Speech Analysis of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

what to the slave is the fourth of july?

Have you ever wondered why ‘What to the Slaves is the Fourth of July?’ is one of the world’s most persuasive speeches? (At least, I have!)

‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ is a persuasive speech delivered by Rev. Frederick Douglass on the 5th of July, 1852 in Rochester, New York in front of a crowd of 600 American Citizens. The speech ‘What to the Slaves is the Fourth of July’ projected the American Day of Independence from a slave’s point of view and brought to light the horrific experiences of slavery.

To find out what elements make the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ SO MEMORABLE, continue reading this article as we cover an in-depth step-by-step analysis of the speech to unravel the public speaking secrets encompassed within the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

Listen to the full speech here!

What was the Purpose of the Speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

Why did Frederick Douglass have to deliver the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’? Well, the key purpose of this speech can be summed with the help of the following pointers-

  • To highlight what it meant to be a slave in the 19th Century America even after the introduction of American Declaration of Independence
  • Inspire American Citizen to work towards the establishment of a more welcoming America
  • Propagated the idea to abolish slavery of all kinds and raise voices for equal rights for African-Americans
  • Disseminate awareness about the injustices faced by African-Americans because of the practice of Slavery

‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’- Factual Information

Title of the SpeechWhat to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
Date5th of July, 1852
VenueCorinthian Hall, Rochester, New York
EventEvent observing the signing of the American Declaration of Independence
Impact of the SpeechPersuaded people to work towards the upliftment of Afro-Americans; Acted as a catalyst for the inevitability of Civil War

An Overview

Who was Frederick Douglass?

Frederick Douglass

Born into slavery in the year 1818 in the town of Maryland, Frederick Douglass witnessed American Slavery in its most horrendous and scariest form.

In times when slavery was considered a necessary evil and slaves were denied the right to be educated, Frederick Douglass taught himself to read and write and transformed himself into an avid reader. It was through this extensive reading that he realized the connection between literacy and freedom and took it upon himself to disseminate the unsettling truth of slavery amongst the American Citizens by drawing from his personal experiences.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts, Douglass finally managed to escape the entrapping chains of slavery in the year 1838. Post this, he dedicated his rest of lifetime to put an end to slavery. To support this noble cause, he joined the Abolitionist Movement dedicated entirely to putting an end to the practice of slavery.

Contributions of Frederick Douglass to the Anti-Slavery Movement

Frederick Douglass Contributions

Known as the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, Frederick Douglass contributed the American Society in notable ways. To list a few-

Douglass founded his own newsletter named the North Star with the aim of eradicating the practice of slavery from the United States. This anti-slavery newsletter reached millions of people and inspired them to work towards the upliftment of African-Americans.

Frederick Douglass spent a lifetime teaching the African-American Community to read and write, his works were the words of wisdom and enlightened others towards the injustices faced by Afro-American Community. Eventually, it led to the introduction of Emancipation Proclamation which brought an end to slavery in the United States.

Listed as one of the world’s most influential historical speeches, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ brought to light the horrific experiences of slavery and the exclusion of African-Americans from the society in its truest and rawest form. With its stark hit at the hypocrisy embodied in the American Notion of freedom, the speech continues to stay relevant even in today’s times as movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ gain momentum.

In this article, we shall look forward to covering each and every aspect of the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’- right from the history and relevance of this iconic speech to the public speaking lessons it has in store for us!

The Main Message of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

The historic speech of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ can be summarized in a nutshell with the help of the following main points-

  • The inhumane experiences of slavery suffered by the African-American community in the States
  • The stark hypocrisy laid down in the American Notion of Freedom where the practice of Slavery continues to exist and the freedom of Afro-Americans cease to exist
  • The inevitability of the Civil War in the United States of America
  • Preaches the idea of an Equalist American Society where people are not seen as inferior or superior based on their race and color
  • Equality and freedom for all
  • The status upliftment of the African-American community

The History and Significance of the Speech- ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

On 5th July 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a fiery speech that made the audience contemplate the celebratory vibe of the Independence Day Event. A speech so persuasive that even the audience started to mourn instead of rejoicing the freedom provided by the Declaration.

