Our Living Past Prototype Page
[NOTE: This first version is limited to the Teachers' Room described in the proposal narrative. A user would first have clicked on the Teachers' Room icon and then on a Frederick Douglass Independence Day speech link. It does not contain materials, such as the curator tutorials, which the grant will fund. It assembles resources, most of them off-site, provides capsule discussions of what they contain, and focuses upon multiple ways teachers can approach Frederick Douglass's "What to the Negro is the Fourth of July?" oration. It is one of the core documents that the state of Massachusetts chose to include on the list of American history texts all high school students must become familiar with.Other states have adopted similar lists as they have implemented document-based teaching and testing.]
Frederick Douglass resources:
The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress contains over 7,400 items including links to all three of his autobiographies. It is virtually impossible for teachers to use at present unless they are already very familiar with Douglass' career. One task of this project is to break out clusters of resources with suggested learning activities so that teachers can effectively use this rich resource. It provides a detailed chronology of Douglass' life but no biographical sketch. There is one, however, created by the National Park Service.
Professor Lucia Knoles, professor of English at Assumption College, has created a page with links to Douglass speeches. Of particular use are those to several versions of "What to the Negro is the Fourth of July." These show something of the ways important speeches reached regional or national audiences. They also demonstrate that the versions published by different sources themselves differed. Most high school students do not need an elaborate introduction to how archivists and other scholars resolve such differences or choose one to regard as definitive. They do need to realize that many of the texts they use exist in several versions. As part of this project we will create an introduction to this topic which will highlight several discrepancies in the versions of this oration. AAS curators will discuss how common such problems are and how scholars seek to resolve them.
The Frederick Douglass Papers Project at the University of Indiana/Purdue University seeks to locate Douglass materials; it does NOT collect them or put them on line. It does have a very useful guide to relevant on line materials which supplements that found on the American Memory site. It also provides information suitable for History Day projects on Douglass.
The University of Indiana/Purdue University also hosts the Abolition Project. This provides useful information about slavery as well as accounts of the abolition movement, biographical information and helpful images. This is a very teacher friendly site, and it too has an excellent guide to on line resources and one to other web sites on abolition.The E Pluribus Unum site on the 1850s has a narrative guide to on line resources on abolition. Cornell University has put the Samuel J. May pamphlet collection on line. May was leading abolitionist and avidly collected anti-slavery materials. The collection is extremely rich. The site, however, is not teacher friendly. It is possible to search for keywords and phrases, but the user must be very patient and have a great deal of time.
The University of Rochester also sponsors a Frederick Douglass Project. It uses undergraduate interns to scan and transcribe Douglass' correspondence. Only letters used in undergraduate essay are available, along with the essays. There have been no additions since 2003. There is no good finding guide to the letters that are available.
The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University has put on line Douglass' correspondence and speeches from the time he spent in Great Britain along with a senior thesis, "Heroic Exile: The Transatlantic Development of Frederick Douglass 1845–1847." The Center has also put a large number of other documents on line. Unfortunately they are organized in alphabetical order so that the only way to learn they include a Boston Transcript account of the burning of the Charlestown Convent in 1834, for example, is to scroll through the list.The Internet Multicasting Service has put on line one of these speeches, "An Appeal to the British People" as re-enacted by Norman Matlock. Rights belong to Harper Collins publishers. There is no charge for educational use.
Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr. have created The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record at the University of Virginia. It is an extraordinary resource, but not as easy to use as one might like. There is a list of topics but not of specific images. Thumbnails are sometimes too small to be helpful. But the images are available in two sizes and are fully annotated.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has digitized all 103 issues of Freedom's Journal (March 1827-March 1829), the first newspaper edited and published by African Americans. The first issue proclaimed: "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us." The issues are available as pdf files and require Acrobat Reader. They are difficult to read. You might wish to print one page so that students can get a sense of what the paper looked like. David Walker worked for the paper and wrote his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World in late 1829. African American History has put it on line.
Some Approaches to Teaching
"What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?"
1. Using video and audio clips.
We will create a short streaming video of a re-enactor giving portions of the speech. Teachers might begin class work on the speech with the video. Or they might distribute excerpts in advance and ask students, perhaps working in small groups, to figure out how they would give the speech. This raises the question of voice with them. Where would they raise their voices? Would they speed up or slow down at a given passage? What words would they emphasize and how? Once they had developed views of their own, you could show them the video. The differences among their ideas about how the speech should be delivered and between their ideas and the way the re-enactor chose to deliver the speech can provide for a lively class discussion.
