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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Article: Frederick Douglass on Independence Day

This is an article that was originally published in The Nation on July 19th, 2004. It contains the words of Frederick Douglass' speech on July 4th, 1852...

True Patriotism: Frederick Douglass on Independence Day
Eric Foner

This article was originally published in the July 19, 2004 issue of The Nation.

The Fourth of July is traditionally a time for reading the Declaration of Independence and listening to patriotic speeches. But the nation's birthday has also been the occasion for eloquent indictments of a country whose actual practices all too frequently contradict its professed ideals. At an Independence Day meeting sponsored by the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in 1852, the former slave Frederick Douglass delivered one of the nineteenth century's greatest orations. His theme was the contradiction between American slavery and American freedom.

Douglass did not mince words. He spoke of a government that mouthed the language of liberty yet committed "crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages"; of patriotism reduced to "swelling vanity"; of hypocrisy destroying the country's "moral power abroad." Although slavery is gone, Douglass's critique remains as relevant as in 1852. But so too does his optimism that the days of empire are over, and that in the modern world abuses cannot permanently be hidden from the light of day. Douglass, not the leaders of a slaveholding republic, was the genuine patriot, who called on his listeners to reclaim the "great principles" of the Declaration from those who had defiled and betrayed them. That is a truly patriotic goal for our own Fourth of July.


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