This speech was delivered at an event organized by the ladies Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York and involved a gathering of about 600 people.

History of 'What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?'

The Not-So-Rhetoric Significance of the ‘What to the Slaves is the Fourth of July’ Speech

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn.

-Frederick Douglass

While some celebrated their Independence on the 4th of July, the delivery of this righteous speech on the 5th of July provided the Anti-Slavery Community with an alternate day to celebrate their initial steps towards the walk for long-due freedom.

Originally, the Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester invited Frederick Douglass to speak on the 4th of July, 1852 but he chose to keep that day aside for mourning and delivered this righteous speech on 5th of July to add a stark reminder in the minds of people regarding the hypocrisy of Freedom enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

While persuading the people to stand for what’s right, that is, the abolition of slavery in this context, Frederick Douglass at the same time guided the pathway for citizens to follow as well as warned them about the inevitability of a civil war (which eventually did happen).


As we are now familiar with the core essence of the speech, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’, let’s move ahead and dive deeper into the in-depth analysis of the same.

To help you understand the process better, we’ve broken this article down into four separate sections-

1. Speech Writing Lessons

2. Public Speaking Lessons

3. Audience Analysis

4. Impact of the Speech

Keep the speech transcript of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’ handy with you for reference purposes and a clearer understanding of the topic. Alright, let’s dive into it!

1. Speech Writing Lessons

Once in a blue moon, we listen to a speech so great that it stays alive in our minds even after it has ended and so is the power of a well-written speech! ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ is the case in point here as it entails numerous speech writing lessons in store for you!

speech writing tips

So, gear up to take your public speaking game several notches higher with these tips-

A Tantalizing Title is A MUST!

Only an eye-catching advertisement can convert a view into an action from the consumer. In a similar fashion, it is a tantalizing title that draws the audience towards your speech.

While an intriguing title helps you capitalize on your audiences’ attention, a bland title makes your audience snooze on you. So, no matter how great the content of your speech is, if it fails to make the audience walk into that auditorium, all your efforts go in vain!

importance of speech title

With Reference to the Speech

Speech Title- ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

Now, when you hear this title, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

For most of us, an intriguing title like this garners a lot more questions in our minds and this very quest for answers lures us in towards the content of that speech and makes us wanna know more about it.

In this case, it leads to subsequent questions like, ‘Why fourth of July? Why is this date of key relevance here?’ and for those who know the significance of this date, they wonder, ‘The day calls for equality and freedom. So, why are we taking a slave’s point of view?’

How to use ‘Question’ as a Title?

Shoot an open-ended question as the title of your speech and make the audience ponder over the possibilities.

Here, the catch is to avoid close-ended questions which have a yes/no answer because that would not arouse the curiosity in the minds of the listeners and as a result, they would not be that interested in listening to the content of your speech.

If you are still unsure about how to write a killer speech title, make sure you check out this article.

An Interrogative Introduction

The attention span of the audience is maximum at the beginning of your speech. When you capitalize on this attention, your chances at persuasion increase manifold. And shooting questions at the very beginning is an interesting way to capture that attention!

questions in speech

With Reference to the Speech

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

-Frederick Douglass

Here’s the introductory statement of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

Look at it closely and you’ll find Douglass preaching the great leaders of America who drafted the Declaration of Independence. He does this by shooting questions to the audience as he makes an attempt to understand the purpose of him delivering a speech on that day. What is my purpose, so he asks with the support of these questions.

Now, when you hear these questions, your immediate reflex is to think about how those great leaders have granted “everyone” the right to freedom and equality but it is only when he marks a swift transition to the body of the speech that the audience understands the hidden sarcastic tone.

Up until the introduction, Douglass makes everyone in the audience think that things are all hunky-dory and we’re living in a idealistic world.

How to use ‘interrogation’ in introduction?

