On Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Frederick Douglass

To all of the Americans who are bashing the founders of this country for not turning the U.S. completely upside down: in this long speech — toward the middle of it — Frederick Douglass HEAPS PRAISE ON THE FOUNDERS OF THIS COUNTRY. Specifically, he praises them for their great sacrifices and courage in throwing off the chains of tyranny still being forged and put on the colonials by the British, ultra-wealthy elites of the day – the aristocrats and their bootlickers — and speaks to the apathetic and conservative colonials (the Tories) as being motivated by their cowardice and greed in selfishly wanting to maintain the status quo. Seems some things never change. What Douglass does do is to criticize the system of his time, which was brimming over with anti-slavery sentiment in the northern U.S., for STILL allowing freedom for some but not all of the people in the U.S.– 70 years after the Declaration of Independence. By Douglass’ time, the U.S. had developed from a colony of mostly wildlands to a country of great population, industrialization, wealth, and power; and most of its people had evolved to being so over accepting slavery as being a decent way to run a business enterprise — as they had done earlier in Europe and other countries.

Douglass doesn’t say that the founders were innocent of the wrongs that were committed against slaves (and Native Americans), but he does mention that George Washington could not die in peace until he freed all of his slaves. So, there were those who showed some twinges of conscience about slavery even back then. Even Theodore Roosevelt, who said that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” told Geronimo that the reason he could not free him was because of the wars he had waged against the people who took over his lands, and all the people he and his warriors had killed — that it wasn’t because he despised him or thought he hadn’t paid enough already as a prisoner of war. He told him that he would not be safe, and that the people would be very angry if he were set free.

Though he was cruel to Native Americans and bore a great responsibility for the relocation of the Cherokee nation that resulted in the Trail of Tears, Andrew Jackson suffered horribly as a teenaged soldier during the Revolutionary War, and paid a very heavy personal price for our independence. He lost every single member of his family, except for his father, who had died years earlier. His eldest brother was killed in the fighting early in the war. He and his next eldest brother were taken prisoner by the British and contracted Smallpox. His mother bought their freedom and took them home, where his elder brother died of the disease and Jackson almost died of it. His mother then went to work nursing wounded soldiers, and died of smallpox shortly thereafter. Jackson was also provided much needed service to the country as a populist president who brought down the powerful privately owned U.S. bank and restored all printing and lending of money to the U.S. Treasury — at least for a time. He was the target of an assassination attempt as a result of this populist, democracy-bolstering action, which he miraculously survived when both pistols the assassin was using jammed and the assassin was apprehended with Jackson unscathed. Jackson, as President, also fought successfully against other forms of corruption during his era that had brought the American people to the point of economic desperation. This is not to say that his treatment of Native Americans was not heinous and unjust. However, in keeping with Frederick Douglass’ core message in his famous speech, the founders of the country did perform well in certain areas, and many of their actions were courageous, revolutionary, and laudatory.

There were many other wrongs that were committed by the founders of this country against their African (and Native American) brothers and sisters, many quite heinous and criminal. But that does not completely wipe out the good they did when they fought a bloody and utterly devastating war to gain their independence from the ultra-wealthy oligarchs of Great Britain, and the good they did when they outlined and forever preserved their high principles about liberty and justice in the Declaration of Independence. His criticism is that they didn’t apply those principles to all Americans. That is the distinction that many overlook in Douglass’ great speech.

We’re still being held back by the same breed of cowardly and greedy Americans who today support the unjust political and economic systems created by the few greedy, ultra-wealthy sociopaths who have banded together in these times — just as the Tories of the American colonies of the late 1700s did — to keep the U.S. backward in terms of: 1) not having a universal health care system (as all other economically advanced countries have), 2) not funding all public schools (including public colleges) at the same levels (systemic segregation), 3) incarcerating people for relatively minor drug offenses because of the prison-industrial complex that was established by the Landmark Crime Bill of 1994 that BIDEN WROTE AND CLINTON GOT PASSED during the Clinton administration, which envisioned and brought to pass a system in which minorities are still slaves and chattel — and seeks to incarcerate more and more of them in order to maximize profits (where prisons are privately owned, and more and more of them are privately owned) and which seeks to turn prisons into for-profit factories run using slave labor (the inmates), 4) allowing the ultra-rich elite to buy up and monopolize every single mainstream media outlet (in violation of our First Amendment right to freedom of the press), and 5) allowing the ultra-wealthy elite to buy off almost every single one of our “democratically elected” government officials through the blatant bribes and extortion tools of virtually unlimited campaign contributions. The list goes on…

Douglass wrote and delivered this famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” in the 1850s, and we’re STILL being held hostage by the greedy oligarchs and the cowardly, greedy “Tories.” There have been many periods of semi-democracy and increased freedom — but never for all — as under populist presidents; but the vast, vast majority of Americans are STILL in a condition of slavery, to one extent or another, to the ultra-wealthy, greedy psychopaths and their sycophants. Many of the “Tories” among us still have not hearkened to the wake-up call of Frederick Douglass’ masterful speech. Perhaps it is time we revisit his speech and take it to heart.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store