"What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" by Frederick Douglass

In this powerful speech delivered on July 5, 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass argued that the practice of slavery was antithetical to the American values of liberty and freedom.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. avail
    be of use to, be useful to
    The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.
  2. evince
    give expression to
    You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium.
  3. deliverance
    recovery or preservation from loss or danger
    It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.
  4. portend
    indicate by signs
    The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence.
  5. inundate
    fill or cover completely, usually with water
    They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties.
  6. prerogative
    a right reserved exclusively by a person or group
    This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgment, it deemed wise, right and proper.
  7. flippant
    showing an inappropriate lack of seriousness
    Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies.
  8. redress
    act of correcting an error or a fault or an evil
    Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress.
  9. remonstrate
    argue in protest or opposition
    They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner.
  10. decorous
    characterized by propriety and dignity and good taste
    They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner.
  11. unexceptionable
    completely acceptable; not open to reproach
    Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable.
  12. restive
    impatient especially under restriction or delay
    Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment.
  13. appellation
    identifying words by which someone or something is called
    These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.
  14. euphonious
    having a pleasant sound
    These people were called Tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.
  15. sublime
    inspiring awe
    The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.
  16. forbearance
    good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence
    They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits.
  17. circumspect
    careful to consider potential consequences and avoid risk
    How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements!
  18. jubilee
    a special anniversary or the celebration of it
    Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interest — a nation’s jubilee.
  19. eulogize
    praise formally and eloquently
    Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own.
  20. obdurate
    showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings
    Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits?
  21. bequeath
    leave or give, especially by will after one's death
    The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.
  22. fetter
    a shackle for the ankles or feet
    To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
  23. plaintive
    expressing sorrow
    I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
  24. mirth
    great merriment
    For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
  25. equivocate
    be deliberately ambiguous or unclear
    “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.
  26. sunder
    break apart or in two, using violence
    What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters?
  27. propriety
    correct behavior
    The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
  28. hypocrisy
    pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not have
    The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
  29. bombast
    pompous or pretentious talk or writing
    ...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.
  30. execrable
    unequivocally detestable
    It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic.
  31. extirpate
    destroy completely, as if down to the roots
    The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY.
  32. nominally
    in name only
    In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren ( nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa!
  33. perambulate
    walk with no particular goal
    They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock.
  34. caprice
    a sudden desire
    There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men.
  35. rapacious
    excessively greedy and grasping
    There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men.
  36. ecclesiastic
    a clergyman or other person in religious orders
    Your President, your Secretary of State, our lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing.
  37. consign
    commit forever
    Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture.
  38. enjoin
    give instructions to or direct somebody to do something
    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.
  39. bulwark
    a protective structure of stone or concrete
    It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters.
  40. infidel
    a person who does not acknowledge your god
    They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done!
  41. entreat
    ask for or request earnestly
    It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
  42. ameliorate
    make better
    There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty.
  43. anathema
    a formal ecclesiastical curse accompanied by excommunication
    You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina.
  44. avarice
    extreme greed for material wealth
    You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty.
  45. palter
    be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead
    To palter with us in a double sense:
    And keep the word of promise to the ear,
    But break it to the heart.
  46. fiat
    a legally binding command or decision
    The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force.
  47. galling
    causing irritation or annoyance
    God speed the year of jubilee
    The wide world o’er
    When from their galling chains set free,
    Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee
  48. yoke
    stable gear that joins two draft animals at the neck
    And wear the yoke of tyranny
    Like brutes no more.
  49. thrall
    someone held in bondage
    That hour will come, to each, to all,
    And from his prison-house, the thrall
    Go forth.
  50. rend
    tear or be torn violently
    Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
    With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
    To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
    The spoiler of his prey deprive —
    So witness Heaven!

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