Shoot questions, make the audience think and get them engrossed with the overall content of your speech! It’s as simple as that.

The thing you need to keep in mind here is to have thought-provoking questions as opposed to something that has fairly obvious answers. Your question should be so compelling that the audience can’t wait to know what the answer to that question will be.

To your relief, we’ve written an entire article on how you can draft a stellar introduction, just for you! So, go ahead and get the secret recipe from there.

An Expository Body

Here comes the meat of your speech! This is where you support your thoughts with valid reasoning. Why, you ask?

Well, attention alone can’t help you persuade your audience, making sensible arguments is also a necessity. Thus, having a detailed body molded in the form of a story with just the right amount of buildup can get the audience to accept your point of view.

body of the speech

With Reference to the Speech

For the introduction part of the body, Douglass dares to shoot rhetorical questions at his listeners to make them ponder if the Declaration of Independence provided us with freedom in its truest sense. This is where he presents the thesis of his entire speech, that is, how the Declaration of Independence denied any rights of freedom and equality to African-Americans and what more needs to be done to bring to life the lost status of these souls.

After presenting the thesis, he moves onto the core essence of his speech- the horrific experiences of American Slavery. This is where the crux of the speech begins. With the help of biblical references, parallelism, and storytelling narrative, Douglass embarks on a journey of ‘What this 4th of July actually means from a slave’s point of view?’ given they’re still denied the basic fundamental rights.

As he speaks on this, he draws from his own experiences and sheds light on the terror of American Slavery. To those who might object to his thoughts, Douglass cites that no human alive would be in favor of turning himself to a slave for the rest of his life. It’s as simple as that!

From giving out the logical arguments for profits made by slave trade to calling out religious institutions and American Citizens for not speaking up against this injustice, Douglass ignites the minds of everyone listening to this speech, be it that day or today itself in terms of Afro-American rights.

How to incorporate ‘information’ in the body?

Have a closer look and you’ll find an information-heavy body in ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

Yet it doesn’t disinterest the listeners because of the way it is incorporated. So, use the illusion of a conversation, popular culture references and the method of storytelling to give out information in a way that resonates with the audience.

Adding information in a way so that interests the audience is NOT EASY. Check out this article to ace this game!

A Complimenting Conclusion

conclusion of the speech

Now, what do I mean by a complimenting conclusion? It essentially states that your conclusion should mainly sum up your entire speech in a nutshell and also provide a takeaway for the audience.

Always remember that your conclusion should compliment whatever you’ve said so far. Thus, refrain from introducing any new idea at the end of your speech. The audience will be left confused and won’t remember anything.

With Reference to the Speech

In the end, Douglass reinforced how hollow the belief of American Freedom looked at that moment since not everyone was entitled to the rights of liberty and equality.

With biblical references and a constant rhythm, Douglass appealed to the sentiments of the audience. Not to forget, he provided the audience with the key takeaway of striving towards the path of equality.

The rule of three was followed adequately by Douglass. He stressed the idea of ‘Equal Rights for all men’ not once but thrice in the content of his speech. This is exactly what made his speech so memorable.

How to sum up your speech in the conclusion?

Remember that less is more here! Know that you’ve already elaborated on your idea in great depth, what’s left is to just leave a tiny reminder.

Don’t just cite your idea! Stress your main idea with the support of a poem, quote, or even an intriguing question. Be creative and think of ways as to how you too can make your speech memorable.

We’ve mentioned 15 creative ways for you to end your speech with a bang in this article. Go check it out!

2. Public Speaking Lessons

Magic of A Mountain Curve

mountain curve

It’s a fairly simple technique! You start with creating a potential build-up. Now, once you’ve reached your peak, you introduce the climax followed by slowly relieving the tension by providing potential solutions and tie it all together with a nice memorable ending.

To break it down further, it follows the structure of a mountain. Work towards a potential buildup, have a climax, and put the minds at ease with key takeaways. Sounds simple, right? That’s because it is. Now, let’s see how Frederick Douglass incorporated this technique-

With Reference to the Speech

To avoid taking much of your time, we’ve summed it all up in the form a sweet concise table. Have a look!

