What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? Rhetorical Devices Lesson Plan

  • 31 pages
  • Subject: Ethos, Logos, Pathos, Rhetorical Devices, Thesis, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
  • Common Core Standards: RI.11-12.1, RI.11-12.2, RI.11-12.4, RI.11-12.5, RI.11-12.6, RI.11-12.9, SL.11-12.1

Additional What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? Resources

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Ethos, Logos, and Pathos as Rhetorical Devices

This lesson focuses on Douglass’s use of ethos, logos, and pathos as rhetorical devices in “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Students will analyze passages from the speech and explain how Douglass employs appeals to ethos, logos, and pathos to persuade the audience that slavery should be abolished in the United States. In studying Douglass’s use of the rhetorical devices for persuasive effect, students will be able to identify and describe his central arguments in the speech and determine how effective they are in convincing the audience to adopt his position on the issue.

Skills: close reading, interpreting connotative language, using historical context in approaching a text, drawing themes from a text

Introduction to the Lesson

Frederick Douglass delivered his “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, at the invitation of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. The occasion was the Society’s Fourth of July celebration, but Douglass refused to give the speech on July 4; he would not celebrate the holiday so long as African Americans remained enslaved. In the audience were President Millard Fillmore, numerous Washington politicians, and many of Douglass’s fellow abolitionists.

In the speech, Douglass makes his case for why slavery should be abolished immediately: slavery, he argues, is both anti-American and anti-Christian. Douglass also weaves into his argument observations that suggest that he, even as a free man, does not enjoy the same position in society as white Americans. In addressing the audience in Rochester, Douglass was speaking to the nation at large. A famous leader in the abolitionist movement and a noted orator, he knew his remarks would reach a much wider audience, and it was his intention to influence public opinion in favor of eradicating slavery in the United States.

Since Douglass was a celebrity in the abolitionist speaking circuit and friends with many in his audience, they likely expected to be praised for their commitment to freedom. However, the content of Douglass’s speech suggests a different approach in addressing them. After acknowledging the work and sacrifice of America’s founding fathers and honoring their commitment to liberty, the tone of Douglass’s speech changes. Celebrating America’s freedom on the Fourth of July, he points out, is hypocritical as millions of African Americans are enslaved, and the nation allows slavery and its horrors to continue. He identifies and condemns the forces at work in American society that support the institution of slavery, primarily greed and the subversion of the Constitution of the United States.

Douglass employs numerous rhetorical devices in presenting his argument that slavery must be abolished and in persuading his audience that his position on the issue must be adopted. Speaking as a former slave and a man well-educated in American history, the Constitution, and the Bible gives him authority in discussing the subject. Also, throughout his speech Douglass appeals to both reason and emotion as he develops logical arguments and evokes the conscience of his audience. His language is often poetic as well as powerful, making the speech even more compelling as he answers the question posed in the title.

Immediately after Douglass delivered his address, the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society endorsed his speech by a unanimous vote. “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” remains one of the most effective and poignant condemnations of slavery in the canon of American abolitionist literature, a tribute to the moral character and oratorical skills of Frederick Douglass.

About This Document

Owl Eyes lesson plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment and bridge the gap between online learning and in-class instruction. The main components of each plan include the following:

  • An introduction to the text
  • A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
  • Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
  • A collection of handouts complete with answer keys

Each of these comprehensive, 60-minute plans focus on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers.