Declaration of independence by the United States of America from the yokes of the Great Britain was celebrated on the fourth of July 1776. This was a colourful day with significant meaning to the slaves. Fredrick Douglas, a former slave took to the stage seventy six years later to remind the citizens of the United States of America of their task in recreating freedom. His presentation depicts a strong critique of the institution and history of American slavery. Fredrick accused the Great Britain colonial power for the negative impact they caused on common American lives and particularly the slaves. Four main reasons emerge as to why scholars and researchers classify Fredrick’s speech a critique to slavery, rather than a celebration speech.
Fredrick introduces the speech by using a bitter note, directly attacking his former colonial power the Great Britain when he makes no apologies over the content of his speech: ‘‘Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion’’ (Fredrick 1). Ordinarily, celebrations speeches are supposed to be in a jovial mood. This is not seen in Douglas’s bitter toned speech to admonish both the colonial government and the new federal Washington government for failing to curb slavery, improve the state of ex-slaves and provide ideal legal structures to allow black people to own property. This shows a clear intention of Fredrick to criticize the act of slavery in America since 1776. Fredrick openly mentions his embarrassment in this statement: ‘‘but neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seem to free me from embarrassment’’ (Fredrick 2). Fredrick Douglass is embarrassed by the United States reluctant stance in changing from a colonial state to a free nation preserving the democratic right of every individual.
Fredrick does not count the years the nation has been under the control of the colonial power. In his speech, he says America is only 76 years old. At this age, Fredrick refers the nation as very young. According to Fredrick, a nation age should be mentioned in terms of thousands of years. The blame for the late birth of this nation lay on the colony. This is a strong critic of the tradition of slavery which has taken the United States of America thousands years back; just to be at a tender age of 76 years at that moment. As Fredrick says, ‘‘I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands’’ (Fredrick 3). Age in a nation is measured by the developments it has passed through. In this case, tender age means that the nation is in its initial stages of development.
His speech suggestively boasts of the better governance prevailing in the nation since the Americans were freed from control of the British regime. This could be seen as an indirect criticism of the leadership system practised by the then colonial power, the Great Britain. His speech demonstrates the ability of the American citizens to lead themselves without any assistant from external governments. He says, ‘‘This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper’’ (Fredrick 4). Fredrick identifies the failed British governance in United States for creating huddles instead of opportunities and states categorically that such burden and restraints delayed the empowerment of the people of America as one people and instead contributed to the limitations to personal freedom.
The speech bitterly talks of the dictator ship nature of the colonial power. The forefathers were not allowed to champion for their rights. Any attempt to question the leadership of British government was taken as disobedience to the rule of law. Activists were jailed, tortured, taken to exile or even assassinated when they attempted to challenge the British government. As Fredrick says, ‘‘but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favour of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men’’ (Fredrick 3). This shows how the fight for the freedom was challenging to the natives. Fredrick admonished impunity within the Washington government in allowing elements of racial prejudice to persist and prevent the supposed harmonious society of all races in America.
While Fredrick agitated for the freedom and awareness of the black person in America, he equally asserted for freedom and unity between the antagonistic races to avoid a racial acrimony. Douglass found solace in the collective security of the black people if the government failed to promptly provide security against the marauding Southern white farmers who wanted to again enslave the black people for profit. Justice for all remained a vital and fundamental structural concern that Douglass advised Washington to oversee and rectify changes to reflect racial equality both at the South and North. Fredrick noted that the new challenge that the black people faced most was lack of property and the right to own property and invest in America. Equally, Douglass highlighted the black society need to come together and invent themselves under useful economic programs to aid in their economic empowerment away from slavery. Although Douglass hinted that the government had the responsibility of promoting employment of black people into army and other economic sectors that the federal government supported, the author remained adamant that African American freedom meant capacity to maintain total independence through increased skills and financial capacity.
In conclusion, Fredrick Douglass speech is not an independence celebration speech but rather a rant against the colonial and federal government for failing to uphold justice, end racial strife and promote unity and opportunities for all individuals regardless of background of upbringing, culture and racial differences.