2. The Columbian Orator & Frederic Douglass's First Encounter with Oratory
Assumption College's E Pluribus Unum site on the 1850s has a page devoted to the influence of the Columbia Orator. Douglass described its impact on him:
When I was about thirteen years old, and had succeeded in learning to read, every increase of knowledge, especially respecting the FREE STATEs, added something to the almost intolerable burden of the thought-" I AM A SLAVE FOR LIFE." To my bondage I saw no end. It was a terrible reality, and I shall never be able to tell how sadly that thought chafed my young spirit. Fortunately, or unfortunately, about this time in my life, I had made enough money to buy what was then a very popular school book, viz: the "Columbian Orator." . . . This volume was, indeed, a rich treasure, and every opportunity afforded me, for a time, was spent in diligently perusing it. Among much other interesting matter, that which I had perused and reperused with unflagging satisfaction, was a short dialogue between a master and his slave.
. . . This, however, was not all . . . I found in this Columbian Orator. I met there one of Sheridan's mighty speeches, on the subject of Catholic Emancipation, Lord Chatham's speech on the American war, and speeches by the great William Pitt and by Fox. These were all choice documents to me, and I read them, over and over again, with an interest that was ever increasing, because it was ever gaining in intelligence; for the more I read them, the better I understood them. The reading of these speeches added much to my limited stock of language, and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts, which had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of utterance. The mighty power and heart-searching directness of truth, penetrating even the heart of a slaveholder, compelling him to yield up his earthly interests to the claimns of eternal justice, were finely illustrated in the dialogue, just referred to; and from the speeches of Sheridan, I got a bold and powerful denunciation of oppression, and a most brilliant vindication of the rights of man. Here was, indeed, a noble acquisition. — Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (1857)
The complete text of the Columbian Orator is available on line as part of the University of Pittsburgh's 19th Century Schoolbooks Collection. The collection includes some 140 commonly used books and is a major resource for a variety of topics. All are available either as images or pfd files. The image files load very slowly, even over a high-speed internet connection. So you probably will want to show one or two pages as images, to enable students to visualize what the book actually looked like. Then you will probably decide to switch to pdf. These require Abode's Acrobat Reader. You can print pdf files.
You can ask students to read one or more of the speeches Douglass described as influencing him and ask them to comment on how they might react to that text if they were a thirteen year old slave.
You can ask them to read more of My Bondage and My Freedom. It is available at the "Making of America" collection at the University of Michigan. If you scroll to the bottom of the site, you will find the search features. These allow students to find all references to the Columbian Orator, for example.
Douglass also discussed the book in his first autobiography. You might want students to compare the two accounts of the book's influence. Below is the first. The Narrative contains other passages in which Douglass also wonders if learning to read was a curse rather than a blessing. It also contains a fascinating account of how he did learn to read in chapter seven; Master Hugh's warning of the dangers of allowing slaves to read is in chapter six.
I was now about twelve yearn old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled "The Columbian Orator." Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master--things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.
In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan's mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. —Frederick Douglas, Narrative of an American Slave (available at the American Memory)
Alternatively, you might wish to begin with the introduction to the Orator. It sets forth "rules" of eloquence. How faithfully did Douglass seek to apply them in "What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July ?" Orator editor Caleb Bingham emphasizes "action" as the key to successful speaking. One way of helping students explore what he meant is to give them this brief description of Father Taylor, a Boston preacher who worked with sailors, by Walt Whitman. Like most Americans in the nineteenth century, Whitman was in love with oratory. Father Taylor, he claimed, was the best speaker he ever heard.
Father Taylor was a moderate-sized man, indeed almost small, . . . well advanced in years, but alert, with mild blue or gray eyes, and good presence and voice. . . . In the course of the sermon, (there was no sign of any MS., or reading from notes,) some of the parts would be in the highest degree majestic and picturesque. Colloquial in a severe sense, it often lean’d to Biblical and oriental forms. Especially were all allusions to ships and the ocean and sailors’ lives, of unrival’d power and life-likeness. Sometimes there were passages of fine language and composition, even from the purist’s point of view. A few arguments, and of the best, but always brief and simple. One realized what grip there might have been in such words-of-mouth talk as that of Socrates and Epictetus. In the main, I should say, of any of these discourses, that the old Demosthenean rule and requirement of “action, action, action,” first in its inward and then (very moderate and restrain’d) its outward sense, was the quality that had leading fulfilment.
