Frederick Douglass advises today’s slaves to the 1% on Independence Day
Frederick Douglass presented a speech on the meaning of so-called Independence Day
to the American public of 1852. July 4th, 2012 finds an American 99% in
slavery to a self-proclaimed “master class” that acts unlimited by laws
in war-murders, oligarchic looting, and corporate media propaganda to their declared “slave class.”
Hat-tip to leading JFK assassination researcher and Advanced Placement US History teacher John Hankey for the reminder of Frederick’s speech.
Excerpts (my emphases):
“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 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 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.
... We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the
present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds
which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time,
the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their
work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must
do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child's share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors.
... Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the
mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday,
are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach
them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding
children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and
may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass
lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would
be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach
before God and the world.
My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery.
I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's
point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman,
making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all
my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked
blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the
declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the
conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is
false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to
be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding
slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is
outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the
constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare
to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can
command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and
shame of America! "I will not equivocate; I will not excuse"; I will use
the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape
me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is
not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
... 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 cruelty 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 denunciation 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 the United
States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the
monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South
America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay
your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you
will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless
hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
... My soul sickens at the sight.
Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?
... But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors.
...These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing,
having neither principles of right action nor bowels of compassion. ... a
religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud
above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and
slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the
oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and
enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; ... In the language
of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, "Your hands are
full of blood; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment;
relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow."
The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it
is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed
in its connection with its ability to abolish slavery.
... Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday School, the
conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and
tract associations of the land array their immense powers
against slavery, and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and
blood would be scattered to the winds, and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.
Americans! your republican politics,
not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent.
You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your
pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as
embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to
support and perpetuate the enslavement of millions. You hurl your
anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride
yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent
to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and
... You glory in your refinement and your universal
education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever
stained the character of a nation-a system begun in avarice,
supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over
fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your
poets, statesmen, and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly
to arms to vindicate her cause against the oppressor; but, in regard to
the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the
strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who
dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse!
You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for
Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the
enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor;
yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma
upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British
artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last
hard earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your
country. You profess to believe "that, of one blood, God made
all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth," and hath
commanded all men, everywhere, to love one another; yet you notoriously
hate (and glory in your hatred) all men whose skins are not colored like
your own. You declare before the world, and are understood by the world
to declare that you "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain in
alienable rights; and that among these are, life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which,
according to your own Thomas Jefferson, "is worse than ages of that
which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose."
Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national
inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your
republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your
Christianity as a lie.
It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at
home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing
and a bye-word to a mocking earth.
It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union.
it fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly
foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes
vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it;
and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your
Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your
nation's bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of
your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from
you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and
destroy it forever!
... Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I
have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair
of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably
work the downfall of slavery.
"The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.
While drawing encouragement from "the Declaration of Independence," the
great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions,
my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations
do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages
ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and
trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The
time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful
character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work
with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the
privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness.
... The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The
fiat of the Almighty, "Let there be Light," has not yet spent its force.
No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide
itself from the all-pervading light.”
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