In the biting and, at times, violent political rhetoric of today is Douglass' speech, "What to the slave is the Fourth of July" given on July 5th still relevant? "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters to the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today."
Douglass delivered these words to abolitionists in the wake of the Compromise of 1850, a package of legislation that, among other things, amended the Fugitive Slave Act. From Douglass' point of view, the Compromise — which obliged citizens, including residents of the Northeast, to return fugitive slaves to their owners — equaled a nationalization of slavery. He hoped to inspire others to rise up in political resistance.
Two readings, 165 years apart, addressed to a nation at a precarious political moment. Why Frederick Douglass' famous 1852 anti-slavery speech is still read — and still resonates — in 2017.