I remember I felt the deepest impression from the old man’s prayers, which invariably affected me to tears. Never, on similar or any other occasions, have I heard such impassion’d pleading—such human-harassing reproach (like Hamlet to his mother, in the closet)—such probing to the very depths of that latent conscience and remorse which probably lie somewhere in the background of every life, every soul. For when Father Taylor preach’d or pray’d, the rhetoric and art, the mere words, (which usually play such a big part) seem’d altogether to disappear, and the live feeling advanced upon you and seiz’d you with a power before unknown. Everybody felt this marvelous and awful influence.
3. Douglass and the American Conversation about Slavery
Professor Lucia Knoles of Assumption College and co-director of the E Pluribus Unum site has put together excerpts of pro-slavery and anti-slavery statements.
The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record at the University of Virginia.
Douglass was a major voice in the American conversation about slavery. Sometimes he directly answered advocates of the "peculiar institution." On other occasions he did not. But he crafted every speech conscious of what others were saying. You can ask students to situate Douglass' 1852 oration in this larger conversation. To what arguments was he responding? Which did he echo, modify, or reject? You can supplement this by asking students to choose illustrations from the Visual Record collection that exemplify the positions of the pro- and anti-slavery advocates. It is an excellent way of getting them to read more closely and to look more observantly.
By 1852, when Douglass delivered "What to the Negro Is the Fourth of July?", he had been speaking out against slavery and discrimination for more than a decade. You can ask students to compare that speech with one of his first orations. See sample lesson plan 1.
THE CHURCH AND PREJUDICE
(Speech delivered at the Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society, November 4, 1841)
At the South I was a member of the Methodist Church. When I came north, I thought one Sunday I would attend communion, at one of the churches of my denomination, in the town I was staying. The white people gathered round the altar, the blacks clustered by the door. After the good minister had served out the bread and wine to one portion of those near him, he said, "These may withdraw, and others come forward;" thus he proceeded till all the white members had been served. Then he took a long breath, and looking out towards the door, exclaimed, "Come up, colored friends, come up! for you know God is no respecter of persons!" I haven't been there to see the sacraments taken since.
At New Bedford, where I live, there was a great revival of religion not long ago--many were converted and "received" as they said, "into the kingdom of heaven." But it seems, the kingdom of heaven is like a net; at least so it was according to the practice of these pious Christians; and when the net was drawn ashore, they had to set down and cull out the fish. Well, it happened now that some of the fish had rather black scales; so these were sorted out and packed by themselves. But among those who experienced religion at this time was a colored girl; she was baptized in the same water as the rest; so she thought she might sit at the Lord's table and partake of the same sacramental elements with the others. The deacon handed round the cup, and when he came to the black girl, he could not pass her, for there was the minister looking right at him, and as he was a kind of abolitionist, the deacon was rather afraid of giving him offense; so he handed the girl the cup, and she tasted. Now it so happened that next to her sat a young lady who had been converted at the same time, baptized in the same water, and put her trust in the same blessed Saviour; yet when the cup containing the precious blood which had been shed for all, came to her, she rose in disdain, and walked out of the church. Such was the religion she had experienced!
Another young lady fell into a trance. When she awoke, she declared she had been to heaven. Her friends were all anxious to know what and whom she had seen there; so she told the whole story. But there was one good old lady whose curiosity went beyond that of all the others--and she inquired of the girl that had the vision, if she saw any black folks in heaven? After some hesitation, the reply was, "Oh! I didn't go into the kitchen!"
Thus you see, my hearers, this prejudice goes even into the church of God. And there are those who carry it so far that it is disagreeable to them even to think of going to heaven, if colored people are going there too. And whence comes it? The grand cause is slavery; but there are others less prominent; one of them is the way in which children in this part of the country are instructed to regard the blacks.
"Yes!" exclaimed an old gentleman, interrupting him--"when they behave wrong, they are told, 'black man come catch you.'"