Build-upAmplification of greatness of the leaders who drafted the Declaration of Independence
ClimaxIntroducing the hypocrisy incorporated in the Declaration of Independence which makes it not-so-great. This statement follows the logical arguments that cite the terror of slavery, further increase in societal inequality, and denial of the rights of African-Americans
Sigh of ReliefThe way forward on how the American Citizens can stand up for the rights of the African-Americans

How to structure your speech in the form of a mountain curve?

Start with introducing the general notion that you’re aiming forward to contradict. Once you’ve established that, move ahead and state your point of view as the part of the climax, and then put the racing brains at ease by putting forth the solutions.

All of these steps need to be molded in the form of a good story with adequate and smooth transitions. Without the right flow, it would hamper the impact.

One thing to keep in mind here: your story needs to hold a sense of realism. So, avoid any sort of exaggeration and digression on your part.

The mountain curve is just one of the MANY storytelling methods you can incorporate in your speech. Check out this article to know what the others are.

The Rule of Three

‘Okay but what exactly is the point of your speech?’

This is the reaction that we’re trying to avoid here! After listening to your speech, your audience should be able to state your core idea within the blink of an eye. A clear concise speech with less digressions help you to do that. An effective technique to use here is the rule of three.

the rule of three

Essentially, the rule of three calls for stating your idea thrice within that three-act structure of introduction, body and conclusion. But why three, you ask? It’s because we as humans tend to remember a message more clearly when it is presented thrice. 

With Reference to the Speech

In a nutshell, the core idea of the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ can be stated as ‘The Advocation for the equal rights of freedom and equality for all Americans’

This very idea has been stated thrice by Douglass throughout the course of his speech. Here’s how-

Introduction- “I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.”

Body- “My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view.”

Conclusion- “…and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!…”

How to use the rule of three in your speech?

Begin with dividing the content of your speech into the three-act structure. This structure includes the introduction, the body and the conclusion.

Then, simply state your idea once in each of these sections by being slightly creative. Don’t simply write the very same statement for each of these sections. Mold the statements to compliment the storytelling structure of your speech.

Want to know more about this technique? Don’t worry, we’ve an entire article dedicated just for that. Read that article here.

The Ride of Rhetoric

Rhetoric is your bestfriend when it comes to delivering a fiery persuasive speech! But what exactly is a rhetoric, you ask? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here’s an article that we’ve written which explains the art of rhetoric in great depth.

The rhetoric encompasses a range of effective communication techniques formulated by communicators over a long period of time. The use of rhetorical and poetic devices aids the listening experience of the audience. In this section, we’re going to discuss the rhetoric techniques used in the speech, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’


comparison rhetorical device

This rhetorical device is used to break down the complex elements of any narrative. It’s done by comparing your core idea with a thing that resonates with the audience. Unlike simile, you don’t need to use words such as ‘like’ and ‘as’ to have the desired effect.

Let’s understand this better with the help of instances from the speech-

You may rejoice, I must mourn. 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. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. 

Frederick Douglass

Here, Douglass draws a comparison between a man in fetters and himself to help the audience understand that he’s not present there to preach these great leaders but to bring to light the hypocrisy and injustices.

How to use comparison in your speech?

Study your idea and think of all the relatable comparisons you can draw. Now, the question arises, ‘which one do you choose?’ The answer is simple and accessible with the help of a quick audience analysis. Doing the audience analysis would help us find out what resonates with our audience which in turn will help you find your most relatable alternative.

Forensic Rhetoric

forensic rhetoric

As the name suggests, this rhetorical device forms a narrative that calls for a judgement. Now, this judgement could be as simple as determining the taste of a food item or as complex as determining the guilt or innocence of a convict. You’re at the complete liberty. Use it as you deem fit!

To understand its application, let’s refer to a part of that speech.

