are they (Nationality)? Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” oration sheds light on this ambiguous subject. Throughout Douglass’ address, he concentrates on the erroneous ideals of the American people, and struggles to prove the worth of the slaves. Considering Douglass’ dogged determination to authenticate the value of these slaves, as well as the overall temperament of the speech, I surmise that the slaves of America were devoid of nationality.
Douglass’ speech, while riddled with rhetoric and effluent irony, generates a remarkably effective montage demonstrating the ills of a severely oppressed race. Amongst the plethora of goading ridicule, Douglass’ appears to concentrate on the bitter irony concerning America’s independence and their decision to uphold slavery, as well as the extreme prejudice and mistreatment of slaves, and the hypocrisy of a nation that allegedly values Christianity and the freedoms conveyed in the Declaration of Independence.
Douglass extends his speech to emphasize the unusual paradox regarding slavery in the land of the free. Douglass refutes the Fourth of July celebration when he states:
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. (2140).
He chooses to deliberately separate himself from the audience. Even while he is a free black man, he elects to speak on behalf of those that are still confined to slavery. Bernard Duffy and Richard Besel, authors of “Recollection, Regret, and Foreboding in Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Orations of 1852 and 1875,” put it best when they aver: “while Douglass cannot but admire the impulses toward liberty of the Founding Fathers, he remind his audience that as a former slave and disenfranchised citizen, his perspective is at a great remove from theirs” (8). Duffy and Besel confirm that even as a “free” black man, Douglass is still denied the same rights as white Americans.
Additionally, Douglass uses histrionic imagery to further attest slavery when he declares: “to drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony”...

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