The Confounding Ambiguity Concerning the Status of the “American” Slave

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The nationality of the antebellum slave is difficult to define. The original slaves were of African descent, and so, one could argue that the great continent of Africa is the source of their nationality. However, even if this were the case, this provision only encompasses the first generation of Africans bound by American slavery. Well, what about the slaves that were born in America? If one were to consider the principle definition of nationality: “the status of belonging to a particular nation

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The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. (2140).

He chooses to deliberately separate himself from the audience. Even while he is a free black man, he elects to speak on behalf of those that are still confined to slavery. Bernard Duffy and Richard Besel, authors of “Recollection, Regret, and Foreboding in Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Orations of 1852 and 1875,” put it best when they aver: “while Douglass cannot but admire the impulses toward liberty of the Founding Fathers, he remind his audience that as a former slave and disenfranchised citizen, his perspective is at a great remove from theirs” (8). Duffy and Besel confirm that even as a “free” black man, Douglass is still denied the same rights as white Americans.

Additionally, Douglass uses histrionic imagery to further attest slavery when he declares: “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” (2140). While this statement appears to be contradictory, considering Douglass was a free man at the time, he uses this metaphor as a link to those still bound by American slavery. Duffy and Richard explicate the function of this allegory:

Like all African Americans who lived in the United States in 1852, including those, such as himself, who were
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