Yet people in general will say they like colored men as well as any other, but in their proper place! They assign us that place; they don't let us do it for ourselves, nor will they allow us a voice in the decision. They will not allow that we have a head to think, and a heart to feel, and a soul to aspire. They treat us not as men, but as dogs--they cry "Stu-boy!" and expect us to run and do their bidding. That's the way we are liked. You degrade us, and then ask why we are degraded--you shut our mouths, and then ask why we don't speak--you close your colleges and seminaries against us, and then ask why we don't know more.
But all this prejudice sinks into insignificance in my mind, when compared with the enormous iniquity of the system which is its cause--the system that sold my four sisters and my brothers into bondage--and which calls in its priests to defend it even from the Bible! The slaveholding ministers preach up the divine right of the slaveholders to property in their fellow- men. The southern preachers say to the poor slave, "Oh! if you wish to be happy in time, happy in eternity, you must be obedient to your masters; their interest is yours. God made one portion of men to do the working, and another to do the thinking; how good God is! Now, you have no trouble or anxiety; but ah! you can't imagine how perplexing it is to your masters and mistresses to have so much thinking to do in your behalf! You cannot appreciate your blessings; you know not how happy a thing it is for you, that you were born of that portion of the human family which has the working, instead of the thinking to do! Oh! how grateful and obedient you ought to be to your masters! How beautiful are the arrangements of Providence! Look at your hard, horny hands--see how nicely they are adapted to the labor you have to perform! Look at our delicate fingers, so exactly fitted for our station, and see how manifest it is that God designed us to be His thinkers, and you the workers--Oh! the wisdom of God!"--I used to attend a Methodist church, in which my master was a class leader; he would talk most sanctimoniously about the dear Redeemer, who was sent "to preach deliverance to the captives, and set at liberty them that are bruised"--he could pray at morning, pray at noon, and pray at night; yet he could lash up my poor cousin by his two thumbs, and inflict stripes and blows upon his bare back, till the blood streamed to the ground! all the time quoting scripture, for his authority, and appealing to that passage of the Holy Bible which says, "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes!" Such was the amount of this good Methodist's piety.
Douglass was a living argument against slavery. Oratory was the most admired skill, and he was the equal of anyone, even Daniel Webster, on the platform. In addition, he was an excellent prose stylist. Despite his total lack of education, he wrote forcefully and gracefully — a rare combination. Professor Knoles has put together reactions to Douglass the man and to Douglass the newspaper editor. You can use these reactions to ask students how his audience in 1852 might have thought of him before they listened to his speech.
Another important issue is the way Douglass develops and manipulates his relationship with the audience. Here are some questions you might want your students to contemplate:
- Who is his audience? He was invited by the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, of Rochester, N.Y.
- What might he have expected them to believe about slavery?
- Why would they have invited Douglass to speak on Independence Day?
- What would they have wanted him to talk about?
- Why does he address a "friendly" audience in such a manner?
- Is there a larger audience–and how would he have expected them to "hear" what he said, if they weren't in the audience?
Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. 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.
He also "interacts" with his audience in an interesting way:
But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed.
Perhaps the best way to see how Douglass sets up his relationship with his audience is to look at his use of language. One thing to ask students to do in class is to follow his use of pronouns. When does Douglass use "you" and when does he use "I" or "we"? Why? Who is the "you" in the following example, and why does he make a distinction between "I" and "you" in these passages?
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?
Who is the "we" in the passage which follows?
For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!
Another way to have students come to a deeper understanding of Douglass's relationship with his audience is to have them look at the opening of the speech and notice the way his approach shifts. Have students imagine they are in the audience and ask them to respond one paragraph at a time, explaining how they would feel if they were sitting in the hall in Rochester listening to Douglass speak. Do their responses change? After they annotate the opening of "What to the Negro" you can have them turn to another Douglass speech and do the same thing. Are the openings similar? Then you can have them do the same thing with one section of the middle and the passages at the end. Does Douglass manipulate the mood of his audience over the course of the speech, how, and why? Again, you can have them look at another speech to see if anything similar happens. One good choice for a comparison would be Douglass's speech to the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1848. It's online at the Douglass papers at the American Memory.
