Frederick Douglass was asked to speak to the inhabitants of Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852. Whatever his audience had hoped for on the 76th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Douglass used the occasion to remind everyone of the country’s continued enslavement of millions of people. The full text of Douglass’s speech is available below.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Mr. He has stronger nerves than I do if he can address this audience without quivering. I don’t recall ever speaking in front of an audience with such trepidation, or with such doubt in my own abilities, as I do today. A feeling has settled over me, one that is not conducive to the use of my limited verbal abilities.
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The task in front of me necessitates a great deal of thought and preparation in order to be completed properly. I understand that such apologies are often regarded as flat and meaningless. However, I am confident that mine will not be so carefully scrutinized. My appearance would greatly deceive me if I appeared at ease. On this occasion, the little experience I’ve had speaking in front of crowds in country schoolhouses is useless.
According to the papers and placards, I’ll be giving a 4th of July oration. This sounds grand and out of the ordinary, and it is true that I have often had the distinction of speaking in this magnificent Hall, and of addressing many of those who now honor me with their attendance. But neither their familiar faces nor the excellent impression of Corinthian Hall that I have seems to relieve me of my uneasiness.
The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, that the distance between this podium and the slave plantation from which I escaped is considerable—and the challenges in going from the latter to the former are not insignificant. The fact that I am here today is both a source of amazement and gratitude for me.
As a result, you will not be startled if I make no extensive preparation for what I am about to say, nor do I use any high-sounding exordium in my speech. I’ve been able to put my thoughts together hastily and imperfectly with little experience and little learning, and I’ll proceed to set them before you, relying upon your patient and gracious indulgence.
This is the 4th of July, for the purposes of this celebration. It’s the anniversary of your country’s independence, as well as your political liberty. To you, this is what the Passover meant to God’s freed people. It transports your thoughts back to the day of your great deliverance, as well as the signs and miracles linked with that act and that day.
“I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, dare to call in question and to denounce everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America” Frederick Douglass https://t.co/C0euBhqTZC pic.twitter.com/x3k70DCptH
— COMMON (@common) July 4, 2018
This commemoration also commemorates the start of a new year in your country’s history, and it serves as a reminder that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I’m delighted, citizens, that your country is still so young. Though a good old age for a man, seventy-six years is but a speck in the life of a nation. Individual persons are granted three scores and ten years, but nations are given thousands of years.
According to this fact, you are still in the early stages of your national career, lingering in the childhood era. I’ll say it again: I’m delighted this is the case. Under the heavy clouds that are lowering above the horizon, there is hope in the concept, and hope is much required. The reformer’s eye is met with enraged flashes, foreshadowing doom; but his heart may well beat faster at the thought that America is still young, and that she is still in the impressionable stage of her existence.
Isn’t it possible for him to believe that high lessons of wisdom, justice, and the truth will still guide her path? If the country were older, the patriot’s heart would be sadder, and the reformer’s forehead would be thicker. Its future may be bleak, and the prophets’ hope may be dashed. The fact that America is still young provides some comfort.
Great streams are difficult to turn from courses that have been worn deep through time. They may occasionally rise in silent and majestic majesty, inundating the countryside with their secret properties, rejuvenating and fertilizing the earth. They may also rise in wrath and fury, carrying away the accumulated wealth of years of toil and sorrow on their wrathful waves.
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