AP Language and Composition
14 November 2018
The Hypocrisy of American Slavery: A Rhetorical Analysis
A former slave, abolitionist, and American orator, Frederick Douglass, in his 1852 speech, “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery”, addresses the sanctimony of celebrating American independence while the prosperity of slavery runs rampant. Intentionally deriding American ideals of liberty and freedom, the purpose of Douglass’ speech was to not only instill shame within his audience but to disgrace America for her ignorance and disregard for the anguish of slaves. Employing many varieties of rhetoric - rhetorical questions, biblical references, parallelism, polysyndeton, and repetition - Douglass effectively asserts his position by adopting a formal, yet sarcastically derisive tone utilizing brusque, caustic diction to appeal to pathos.
Douglass begins his oration with polite rudimentary acknowledgment of his audience, calling upon them as equals by using a noncommittal, unbiased adjective and noun combination, “fellow citizens” (line 1). By phrasing his introduction in this way, Douglass establishes a false sense of commonality between himself and whom he addresses. Preparing a foundation for the ridicule to follow, cordially addressing his audience hinders their reason for defense and grants Douglass more opportunity to surprise them with his incursion of their celebration with a series of denunciations.
Transitioning from here into a torrent of rhetorical questions, Douglass uses pysma to make his argument sharp, vehement, and intimidating. Thus, being the catalyst for his upcoming indignation, Douglass intends to inundate his audience with an attack of accusatory interrogation; “Why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” (lines 1 – 3). Using these questions to redirect his initial tone of informality towards one of scholarly rebuke, Douglass progresses into the main idea of his speech - “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.” (line 16).
Unable to join in the celebration of independence, slaves have little in common with their self-righteous, self-appointed white counterparts, Douglass communicates, as they remain divided by their seized freedom from their lack of God-given freedom. Douglass alludes to slavery as being is an unholy practice throughout his speech, frequently mentioning religious terminology and concepts acrimoniously - ‘Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."’ (lines 9-11).
Further emphasizing this idea through a series of juxtaposition, in paragraph 3, Douglass describes ...