A fascinating comparison is between Douglass' "What to the Negro" and the oration of William Johnson as reprinted in The Celebration of the eighty-third anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence, by the Banneker Institute, Philadelphia, July 4th, 1859 on the American Memory site. The Banneker Institute was formed by African Americans, and Johnson, like Douglass, explored the contradictions between the Declaration and slavery. Unlike Douglass, he was speaking to a black audience. Here too a comparison can work really well. This oration is about nineteen pages, so we will also create an excerpted version to enable teachers and students to choose the one they wish to use.
Still another potential comparison is with Henry David Thoreau's Fourth of July oration in his home town of Concord, Massachusetts, "Slavery in Massachusetts." Teachers who use this speech might wish to consider how Thoreau turned his journal entries into an oration. Dr. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis is an excellent guide. AP instructors might wish to ask students to look at what Thoreau's friend Ralph Waldo Emerson had to say to the inhabitants of Concord on two Fourths. One was on the occasion of the erection of a monument to the Minutemen of 1775 and became one of the most famous American poems, Concord Hymn. The second, his Ode of 1857, came three years after Thoreau's speech.
4. Celebrating the Fourth of July in the 19th Century
Julia Ward Howe's recollections of Fourth of July celebrations provide a context for assessing how Douglass kept with, and broke with, tradition. Howe is now most remembered as the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" which became the anthem for the Union Army in the Civil War. She is also remembered as the original proponent and organizer of Mother's Day. In her own lifetime she was a popular poet. She makes reference to several poems. We have provided links.
Hal Morris has compiled documents bearing on how Americans celebrated the Fourth during the Jackson Era. He includes materials from the Colombian Orator as well as personal reminiscences. He gives Douglass the last word on the subject.
Daniel Webster's Fourth of July speech of 1851 is available at the Making of America site at the University of Michigan. At thirty pages it is too long to use in most high school classrooms. We will edit it and several other Fourth of July orations as part of this project so that students can compare Douglass' speech with them. The contrasts and similarities with Webster, popularly known as the "god-like Daniel" because of his speaking skills, are especially interesting.
James R. Heintze of American University has created a Fourth of July Celebrations Database. He also created a page on Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C. Among much else his site includes Abraham Lincoln's spontaneous remarks on July 4, 1863, transcribed from the Washington Evening Star. We have removed two typographical errors and identified several references.
Fellow-citizens: I am very glad to see you to-night. But yet I will not say I thank you for this call. But I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. [Cheers.] How long ago is it? Eighty odd years since, upon the Fourth day of July, for the first time in the world, a union body of representatives was assembled to declare as a self-evident truth that all men were created equal. [Cheers.]
That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the fourth day of July has had several very peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men who framed and supported that paper, including the particular declaration I have mentioned, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it, and the other sustained it most ably in debate, the only two of the fifty-five or fifty-six who signed it, I believe, who were ever President of the United States, precisely fifty years after they put their hands to that paper it pleased the Almighty God to take them away from this stage of action on the Fourth of July. This extraordinary coincidence we can understand to be a dispensation of the Almighty Ruler of Events.
Another of our Presidents [James Monroe], five years afterwards, was called from this stage of existence on the same day of the month, and now on this Fourth of July just past, when a gigantic rebellion has risen in the land, precisely at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow that principle "that all men are created equal," we have a surrender of one of their most powerful positions [Vicksburg] and powerful armies forced upon them on that very day. [Cheers.] And I see in the succession of battles in Pennsylvania [Gettsyburgh], which continued three days, so rapidly following each other as to be justly called one great battle, fought on the first, second and third of July; on the fourth the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run. [Laughter and applause.]
Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme and a glorious occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the theme and worthy of the occasion. [Cries of "go on," and applause.] I would like to speak in all praise that is due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of this country from the beginning of this war, not on occasions of success, but upon the more trying occasions of the want of success. I say I would like to speak in praise of these men, particularizing their deeds, but I am unprepared. I should dislike to mention the name of a single officer, lest in doing so I wrong some other one whose name may not occur to me. [Cheers.]
Recent events bring up certain names, gallantly prominent, but I do not want to particularly name them at the expense of others, who are as justly entitled to our gratitude as they. I therefore do not upon this occasion name a single man. And now I have said about as much as I ought to say in this impromptu manner, and if you please, I'll take the music. [Tremendous cheering, and calls for the President to reappear.]
After Lincoln spoke there was a band concert. Then the crowd went to the War Department to listen to additional speeches.
