The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro
by Frederick Douglass
A speech given at Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852
Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens:
He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I
have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more
shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me
quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one
which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that
apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine
will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me.
The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails
me nothing on the present occasion.
The papers and placards say that I am to deliver a Fourth of July Oration. This certainly sounds
large, and out of the common way, for me. It is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in
this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their
familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall seems to free me from
The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation,
from which I escaped, is considerable-and the difficulties to he overcome in getting from the
latter to the former are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of
astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say
I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With
little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and
imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous...