At the time of Douglass’s speech, and throughout the 19th century, the Republican party was the progressive force in United States politics. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”. As a rhetorical device, long lists like this one serve to enforce a claim.
It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters.
You may rejoice, I must mourn. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery?
These lines are drawn from Marc Antony’s famous speech in Act III, Scene II of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The 19 members of the society, which had been founded a year earlier by Douglass’ friend and fellow abolitionist Julia Griffiths, were determined that Douglass’ abolitionist newspaper, the North Star, published in Rochester, would not be “the only anti-slavery instrumentality in the community.” The festival raised $250 for the society’s efforts. And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner. The predominant culture of the American colonies was British, and the relationship between Great Britain and the colonies convivial for much of the time. Is this the earth whereon they moved? My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY.
From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation.
In this passage, Douglass uses two separate, though related, metaphors he has already used thus far: the United States as a ship at sea and the arrival of threats and troubles as an oncoming storm.
Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. You may well cherish the memory of such men. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered.
Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity.
Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost. Similar to the verb “to whip,” it refers to the practice by which slave owners abused and punished their slaves with whips, lashes, or other thin instruments. Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. Were the nation older, the patriot's heart might be sadder, and the reformer's brow heavier. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul!
Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men! When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. A It is hypocrisy, a day which reveals to them the injustices of United States history, both past and present.
In this passage, Douglass poses a series of rhetorical question, essentially asking whether or not he is expected to “express devout gratitude” despite the current political climate. God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! During the American Revolution, the “tories” were the American loyalists to the British Crown who resisted the revolutionary actions of the patriots. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood.
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