Lincoln insisted that he was not prepared to deliver a traditional Fourth of July oration. You can ask students to identify which parts of Douglass's speech could have been part of a typical Fourth of July oration. Then you can ask them to identify which parts of his speech might have surprised an audience expecting a traditional speech.
John Adams had, as Lincoln pointed out, played a major role in the struggle for independence, and had definite views about how the Fourth should be celebrated: "It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be celebrated with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." An essay assignment might ask: How might Douglass have responded to this view of the Fourth?
5. The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and "What to the Negro is the Fourth of July"
Both Douglass and Lincoln sought to appropriate the universal American reverence for the Declaration. So did Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the others at the Seneca Falls woman's rights convention in 1848.It is equally important to understand Douglass's treatment of the constitution in his speech. While abolitionists typically cited the Declaration to bolster their arguments, those opposed to abolition frequently used the Constitution to suggest that slavery was part of the American way.
Another illustrious invocation of the Declaration that Douglass would have followed carefully was John Quincy Adams' address before the Supreme Court in the Amistad Case. A group of Africans, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Cuba, took over the ship and attempted to sail it back to Africa. One of their leaders was Joseph Cinquez. They wound up in American waters. Spain, which then controlled Cuba as a colony, demanded their return. The U.S. government agreed.
CUNY hosts a site comparing the Declaration of Independence with the Declaration of Sentiments. This provides another way to contextualize Douglass' speech, particularly since he signed the Declaration of Sentiments.
Professor McClymer has created A Narrative Guide to the early history of the woman's rights movement which explores, amid much else, its relationship with the anti-slavery movement.
The CUNY site comparing the Declaration of Independence with the Declaration of Sentiments is an excellent resource for exploring with students how to analyze documents. What alterations did Elizabeth Cady Stanton make? How do these advance her argument?
One way to use Professor McClymer's Narrative Guide is to scroll down to the treatment of Sojourner Truth's speech at the first national woman's rights convention in 1850 and examine the controversy over what she said. In one newspaper account, she is quoted as saying that the woman's movement arose out of the abolition of slavery in the North. Historians routinely see it as coming out of the effort to abolish slavery in the South. Which version of her speech seems more reliable? can be the subject of a class project.
Adams based his successful argument that the Africans be freed and returned to the native land, what is now Sierra Leone, in the Amistad Case on the Declaration. By this time, 1841, the former president had earned the title "Old Man Eloquent." He made effective use of the fact that there were two framed copies of the Declaration in the Supreme Court chamber. You can choose among the passages below and then ask students how Adams defends the notion that the Declaration is part of the law. It is not part of the Constitution. It is not a piece of legislation.
One of the Judges who presided in some of the preceding trials, is said to have called this an anomalous case. It is indeed anomalous, and I know of no law, but one which I am not at liberty to argue before this Court, no law, statute or constitution, no code, no treaty, applicable to the proceedings of the Executive or the Judiciary, except that law, (pointing to the copy of the Declaration of Independence, hanging against one of the pillars of the courtroom,) that law, two copies of which are ever before the eyes of your Honors. I know of no other law that reaches the case of my clients, but the law of nature and of Nature's God on which our fathers placed our own national existence. The circumstances are so peculiar, that no code or treaty has provided for such a case. That law, in its application to my clients, I trust will be the law on which the case will be decided by this Court.
. . . The demand of the Spanish minister, Calderon, was, that the President of the United States should first turn man-robber; rescue from the custody of the Court, to which they had been committed, those forty odd Africans, males and females, adults and children; next turn jailer, and keep them in his close custody, to prevent their evasion; and lastly, turn catchpoll and convey them to the Havana, to appease the public vengeance of the African slave-traders of the barracoons.
Is it possible to speak of this demand in language of decency and moderation? Is there a law of Habeas Corpus in the land? Has the expunging process of black lines passed upon these two Declarations of Independence in their gilded frames? Has the 4th of July, '76, become a day of ignominy and reproach?
. . . Is it possible that a President of the United States should be ignorant that the right of personal liberty is individual. That the right to it of every one, is his own—JUS SUM; and that no greater violation of his official oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, could be committed, than by an order to seize and deliver up at a foreign minister's demand, thirty-six persons, in a mass, under the general denomination of all, the Negroes, late of the Amistad. That he was ignorant, profoundly ignorant of this self-evident truth, inextinguishable till the gilt framed Declarations of Independence shall perish in the general conflagration of the great globe itself. I am constrained to believe—for to that ignorance, the only alternative to account for this order to the Marshal of the District of Connecticut, is willful and corrupt perjury to his official presidential oath.
