Analysis Pages

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

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

Text of Douglass's Speech

🔒 30

"anathemas..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

An anathema is a formal denouncement or damning. The term has Greek and Latin ecclesiastical roots, and archaically it meant cutting someone off from the church or sending them to hell. In Douglass’s speech, he uses the term to describe how Americans condemn those whom they believe to hold antithetical values.

"bulwark..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “bulwark” has several meanings. In most cases, it literally means a defensive wall; however, figuratively it connotes protection. Here, Douglass employs the second definition to illustrate how the church supports and uphold the framework of slavery.

"caprice and rapacity..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The words “caprice” and “rapacity” mean the propensity to exhibit random changes in behavior and excessive greed, respectively. Douglass talks of how lives in the internal slave trade are bought and sold at the whims of the slave traders.

"flesh-mongers..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “monger” describes someone who deals or trades in a specific market. Similarly to a flesh-jobber, a “flesh-monger” is someone who buys and sells slaves. The language here is excessively violent, and again, denotes that slaves are not human, but merely meat to be collected, shipped, and sold at market.

"flesh-jobbers..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

A “jobber” is an independent worker who buys products from manufacturers and and sells them to retailers. From context, the audience may infer that a “human flesh-jobber” is someone who buys and sells slaves and drives them from one market to another by violent means, “armed with pistol, whip, and bowie-knife.” By using the term “flesh,” the commodity—the slaves—are no longer human; they are meat in a market.

"swine..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Through the use of simile, Douglass likens the treatment of slaves involved in the internal slave trade with that of swine, or pigs. This literary device highlights the inhumane conditions of the internal slave trade. In the next line, he asks his audience if they know of “swine-droving,” a practice of moving pigs to market. This too, he says, is similar to the practice of moving human livestock from market to market.

"execrable..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass denounces slavery in the most derogatory terms and calls the slave trade “execrable,” meaning appalling or atrocious. Throughout this paragraph, he uses several other words that use the same “ex-” prefix such as “extirpate,” which means to eradicate, and “execration,” which means to denounce. This combination of harsh-sounding words creates a cacophonous and biting rhetoric.

"canopy of heaven..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “canopy” describes a cloth covering a bed or throne. Perhaps this image illustrates how heaven encompasses all of humankind. The difference between black and white is meaningless under the auspices of heaven.

"I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! ..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This lament is charged with powerful diction, including the adjectives “plaintive,” “peeled,” and “woe-smitten.” “Plaintive” suggests the expression of mourning, “peeled” suggests being stripped or exposed, and “woe-smitten” describes the feeling of being struck with sorrow. Combined, these terms speak to the agony Douglass feels as he grieves for the nation.

"household words..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

First coined by Shakespeare in [Henry V] (, the term “household words” describes words or ideas that laymen understand; they are spoken informally at home and taught thoroughly in schools. Douglass assumes that the white audience members are well-versed in the history of the American Revolution, perhaps even more so than he is.

"jubilee..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “jubilee,” which originates from Levitical law to commemorate the liberation of Hebrew slaves, describes a time of celebration. Douglass uses the term to describe the exuberance and joyfulness of Independence Day.

"shrouded..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass uses the word “shroud” as a verb to describe the potential state of the country. “To shroud” has several definitions: more broadly, it means to cover and conceal; however, it also means to cover a corpse with a veil or fabric for burial. With the use of this grotesque imagery, Douglass warns that if the young nation continues down the same destructive path, it may face a gloomy future.

"I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary!..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Here Douglass reiterates how he stands apart from his audience and to the American people. He expresses this distance with a clever play on words, stating that he is not “within the pale of this glorious anniversary.” The noun “pale” refers to a bounded area of land. It derives from the Latin palus, meaning “stake”; stake relates to the fence or pal-isade that marks the boundary of a pale. Douglass also uses “pale” in the adjectival sense, ultimately pointing to the pale of white—or pale—Americans from which he, as an African American, is excluded.

"Mammon..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “Mammon” derives from a number of ancient sources—the Latin mammona, the Aramaic mamona, and the Hebrew mamon—all of which mean “money.” In Douglass’s usage, Mammon refers to the demonic spirit of money. Mammon appears in the New Testament of the Bible as the pursuit of wealth in an abstract sense, but in the Middle Ages, Mammon came to be viewed as an actual devil who personifies greed. Douglass suggests that Independence Day is so pervasive that “even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day.”

"the very ring-bolt in the chain..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Drawing on a symbol he uses throughout the speech, Douglass describes American history as a chain of which the 4th of July is the “very ring-bolt.” In a chain, the ring-bolt is the very first ring, the one bolted to the anchor point of the entire chain.

"vociferations..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “vociferations” refers to loud utterances and outcries. It comes from the Latin root vox, which means “voice.” Douglass uses the word to describe the pleas of the American tories to give up all thought of revolution and remain with the crown.

"somewhat less euphonious term..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “euphonious” means “pleasing to the ear.” It comes from Greek, combining the prefix eu (“good”) and the root phon (“sound”). Douglass uses it when referring to a less pleasant-sounding nickname for the American tories. Douglass does not cite the specific term, but commonly used terms include “royalists” and “King’s men.”

"tories..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

During the American Revolution, the “tories” were the American loyalists to the British Crown who resisted the revolutionary actions of the patriots. Douglass cites tories as one notable example of the variety of conservatively minded people who, in any historical era or event, will align themselves with the reigning authority or status quo. In British politics, the Tory party has been the active conservative party since the 17th century.

"sheet anchor..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

A “sheet anchor” refers to the largest anchor on a ship, usually reserved for emergencies. Here Douglass crafts a compelling metaphor in which the founders of the United States are compared to a ship at sea that has cast down its sheet anchor due to a storm. The more intense the storm—itself a metaphor for the British assaults on the American colonies—the more deeply the anchor grips the seafloor. This image symbolizes the way the founders deepened their convictions as external pressures mounted.

"discant..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The word “discant” is most commonly used to describe a type of song or melody, but in this case it refers to a critical discourse on a theme. In this context, Douglass uses it to describe those who breezily criticize the oppressive actions of the British in retrospect.

"dastard..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

A “dastard” is a person who is both cowardly and malicious. Douglass uses the word to illustrate his point that historical events are easier to judge in retrospect. In the case of the American Revolution, it was simple enough to determine 76 years later that the American colonists were in the right that even a “dastard” could do so. However, at the time of the revolution, it was difficult to determine with confidence which side was right.

"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.

"your republican politics..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

When Douglass says “republican,” he is not referring to a political party; rather, he is referring to the qualities of a republic, a government marked by the power its citizens have to vote. In continuing to point out hypocrisy, Douglass turns to the “flagrantly inconsistent” policies of the mid-19th century. He continued to challenge inconsistencies in legislation, and in his 1866 essay “Reconstruction,” he expressed his belief that consistency in law and application thereof is necessary for a liberated nation.

"ecclesiastics..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “ecclesiastics” is synonymous with “clergyman” and refers to a member of a church clergy ordained to perform services or pastoral functions.

"despotisms..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “despotism” refers to the rule of an absolute monarch or authority. In such systems, the despot possesses complete power over the citizenry and abuses the power of the state for personal gain. In his 1866 speech “Reconstruction,” Douglass uses this term extensively. He advocates for a consistent federal doctrine but cautions against the abuses of power that come with despotic governments.

"to flay..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The verb “to flay” refers to the action of removing strips or portion of the skin. Similar to the verb “to whip,” it refers to the practice by which slave owners abused and punished their slaves with whips, lashes, or other thin instruments.

"Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous?..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This rhetorical question suggests that the passion of “the righteous” has been memorialized among the dead in the form of tombs and sepulchres—a structure made for interring the deceased. Douglass continues his comparison of contemporary Americans to the Jews who have “long lost Abraham's faith and spirit.” Rather than live up to the examples of the nation’s founders, Douglass criticizes his contemporaries for their lack of virtue.

"indolence..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “indolence” refers to an inclination towards laziness, a desire for ease, and an avoidance of trouble. Here, Douglass uses the word to emphasize how the current generation has no right to live a life of ease after all of the efforts and sacrifices their forerunners have made.

"unexceptionable..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

By “unexceptionable,” Douglass means that the behavior of the founders was done so appropriately that no one could object or criticize their methods. However, he follows this by saying that despite such methods, they failed to realize their objectives.

"prerogatives..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The noun “prerogative” refers to a special power or privilege that one may have over another. For example, in the context of the American colonies, Great Britain’s King George III exercised his prerogatives—his rights as king—by levying taxes on the American colonies.

Analysis Pages