Each July Fourth I like to read Frederick Douglass‘s powerful speech, delivered in Rochester, NY in 1852. It is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. I certainly agree.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
As for the Church, he has equally sharp words:
“[The Church] esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind.”
Yet, after all this, after his own years enslaved, his belief in the ideals of the country, written into the Constitution, has not been driven out of him by the slavedriver’s whip:
“In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing [slavery]; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.”
“I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.”
With racial division still so endemic in America, our celebration of liberty and independence should continually return to the wise and hopeful words of Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass Home (National Historic Site in Washington)
(We visited the home several years ago, a very meaningful day)