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Jul 05 2012

What, to the Slave, is Your Fourth of July?

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

One of the most blistering indictments of American hypocrisy, religiousity, jurisprudence, universal rights of man and the construction of the Black Other:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the Star-Spangled Banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing…Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I guess I can just cross-post this from elsewhere:

    As an American, I’m hesitant to celebrate a “holiday” where our founders told the British that they preferred to go it alone and not share in the profits of enslaving millions of people, driving millions more into indentured servitude, murdering millions more and taking their land and forcing them onto reservations, and raping the environment for its resources while poisoning its inhabitants.

    I’m an America, but neither white nor Christian, and while I am doing OK it burns my ass when those who have profited on the fruits of the labor of others turn around and claim that there’s not enough wealth to go around.

  2. 2
    Nepenthe

    A bit of pedantry/fyi for non-Americans:

    The date of the speech is 1852, making the law Douglass references the odious Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

  3. 3
    lilandra

    Douglass was a great orator and American.

  4. 4
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Damn straight.

    Of course, we were never satisfied with the Black Other, there had to be other Others. While we pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves how good and enlightened we are. And we now claim that it isn’t like that at all anymore, and besides, all that was a long time ago.

  5. 5
    Coragyps

    Holy crap, that must have been astonishing to listen to! You can nearly hear thunder just reading it!

    Sarah Palin and GW Bush almost never give speeches like that!
    :-)

  6. 6
    Robert B.

    O.O

    Somehow that speech didn’t make it into my high school history books. I wonder why that is⸮

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