I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Part 1)


Picture courtesy of http://www.zingerbug.com
Heidi here. Another July 4th Celebration is in the books. As a pretty big fan of our Founding Fathers and the Continental Congress, I have always loved Independence Day. It is possibly even my favorite holiday. This year I celebrated with a little different perspective than in years past. Recently, in one of the classes for my English BA program--American Literature to 1860--I had the privilege of reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. I have to agree with one H. Parker who called it "one of the greatest human documents in all of American literature...a literary landmark" (1991, p. 15). This is no small feat, considering Douglass was a slave who had to secretly teach himself to read and write. 

After reading the narrative, I went on to read a speech Douglass gave at an Independence Day celebration about 13 years after he escaped slavery--less than ten years before the start of the Civil War. I felt it was worth pondering, but in its full form, it is nearly 4,000 words long! So, to share it with our readers, I have edited it down a bit, and I will post it in two parts. {Entire speech here.} Today is the first part--the part in which Douglass describes and praises the work of the Founding Fathers. Thursday I will post the second part--the part in which Douglass suggests we look at Independence Day from the point of view of those who were still enslaved. It is an amazing piece of writing, and it made me all the more thankful for my freedom this year. I hope you will take the time to read it, and come back on Thursday to read the second part. You won't be sorry!

From the speech by Frederick Douglass, 
Delivered at Rochester, NY on July 5, 1852
Picture courtesy of
http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/douglass/visionary.html
Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day.
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.
Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner.
On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. “Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”
Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history—the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final”; not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation’s jubilee.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

Ref: Parker, H. (1991). The price of diversityCollege Literature, 18(3), 15.

Your turn: What part of this, if any, was your favorite? What do you think will be contained in the second part of the speech?

3 comments:

  1. They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect.

    This part of the speech is rarely found and I'm glad you included it. Great post, Heidi.

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  2. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

    When I read this part, I thought of our young men and women going off to do battle today. Having three children in the service, it makes me even more aware of the sacrifice of others in the years since our great nation was established.

    Thanks for this, and I look forward to the second part!

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  3. Also being an English major, I also read the entire book long ago. I particularly appreciated his life-long Christian witness. I'll look forward to Thurs. & blessings on your final papers.

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