Analyzing the Text
He is clearly passionate about the subject. His fury at and scorn for America’s hypocrisy are shown through his word choices and his credibility as a prominent abolitionist.
His reputation as a former slave and now as an abolitionist influences the urgency and anger of his speech.
Virginia laws punish disobedient slaves, therefore acknowledging that slaves are “moral, intellectual, and responsible” – that is, they assume black people are just as human as white people are. And if slaves are people and all people are entitled to liberty, than slavery is morally wrong. This is an appeal to logos.
One example is his reference to the Jewish people under Babylonian captivity. This is a powerful use of figurative language because, firstly, most of his listeners would have been familiar with the reference and secondly, it establishes a historical/cultural precedent for his argument that slavery is inhumane. Another example is found toward the end of his speech, when Douglass urges listeners to “go where you may, search where you will, roam though all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world…” Here, his elegant use of figurative language reminds the audience to, once again, look to history for proof, but says so in a more descriptive way than if he’d just said, “Read a history book.”
His literary references not only demonstrate how well-read and educated he is, but provide a frame of reference for the audience that helps him to prove his point. His vocabulary also demonstrates his intelligence, as well as the fact that he has obviously spent a great deal of time thinking and discussing this subject!
Douglass believes his invitation to speak was intended to make the audience of white abolitionists feel good about themselves for including a black person in their celebrations. He questions why he should care about this holiday, since neither liberty nor justice have been extended to him and his fellow African-Americans.
The line “bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy” is a good example of strong connotative language. They describe white Americans’ self-congratulatory feelings toward their own country and serve to make the listener begin to think about the country’s guilt and violence.
Douglass quotes and references concepts from the Declaration to show that, although Americans claim that their country stands for liberty and justice for all, such freedoms have not been extended to all people. For instance, toward the end of the speech he says that (white) Americans claim to denounce tyrants, but themselves behave tyrannically toward those of other races.