. . . There is the principle, on which a particular decision is demanded from this Court, by the Official Journal of the Executive, on behalf of the southern states. Is that a principle recognized by this Court? Is it the principle of that DECLARATION? [Here Mr. A. pointed to the Declaration of Independence, two copies of which hang before the eyes of the Judges on the bench.] It is alleged in the Official Journal, that war gives the right to take the life of our enemy, and that this confers a right to make him a slave, on account of having spared his life. Is that the principle on which these United States stand before the world?. That DECLARATION says that every man is "endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights," and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' If these rights are inalienable, they are incompatible with the rights of the victor to take the life of his enemy in war, or to spare his life and make him a slave. If this principle is sound, it reduces to brute force all the rights of man. It places all the sacred relations of life at the power of the strongest. No man has a right to life or liberty, if he has an enemy able to take them from him. There is the principle. There is the whole argument of this paper. Now I do not deny that the only principle upon which a color of right can be attributed to the condition of slavery is by assuming that the natural state of man is war. The bright intellect of the South, clearly saw, that without this principle for a cornerstone, he had no foundation for his argument. He assumes it therefore without a blush, as Hobbes assumed it to prove that government and despotism are synonymous words. I will not here discuss the right or the rights of slavery, but I say that the doctrine of Hobbes, that War is the natural state of man, has for ages been exploded, as equally disclaimed and rejected by the philosopher and the Christian. That it is utterly incompatible with any theory of human rights, and especially with the rights which the Declaration of Independence proclaims as self-evident truths. The moment you come, to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided. I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men, than this Declaration. The opposite principle is ]aid down, not by an unintelligent or unthinking man, but is given to the public and to this Court, as coming from one of the brightest intellects of the South.
The National Archives Digital Classroom project on teaching with documents has a page devoted to the Amistad Case.
There is an Amistad Mock Court exercise available on line. "This lesson was developed as part of the San Diego Unified School District's Triton Project , a federally funded Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. "This Web Quest culminates in a mock trial of the Amistad Incident. The lessons is designed to use the Internet as a research source and as a presentation tool for trial evidence."
The Exploring Amistad at Mystic Seaport project has a variety of teaching materials along with relevant documents and suggested activities.
6. Music and the Other Arts
Abolitionists and their antagonists produced illustrations, songs, and poems as well as speeches. At left is the cover of "The Fugitive's Song," written by Jesse Hutchinson and picturing Frederick Douglass as "a graduate from the 'peculiar institution.'" The Hutchinson Family Singers toured the northern states in support of aboliton in the 1840s and 1850s.We will draw upon the collections of the American Antiquarian Society to put a sample of Hutchinson Family Songs on line.
The Uncle Tom's Cabin site at the University of Virginia has created a gallery of abolition and anti-abolition images. You can locate other abolitionist illustrations at the African-American Mosaic exhibition at the Library of Congress. There are more at an on line exhibition at Bucknell University on Lydia Maria Child's The Liberty Bell, an anti-slavery annual. Bucknell has also put on line Child's "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" and other anti-slavery pieces from The Liberty Bell.
The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record at the University of Virginia.
There is a large collection of Spirituals' lyrics at NegroSpirituals.com. There is an account by a former slave about the role of music in sustaining her spirit at the Library of Congress. It is too long for use in most classroom situations. As part of this project we will create an excerpted version so that teachers and students may choose one to use.
Teachers may want to read this discussion of the role of religious music in the slavery experience by Marcella Monk Flake of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. She has also developed a set of lesson plans.
James Greenleaf Whittier was the poet laureate of abolition. There is a page describing his life with links to several of his most important poems and to his account of the forming of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 at the E Pluribus Unum site at Assumption College.
As part of our work we will scan some abolition sheet music and create audio files so that students can hear what they sounded like. In addition to projects involving the music itself, teachers can ask students to choose images that would be suitable as covers for the sheet music and briefly explain their choices.
You might wish to ask students to compare and contrast pro- and anti-slavery images. How are the slaves portrayed? the masters? Are there stereotypical features in either or both sets of images?
