Frederick Douglass and Fighting for American Ideals
The myth that America is an inherently evil country must continue to be dispelled until the end of time. We as Americans must proclaim the good and virtuous principles outlined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and founding documents. We must also continue to tell the story of Americans, past and present, who have fought and continue to fight for a more perfect union.
One of these Americans was former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)— a great thinker and patriot who arguably deserves to be placed amongst our founding fathers. Let us revisit a few passages of his great speech 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July' (1852), and what it meant to him, a former slave.
“Fellow Citizens...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.”
“...But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.”
“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!”
“...But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe...I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour...[L]et me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it."
“…In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither.”
“...Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.”
“...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.”
Douglass discusses the greatness of our founders but laments the evil institution of slavery in the United States during his lifetime. Douglass calls on his fellow Americans to denounce this egregious institution. He also reminds his fellow Americans to not condemn our founding values, constitution, and documents— for they are virtuous. Instead, we must condemn those who forget to uphold them, to live up to them.
Far too many people in the United States today preserve the debunked lie that this country was founded on slavery, racism, and injustice. Nothing is farther from the truth. Americans across all ages simply failed to live up to our founding principles, even some of our founding fathers.
More Americans ought to ponder the words of Frederick Douglass— a great man who actually knew and lived through the evils of slavery. Even he understood that American ideals are inherently good, virtuous, and just. It is up to the citizenry to preserve and teach these principles, and to continuously live up to them.
Today in America, Independence Day can and should be celebrated by all Americans. It is because of patriots like Douglass, who demanded that all men uphold our founding principles, that all Americans today are free. May this July 4th bring about a nationwide reflection on the good of America and those who fought and continue to fight for our inalienable freedoms.
Keyden Smith-Herold is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Analytical