Wednesday, July 3, 2024

A solemn and perilous circumstance

On Independence Day in 1862 Frederick Douglass delivered an address in Himrod, New York. This is only a small selection of passages from that rather long speech:
FELLOW CITIZENS: Eighty-six years ago the fourth of July was consecrated and distinguished among all the days of the year as the birthday, of American liberty and Independence. The fathers of the Republic recommended that this day be celebrated with joy and gladness by the whole American people, to their latest posterity. Probably not one of those fathers ever dreamed that this hallowed day could possibly be made to witness the strange and portentous Events now transpiring before our eyes, and which even now cast a cloud of more than midnight blackness over the face of the whole country. We are the observers of strange and fearful transactions. ....

Never was this national anniversary celebrated in circumstances more trying, more momentous, more solemn and perilous, than those by which this nation is now so strongly environed. We present to the world at this moment, the painful spectacle of a great nation, undergoing all the bitter pangs of a gigantic and bloody revolution. We are torn and rent asunder, we are desolated by large and powerful armies of our own kith and kin, converted into desperate and infuriated rebels and traitors, more savage, more fierce and brutal in their modes of warfare, than any recognized barbarians making no pretensions to civilization. ....

Men have strange notions now[a]days as to the manner of showing their respect for the heroes of the past. They everywhere prefer the form to the substance, the seeming to the real. .... Nevertheless, I would not even in words do violence to the grand events, and thrilling associations, that gloriously cluster around the birth of our national Independence. There is no need of any such violence. The thought of today and the work of today, are alike linked, and interlinked with the thought and work of the past. The con´Čéict between liberty and slavery, between civilization and barbarism, between enlightened progress and stolid indifference and inactivity is the same in all countries, in all ages, and among all peoples. Your fathers drew the sword for free and independent Government, Republican in its form, Democratic in its spirit, to be administered by officers duly elected by the free and unbought suffrages of the people; and the war of today on the part of the loyal north, the east and the west, is waged for the same grand and all commanding objects. We are only continuing the tremendous struggle, which your fathers, and my fathers began eighty-six years ago. ....

FELLOW CITIZENS: let me say in conclusion. This slavery begotten and slavery sustained, and slavery animated war. has now cost this nation more than a hundred thousand lives, and more than five hundred millions of treasure. It has weighed down the national heart with sorrow and heaviness, such as no speech can portray. It has cast a doubt upon the possibility of liberty and self Government which it will require a century to remove. .... I have told you of great national Opportunities in the past; a greater [one] than any in the past is the opportunity of the present. If now we omit the duty it imposes, steel our hearts against its teachings, or shrink in cowardice from the work of today, your fathers will have fought and bled in vain to establish free Institutions, and American Republicanism will become a hissing and a by-word to a mocking earth. (the entire address)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.