None of the illustrations in Douglass' My Bondage and My Freedom depict slavery. You might ask students to use the Visual Record collections to pick two or three illustrations for a particular chapter. Alternatively, you might ask them to pick a passage from "What to the Negro" and illustrate it. In either case you can ask them for a brief explanation of why they chose particular images to illustrate specific passages.
You might want to introduce the spiritual with this brief description:
That spiritual journey toward freedom dominates these songs, but the concern for physical freedom is there as well. The most pervasive image in the spirituals is that of the chosen people, for the slaves believed they had been chosen by God just as the Israelites had. They also believed they understood better than anyone what freedom truly meant in both a spiritual and a physical sense. The Old Testament figures that the slaves used in their songs experienced their deliverance in this world, and the slaves believed God would deliver them from bondage in this world just as God had delivered the people of Israel and all the Old Testament heroes. The slaves believed that the same God that had granted them spiritual freedom would someday loose the chains of slavery. The wonderful flexibility of the spirituals allowed for that double meaning of freedom. For example, Frederick Douglass claimed that the line "I am bound for Canaan" in one of the songs he frequently sang meant he was going to the North, not just that he would experience the freedom of the promised land in a spiritual sense. For many blacks, particularly as the Civil War drew closer and physical freedom become more likely, songs about the promised land took on a more literal meaning, even though the more spiritual meaning remained. That flexibility and multiplicity of meanings also allowed for slaves to use the sacred songs as secret communication. Some, such as "Steal Away to Jesus," were used to call a secret meeting where the people could worship without the supervision of whites. The spirituals functioned in different ways, but most importantly, they anchored the enslaved persons to a reality that allowed them to transcend the harsh limits of slavery. They helped the slaves to carve out a space in which they could live as human beings, loved and affirmed by a God and a host of Biblical heroes, a space that allowed them to be human in dehumanizing circumstances.
—David Van Leeuwen, Ph.D., Religious Studies; "Divining America" Design Team consultant
You can ask students to identify some of the double meanings so often found in Spirituals.
You might use some of the Spirituals to explore Douglass' own relationship to religion. His speeches contain frequent quotations from Scripture and he often affirmed his Christian beliefs. But he also criticized churches, especially the Methodist Church to which he had belonged. The Second Great Awakening, which swept across the North in the 1830s and 1840s, inspired many to join the abolitionist cause, most notably Theodore Dwight Weld, who became a leading anti-slavery speaker and wrote Slavery As It Is, the abolition bible. How did Douglass negotiate the dilemma posed by the religious zeal of most abolitionists and the racial discrimination practiced by the great majority of northern churches?
Just as nineteenth-century Americans placed much more stock in public speaking than their twenty-first century counterparts, they also attached far more importance to poetry. Douglass, for example, closed "What to the Negro" with a poem written by fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Concord residents twice asked Ralph Waldo Emerson to write poems for their Fourth of July festivities. James Greenleaf Whittier was the most important anti-slavery poet. You can use the page on the E Pluribus Unum site to explore how his description of the "Christian Slave" compares to Douglass'. You will find at Professor McClymer's Angelina Grimke and Maria Stewart page the illustration the American Anti-Slavery Society chose for one of his most influential poems, "Our Countrymen in Chains" along with the poem itself.
Advanced Placement Projects:
AP teachers might use one of Professor McClymer's exercises about abolition. The first explores the role of women in the movement, focusing upon Angelina Grimke and Maria Stewart.The second looks at the kidnapping of Anthony Burns who, like Douglass, escaped from bondage. Burns, however, was apprehended in Boston. An attempt to rescue him failed, and he was returned to his master in Virginia. Abolitionists then purchased his freedom. Again like Douglass, he lectured on the evils of slavery.
Professor McClymer has also put on line a page dealing with the controversy over woman's rights and abolition between Parker Pillsbury and Jane Grey Swisshelm. Both were ardent anti-slavery advocates and friends of woman's rights. Swisshelm, however, objected to linking the two causes. This resource is a good way to go into this topic in some depth.
Doug Linder's The Amistad Case, part of his Famous Trials project at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School, collects documents associated with the case. Linder supplies an introductory essay.
Sample Lesson Plans:
1. Comparing and contrasting two Douglass speeches.