Like Lincoln, Douglass had a very clear, singular purpose in making his speech: to gain civil liberties for blacks. Douglass believed in the equality of all men, regardless of skin color. As a former slave who had experienced the terrors of slavery firsthand, Douglass gained credibility and even sympathy from his audience during his speech “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”. Because of his personal experiences, Douglass was able to use condescending diction and pessimism in his speech to describe how he and his fellow black Americans felt. Douglass even admitted in his speech, “I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man…shall not confess to be right and just.” This genuinely grabbed the audience’s attention and forced them to listen to what he had to say. Unlike Lincoln who tried to sooth and calm his audience, Douglass used inflammatory language and even derogatory remarks to force his audience to contemplate the issue of slavery from his perspective. He called the Fourth of July “…a day that reveals [to the American slave]…the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” He went on to call the celebration a “…sham…” and his audience “...unholy…”, “…empty…”, “…heartless…”, “…impudent…”, “…savage…”, “…mocking…”, and “…deceptive…” The primary purpose of Douglass’ insulting diction was to shock the audience and awaken them to the reality of the situation. In this way, Douglass was able to reach out to his white audience (who might have otherwise shrugged him off) and communicate his message extremely effectively. Like his diction, Douglass’ tone was also very denigrating and even ostentatious at times. In spite of this, his tone worked to his advantage and served as a call to action for Northerners in the pre-Civil War era. Douglass’ tone caused his audience to question their beliefs and consider Douglass’ standpoint seriously. So, like Lincoln, Douglass used tone to influence his audience’s emotions. Further akin to Lincoln, Douglass used appeal to emotion to make his audience empathize with the slaves’ dismal situation. However, because of Douglass’ status as a former slave, he also used logical arguments so he could appeal to his skeptical white audience. Douglass combined subjective and objective details to appeal to both their emotional and logical sides. He subjectively argued that it was wrong “…to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons…” but objectively stated “…Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it.” In this way, Douglass caused his audience to question slavery on both emotional and logical grounds. Additionally, his vivid diction and understandable hyperbole caused the white audience to realize the error in their ways—or at least consider his point of view. He further hammered home the point by isolating himself from the audience with words like “…you…”, “…us…”, “…yours…”, and “…ours…” By choosing to argue his point in this manner, Douglass highlighted the drastic discrepancy between the lives of slaves and white men. Through his carefully selected diction, tone, and argumentative style Douglass directly contributed to the pervasive abolitionist movement of the 1850s.
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