glyph 612: Frederick Douglass, Rochester oration 1852, founders of United states of America, USA . Declaration of Independence, 4th of July, celebration ... slavery, abolition


Frederick Douglass on the Founders of The United States of America

who were they, what did they do, intend?

Douglass' Assessment of the character and intention of the Founders

Douglass was a great man. His mind was passionate, complex, and capable of deep insight. He could contemplate conflicting ideas and bring them into a rich harmony of comprehension to form the basis for unconditionally constructive action. His whole understanding, not only a part of it, is of enduring importance.

This text is taken from Douglass' magnificent oration delivered on the fifth of July, 1852, in Rochester, New York. In that oration is found Douglass' often quoted (for good reason) fierce, unequivolcal, entirely accurate condemnation of slavery, and of those who support it in any way.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardships to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep, the corner-stone of the national super-structure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

The complete oration will be found here

More will be found in glyph 476
July 7, 2019; edited/updated July 5, 2020

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