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What to a slave is the 4th of July?

The speech, commonly republished as "What to a slave is the 4th of July?" or "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", is an untitled speech originally given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852.[1] He originally gave the speech to the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York,[1] a city that was a center of abolitionist activities. The speech is over 2,500 words long.[1]

While referring to the celebrations of the American Independence day the day before, the speech explores the constitutional and values-based arguments against the Slave trade within the United States.[1] Douglass suggested that positive statements about American values, such as liberty, citizenship, and freedom, was an offense to the enslaved people of the United States because of their lack of freedom, liberty, and citizenship. As well, Douglass referred not only to the captivity of enslaved people, but to their merciless exploitation and the cruelty and torture to which they were subjected while enslaved.[2] Rhetoricians R.L. Heath and D. Waymer called this topic the "paradox of the positive" because it highlights how something positive and meant to be positive can also exclude individuals.[2]



In the United States, the speech is widely taught in history and English classes in high school and college.[1] American studies professor Andrew S. Bibby argues that because many of the editions produced for educational use are abridged, they often misrepresent Douglass's original through omission or editorial focus.[1]

Notable readingsEdit

The speech has been notably performed or read by important figures, including the following actors:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bibby, Andrew S. (July 2, 2014). "'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?': Frederick Douglass's fiery Independence Day speech is widely read today, but not so widely understood". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 13, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Heath, Robert L.; Waymer, Damion (2009). "Activist Public Relations and the Paradox of the Positive: A Case Study of Frederick Douglass's Fourth of July Address". Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations II: 192–215. 

Further readingEdit