Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July: Oration

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On July 5th, 1852, Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest orators of all time, delivered what was arguably the century's most powerful abolition speech. At a time of year where American freedom is celebrated across the nation, Douglass eloquently summoned the country to resolve the contradiction between slavery and the founding principles of our country. In this book, James A. Colaiaco vividly recreates the turbulent historical context of Douglass' speech and delivers a colorful portrait of the country in the ...

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Overview

On July 5th, 1852, Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest orators of all time, delivered what was arguably the century's most powerful abolition speech. At a time of year where American freedom is celebrated across the nation, Douglass eloquently summoned the country to resolve the contradiction between slavery and the founding principles of our country. In this book, James A. Colaiaco vividly recreates the turbulent historical context of Douglass' speech and delivers a colorful portrait of the country in the turbulent years leading to the civil war. This book provides a fascinating new perspective on a critical time in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With incisive analysis and elegant prose, Colaiaco explains the rhetorical atmosphere in which Douglass crafted and delivered his speech."—Publishers Weekly

"A critical evaluation of the magisterial address that Frederick Douglass, the preeminent African American abolitionist and orator, gave in observance of Independence Day...[Colaiaco] studies the gnawing contradictions between the ideals expressed by the men who conceived the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and the American conundrum of freedom deferred that Douglass reckoned with. This compelling book would be welcome in all public and academic libraries."—Library Journal

"If you're feeling blasé about this year's observance of our oldest patriotic holiday, James A. Colaiaco's Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July should stir you out of complacency. It is a meticulously researched meditation on the epic life of Frederick Douglass and the famous speech he delivered...What makes [it] essential reading is its deepening of one's appreciation for how the color-blind, malleable Constitution is a tissue of ambiguity and compromises...A work that vividly demonstrates why, as the author says, 'Frederick Douglass has earned a place among the great intellectual luminaries of the United States.'"—The Wall Street Journal

"The latest in a panoply of important recent books about pivotal speeches from the nineteenth century—an age in which political oratory had all the power of today's mass media—this book stands out as an essential contribution to the genre. James A. Colaiaco transports us to the ferment of the sectional crisis, breathing vivid new life into one of its greatest figures, Frederick Douglass, not only as a symbol, but also as a writer and an orator. His examination of this long-forgotten masterpiece is long overdue and superbly realized."—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln at Cooper Union, co-chairman US Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

"Colaiaco's insightful account explores one of our country's greatest intellectual treasures—the thought and eloquence of Frederick Douglass. Colaiaco reminds us of Douglass's gifts as an orator, writer, and agitator for equal rights, and tells a compelling story of his indispensable role in nineteenth century America."—Philip Dray, author of At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America

Publishers Weekly
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at a meeting sponsored by the Rochester (N.Y.) Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society. The speech, and indeed the meeting itself, were contrived to provide a counter-celebration to Independence Day. Speaker after speaker, Douglass among them, took aim at the cherished pieties of the nation: the memory of the Revolution, the elusive ideal of liberty for all, and the country's moral and religious foundation. As NYU professor Colaiaco (Socrates Against Athens) makes clear, Douglass's biting oratory on that occasion resonated loudly across a startled country. "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine," he told his white listeners. "You may rejoice, I must mourn." Douglass's remarks dove to the heart of the hypocrisy upon which the American nation had been founded. With incisive analysis and elegant prose, Colaiaco explains the rhetorical atmosphere in which Douglass crafted and delivered his speech. More than one abolitionist by then was rising up to call for a "second American Revolution," to fulfill the spirit of 1776's fine words. Douglass's eloquence added to the sharpness of this clarion call, while also drawing a firm line between the romantic folklore and grim reality of American liberty. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Colaiaco (Sch. of Continuing & Professional Studies, NYU; Martin Luther King, Jr.) offers a critical evaluation of the magisterial address that Frederick Douglass, the preeminent African American abolitionist and orator, gave in observance of Independence Day on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, NY. The author studies the gnawing contradictions between the ideals expressed by the men who conceived the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and the American conundrum of freedom deferred that Douglass reckoned with. Douglass's much-reprinted political jeremiad epitomized the speaker's progress toward becoming an independent thinker and pragmatist, a transformational figure whose broader interpretation of the American promise had an impact on President Lincoln during the Civil War. In keeping with Colaiaco's objectives (as well as those of the quintessentially American Douglass), the book also addresses the expansion of liberties for the entire social polity rather than just for blacks. A result of the recent effort by several publishers to bring monographic treatments of significant speeches to the general reading public, this compelling book would be welcome in all public and academic libraries, but especially those seeking to build or enhance their collections on historical African American culture and political rhetoric.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403970336
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/24/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

James A. Colaiaco received his Ph.D. in intellectual history from Columbia, and has for the past twenty-five years taught Great Books at New York University in the General Studies Program at NYU. Colaiaco is author of Socrates against Athens: Philosophy on Trail, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Nonviolence, and James Fitzjames Stephen and the Crisis of Victorian Thought.

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Table of Contents

Prologue

• Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July

• Narrating America's Revolutionary Past

• Denouncing America's Unjust Present

• Conversion to the United States Constitution

• The Ominous Future: A Nation on the Brink

• The Dred Scott Decision and the American Dilemma

• The United States Constitution is Anti-Slavery

• Epilogue

• Notes

• Selected Bibliography

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