Analysis Pages

Ethos in What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

Ethos Examples in What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? :

Text of Douglass's Speech


"I will unite with you to honor their memory...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

While Douglass clearly disagrees with the inclusion of slavery in the nation’s founding, he acknowledges that the founding fathers were great and brave men. In a powerful rhetorical move—one he rarely uses throughout the speech—he aligns himself with the audience in order to jointly commemorate the greatness of these men.

"He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

At the outset, Douglass establishes his ethos to the audience. He claims that he is “limited” and inexperienced with regard to the subject at hand. The use of the adjective “quailing” and the adverb “shrinkingly” demonstrate his supposed hesitancy and meekness. Although Douglass was a powerful and passionate writer and orator—by this time, he had written a memoir as well as myriad articles and speeches—he understood the importance of establishing a relatable rapport with his audience. He begins the speech by demonstrating his credibility in a humble and level-headed appeal to ethos.

"You could instruct me in regard to them...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

In this passage Douglass makes an appeal to both ethos and pathos. By displaying his own lack of understanding and deferring to his audience on the topic of the American Revolution, he succeeds in both garnering the trust of his audience and fanning their sense of pride.

"high sounding exordium..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The Latin noun exordium refers to the beginning of a speech. The word—which combines the roots ex (“out of”) and ordio (“I begin”)—literally means “where I begin from.” Douglass assures his audience that he will not open his speech with a “high sounding” prelude. To the contrary, Douglass’s initial rhetorical tactic is one of humility; in an appeal to ethos, he describes his own nervousness, ill-preparedness, and lack of skill in order to appear more human and thus win the favor of his audience.

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