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. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

Frederick Douglass

Douglass has a very clear stance here. He states that the nation should not be proud of the present status of freedom because of the evident existence of slavery. To prove this stance, he shoots a series of questions and draws comparisons to make the audience understand the depth of the situation.

How to use forensic rhetoric in your speech?

For this, the speaker needs to identify two things first-

  • The current belief of the audiences
  • The idea you wish to present

Take the help of an interrogative narrative or a mountain curve to create this ideal courtroom narrative.

Popular Culture References

Pop culture references are something that helps you to identify with your audience by citing what resonates with them.

popular culture references

Say, you’re addressing a bunch of college students. Here, you can go ahead and use references of popular TV series, movies, or even songs for that matter to establish a relatability quotient. And if you’re addressing a gathering of working-age professionals, citing the latest work trends will help you bridge the gap of awkwardness between you and your audience.

With Reference to the Speech

In the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’, you can see LOTS of biblical and religious references, all to build a relatability quotient with the audience. To mention a few instances-

“Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

” How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

How to use popular culture references in your speech?

Get the audience analysis done and have an understanding of what will resonate with your audience.

Then, go ahead and incorporate the popular culture references in order to break down the complex elements of your speech in a way that resonates with your audience.

3. Audience Analysis

audience analysis

The audience of the speech comprised of 600 individuals gathered at Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York. Since the event was organized by an Anti-Slavery Organization, most of the people were abolitionists. Even if an individual wasn’t an abolitionist, the speech was structured so well that anyone would get carried away.

Given the background of the audience, Douglass structured his speech in a way so that the adults could easily decipher it. To have this simplicity, he used way too many religious references to put forward his ideas in a more believable manner. In addition to this, since all our minds work differently and differ in personalities, he provided enough reasoning and addressed all point of views on the subject of American Slavery and stated how what he’s saying was so relevant and demanded urgent action from the citizens.

Over time, the speech gained popularity and continued to be delivered in events advocating the rights of African-Americans. The relevance of this speech continues to grow day by day.

How to do the audience analysis for your speech?

For the audience analysis, find the answers to the questions stated below and you’ll be good to go!

  • What is the age group of my audience?
  • What is the basic level of education that my audience has?
  • What is the personal background of my audience?

Still confused? This article is your one-stop destination for knowing everything about audience analysis.

4. Impact of the Speech

For many years, the speech has continued to inspire millions of people to work for a better and equal nation. In this section, we shall cite three of the most popular impacts of this speech-

A) Paved way for the Emancipation Proclamation

Douglass inspired millions and one of them was the Great President Lincoln. Although, they did have a series of differences in terms of their opinions, they’re somehow united by the thread of what’s best for the nation.

As a result, it led to the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation which finally abolished the practice of Slavery in all forms in the United States of America.

B) Awareness regarding the Gruesome Experiences of Slavery

Drawing from his own personal experience and those he knew, Douglass created mass awareness on the issue of Slavery and people actually realized the growing inequality in their nation and the urgent need to abolish the practice of slavery once and for all.

C) Predicted the Inevitability of the Civil War

With the delivery of his speech, Douglass highlighted the inevitability of the American Civil War to bring to light the seriousness of the issue at hand. With adequate logical reasoning and emotional appeal, he managed to persuade and ignite the minds of millions to work towards a better future for the African-Americans.

Famous Quotes from ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. 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. 

Frederick Douglass

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? “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.

Frederick Douglass

The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.

Frederick Douglass

In Conclusion

In all fairness, the speech ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ laid the foundation stone to put an end to the practice of slavery once and for all. By giving the audience a sense of what exactly is happening wrong and guiding them on the way forward, Douglass covered each and every aspect of ‘American Slavery’.

Be it the Anti-Slavery Movement of the 19th Century or the Black Lives Matter Movement of the present, the speech continues to be a major source of inspiration for positive developments in the society.

In this article, we attempted to provide you with an in-depth analysis of this speech. Right from the history it shares to the impact it had on its listeners over all these years, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’ is truly one of the iconic speeches delivered in the world history.

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