What to the Slave is the Fourth of July


Student Work

DD114 Digital Illustration in collaboration with Core Books at Hostos
Professor Catherine Lewis | Fall 2021


DD114 Digital Illustration | Fall 2021

Discussion Board Questions


  • Who is Douglass’s audience? Do you think that they would be hostile to his ideas in the ways that he believes they will be?

  • Is there an issue today that would cause such division? In what ways do you hear people talking about that issue? Find some examples from recent news and compare them stylistically in terms of structure and tone.

  • What is Douglass’ vision of American citizenship? Is it still viable today? (Refer to the paragraph at the end of the speech that begins “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.”)

  • Douglass’ speech is at its heart optimistic. Is this optimism still justified?

  • After reading both Douglass and Madison reflect on what reading these two documents reveals about American society then, and now

Connections to other texts:

  • We can say that Frederick Douglass was literally a slave freed from his chains. In what ways is he like Plato’s freed prisoner from Book VII of Republic

Informal Writing:

  • What for you, your family, and your community does 4 July signify? How, if at all, do you, your family, your community celebrate or otherwise observe it?

  • To what extent do you, your family, your community deal with potential cognitive dissonance of celebrating a holiday rooted in a fundamental quality that is limited to certain groups in your community? For example, take Thanksgiving: the holiday is problematic for many. Just about every culture has a harvest celebration but in the United States, ours is rooted in this idea that newcomers to this land celebrated a harvest festival with an indigenous group who’d helped them survive in those first years. Years later, these newcomers began campaigns of warfare against those groups. Try to frame such historical tensions.

Reading Questions

  1. What, if any, purpose is behind Douglass’s claim that he has “limited powers of speech” (188)? 

  2. What is Douglass’s personal history in relation to the history of the United States?

  3. Why does Douglass spend considerable time noting how young the United States is as a nation (189)?

  4. What purpose does Douglass’ history lesson of the United States for all of its seventy-six years serve?

  5. Why does Douglass go out of his way to discuss his invitation to speak about this holiday?

On Style 

  1. The speech has been called “acid, scathing, sarcastic,” and other names. Find and quote a line or two that supports these claims. 

  2. Where, and how, in the speech does Douglass shift his focus from 1776 to 1852? 

  3. What else shifts or changes in his speech? 

  4. Why is “fire” and not “light” needed?

  5. Why does Douglass refuse to argue over slavery? What does he mean by that?

  6. What form of slavery is Douglass speaking out against?

  7. Douglass is an abolitionist. Who does his audience seem to be comprised of?

  8. Who is William Lloyd Garrison? What is the connection Douglass that has to him? What happened to their relationship?

  9. So Douglass implicates the current United States. But he also attacks other enablers of slavery. Who are they?

  10. Why does Douglass refuse to despair over the future of the United States?

Writing: Response

Write a Post/Submit an Assignment in which you do the following (approximately 200-250 words):

  • Having read and listened to Douglass’s speech, what do you believe he is arguing? Write a short summary of what he is saying.
  • Now, pick two quotations from the text where Douglass helps his listeners understand the problem he is making visible. Use the “The Quote Sandwich” technique.


the passage/lines using proper MLA citation formatting (be sure to quote accurately).


the quote (put it in your own words).


how this quote helps Douglass to illustrate his argument.

In your response, use the following format:

Qoute 1:



Quote 2:



Discussion Question “Douglass’s Writing Strategies”: Describe one of Douglass’s writing
strategies that gets your attention. Explain what he is doing and why it caught your attention.

Douglass: Deciphering Meaning


For each of the quotations below (A), decipher and paraphrase in your own words what the author means, and (B), and comment or respond to the quotation’s importance (C).

A. What the author says:

B. What the author means:

decipher and paraphrase in your own words what the author means

C. What is your response:

comment or respond to the quotation’s importance

“the ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny” (4)



“oppression makes a wise man mad’ (3)



“they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage” (5)



“We have to do with the past only as far as we can make it useful to the present and to the future” (6)



“When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then I will argue with you that the slave is a man” (9)



“That which is inhuman, cannot be divine!” (10)



“Here you will see men and women, reared like swine, for the market” (11)



“An American JUDGE GETS TEN DOLLARS FOR EVERY VICTIM HE consigns to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so” (13)



“But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and salves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind” (15).



“You boast your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation . . . is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen” (17)



“if the Constitution were intended to be . . . a slaveholding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it?” (19).



Douglass Essay Preparation

1. What is Douglass’s logos in his speech? Quote and discuss two examples.

2. Why does Douglass’s use of pathos in his speech? Quote and discuss two examples.

3. Why does Douglass’s use of ethos in his speech. Quote and discuss two examples.

Douglass In-Class Short Answers

1. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”: what common theme do these three documents suggest about oppression?

2. The Declaration and the Bill of Rights criticize and attack previous social norms and thought. What people, institution, or thing is being criticized? Why? Quote and analyze at least one example from each document.

3. In “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” how does Douglass criticize the Fourth of July holiday and the Declaration? Quote or paraphrase at least three examples and analyze these passages for the connotations of his critique.

Education Narrative Writing

(1000-word minimum)


In discussing the education narrative genre, we have explored works by Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Anita Jang, and Plato. In these pieces, the writers discuss how certain experiences have shaped their understanding of the world and/or their educational journeys. For this assignment you will use these writers as models (and perhaps inspiration) and write an education narrative of your own.

Choose one of the following options:

1. In “Learning to Read,” Malcolm X discusses how he educated himself while being a prisoner. Likewise, Douglass recalls the process of learning to read and write in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. 

With these texts in mind, discuss a personal experience that changed how you approached the learning process and/or shifted how you felt about your education. What was this experience? Why and how did it affect you?

In your essay, be as specific as possible. Include details that put your reader inside the situation; for example, describe the setting and time period, include dialogue and sensory elements (sights, sounds, smells, etc.). In addition, include your thoughts and feelings about this experience.

2. In Anita Jang’s student essay, she describes conversations she had with her grandmother about the Mona Lisa and how these interactions influenced her. These conversations ultimately led to her interest in the field of graphic design. 

With her story in mind, write about a valuable moment and/or relationship that shaped your interest in your chosen field. What made this experience valuable? Why and how did it influence your choices? 

In your essay, be as specific as possible. Include details that put your reader inside the situation; for example, describe the setting and time period, include dialogue and sensory elements (sights, sounds, smells, etc.). In addition, include your thoughts and feelings about this experience.


We have read and thought about the concept of a discourse community. We have also seen work by several authors who engage with the idea of discourse communities (Douglass, Wollstonecraft, Amy Tan, Emily Henderson, and A. Ocasio-Cortez). 

For this assignment, pick an issue or problem that is important to one of your discourse communities.

Choose one of the following options:

  1. Write a speech or letter to someone (or a group) outside of your discourse community. In your speech or letter describe a problem and make it visible to someone outside your community. As you write, keep in mind your audience (who is reading and/or listening) may not know the impact this problem has on your community or that it even exists. Note: It should be clear from reading your piece what genre you are writing in and whom you are addressing. 

  2. To help you write your speech or letter, research the problem you have identified, its solutions, and what has already been done to address this issue. In addition to using the City Tech library’s online databases or the internet for your research, you may find it useful to interview people involved with the problem. An interview is not a requirement, but if you do choose to do one, it may be done over the phone/video chat, by email, or by text. In all, incorporate two to three relevant sources in your speech or letter: make sure your sources are reliable and keep track of them. You will integrate this research into your speech or letter to help you develop your point. Remember: your piece is a speech or letter… you are not writing a research paper!

Here are the grading criteria for this project:


  • It is clear from your document whether you have written a letter or a speech; in other words, you use the conventions of letter-writing or speech-writing.
  • You use concrete and specific examples and details to illustrate the issue for your reader.
  • If appropriate, you include suggestions or solutions addressing the issue.


  • It is clear from your document whom you are addressing. 
  • Your tone, diction & writing style makes sense for this group.
  • Your letter or speech shows the audience the issue from your perspective. Your piece also aims to help them understand (and ultimately gain respect for) the issue you are addressing.


  • It is clear from your document, why you are addressing them.
  • You have an overall point.
  • You give a specific reason(s) as to why your audience should care about your issue.
  • Your piece is written and organized in a manner that makes your meaning clear, and you carefully choose your words and transitions. 
  • You properly cite any research included in your document (using MLA style).
  • You proofread carefully.
  • Your letter or speech is approximately 1000 words (2-3 pages, double-spaced).
  • You submit your assignment on time.


What would Douglass think of today’s protests against racial injustice and movements for Black lives? Do you think he would still not despair for these United States? In 1960, one hundred eight years after Douglass’s famous speech, James Baldwin wrote about the trouble in Harlem and what segregation in the United States had done to that once-thriving, close-knit community. “It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself.” Baldwin, here, is calling out the United States, just as Douglass had before him, for its hypocrisy. If Douglass were to come back today, what might he say about this country’s progress? Where would he see the need for more progress? Cite at least one example of each and explain.