Journal of Appellate Practice and Process

By Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.

On July 5, 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave the keynote address at a Rochester, New York, event commemorating the 76th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was clear from his first utterance that he was in no mood to celebrate. The United States was locked in a protracted and fierce debate over the question of slavery. For Douglass, marking “Independence Day” only served to underscore the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating “freedom” while enslaving people of African descent on its blood-drenched soil.

Douglass told the crowd of 600 mostly white antislavery supporters that while he appreciated their moral opposition to slavery, their celebration of American independence rang hollow to him and his enslaved brothers and sisters, saying: “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.”1

Douglass took his audience to task:

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