Rhetorical Equality Successful, self-educated abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington fought tirelessly to eradicate slavery. Born into slavery, Douglass and Washington shared the belief of equality, but differed on the manner in which it would be achieved. Douglass’s philosophy was “agitate! , agitate! , agitate! ” whereas, Washington was of the ‘work! , work! , work! ” mindset. Through his crafty use of rhetoric, Douglass delivered a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of America in his self-referential speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. The speech articulated his passionate pursuit for liberty and equal rights. Douglass’s speech passionately argued that in the eyes of the slave and even the “free” black man the fourth of July was a travesty of the worst kind. “Fellow-citizens…what have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? ” (Douglass) As an ex-slave Douglass embodied the antithesis of the occasion and sought to provoke a type of emotional response from the audience, which was comprised mostly of white abolitionists.
Douglass identified with the forefather’s struggles fighting an unjust government, which so closely paralleled the African American struggle for freedom. He utilized rhetorical strategy to remind his audience of what they were celebrating and how it resembled the African Americans pursuit for emancipation. He explained that the pietism aimed at the African American population was evident on several fronts, and referred to the fourth of July as “the birthday of your National Independence and your political freedom” (Douglass) and used “that” instead of “the” Declaration of Independence.
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Douglass’s word choice conveyed powerful emotions and signified the separation that existed between the he and the audience members. His frequent use of “you” and “me”, “us” and “them” further illustrated the separation. “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. ” (Douglass) For his people, the fourth of July was a day of mourning, but for white Americans it was a day of blind joy and celebration. “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 engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men…we are called upon to prove that we are men! ” (Douglass) During his speech, Douglass elaborated on the different aspects of why blacks have a natural right to freedom as any other human being He argued it is wrong to turn a man into a “brute” and proceeded to argue that slavery is not divine in its origin.
Douglass’s speech was a calling for equality, for change. He accomplished his goal and proved the fourth of July was a revolting reminder to him and those like him of the continual inhumane cruelty American attempted to conceal through its mockery. In contrast to Douglass, Washington’s famous speech known as the “1865 Atlantic Compromise” was not a protest or challenge of the political system, nor did he speak about the lack of social equality.
Instead he focused his efforts on what blacks could accomplish, how they could compromise. He believed the militant rhetoric of Douglass and others distracted blacks from the path of liberty, equality, and economic success. Washington’s speech emphasized that it was the dual responsibility of blacks and whites to make the blacks a more valuable participant in industrial growth. “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. (Washington) Washington viewed the use of black labor as forward progress in the pursuit of equality, whereas Douglass viewed such labor as oppressive, insisting that a black man was as entitled to the same liberties as a truly free man and laboring was thought to be an activity beneath the dignity of those truly free. In his speech, Washington pleaded with the industrialist not to look elsewhere for men to man their new factories, but rather look to the labor supply in the South. Cast down your bucket where you are” (Washington) became etched into the economic and political fabric of a society grappling with the onset of the industrial revolution and looming capitalism. Washington understood that labor was not exempt from the laws of supply and demand and immigration, and that increased supply of labor in America was not in the interest of African Americans. “The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house. (Washington) Subtler in his approach than his predecessor, Washington declared his belief that, at the time, it was futile for African American’s to worry about their place in society and should instead focus on becoming economically self-reliant. “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. (Washington) Washington’s speech was also a call for change, except unlike Douglass, he asked blacks to end their demands for equal rights and to instead strive for economic advancement. Washington’s philosophy of accommodation with segregation was in stark contrast to Douglass’s goal of full civil and political equality. He proposed the “Negro to be made the intelligent laborer, the trained farmer, the skilled artisan of the south. ” (Washington) Washington emphasized that the economic needs of the newly freed black man often conflicted with their political needs.
Douglass argued for the liberty and equality of the black man; Washington recognized that once free, many men would be ill prepared to handle this newly acquired status. Through his speech Washington communicated an understanding of the political and social conditions of the South and framed his views to address the masses of destitute blacks whom lacked the skills necessary to work in an economy transitioning towards industrial prosperity.
Giving blacks an opportunity to gain respect and a measure of success by laboring with their hands was an important component of Washington’s quest to educate the emancipated black man. Ultimately, both men would urge the audience that “there is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him. ” (Douglass) As Booker T. Washington stated in his Atlanta address, “Nearly 16 millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward.
We shall constitute onethird and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnation, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic. ” (Washington) He sounded like a speaker of the 1990s, rather than the 189Os. Washington would argue that it is character and education that defines a man, whereas Douglass would argue it is the extent of their freedom.