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American Revolution: The Abolitionism Movement

The abolitionism movement was a significant event in the history of the state, changing the views and legal treatment of slavery. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” is a speech by Douglas prepared for the celebration of the American Revolution, in which Douglass argues for the freedom. Douglass was a well-known civil rights advocate, fighting against slavery and for protection of women’s rights, and his work helped advance the anti-slavery movement. This paper aims to examine Douglass’ allusions to the Exodus, their purpose, and their meaning.

Douglass refers to different elements that the American society was built on, including the Constitution and the values of the citizens, to support the anti-slavery views. Mainly, liberty and freedom, as well as citizenship, being the defining parts of an American state were not provided to a slave. In his speech, Douglass refers to the Bible many times, although he states that the church has failed to support the values that the religion advocates for in the Bible.

One reason for using Exodus is to better explain Douglass’ views to the audience since the Bible is a well-known text that both religious and non-religious people are familiar with, so it can be used as a reference. This religious text does not support slavery in any form, although some part of the Exodus describes the Israelites being enslaved and by the Egyptians. Since slavery was common at the time, Douglass had to use arguments that would show the inconsistency between people’s declared values and ethics and their actions. Mainly, the Americans value freedom but failed to provide it to the slaves.

Additionally, the Bible, as a major religious text, highlights these principles, and by referring to it, Douglass was able to create a good argument. Therefore, Douglass’ allusions to the Bible aim to bridge the gap between the beliefs of the people and their actions regarding slavery.

Douglass argues that religious people in the United States fail to adhere to the principles outlined in the Bible. By referring to the Exodus, he is able to show how the religion sees slavery in general and the inconsistencies between these views and the society’s approach to slavery. According to Douglass, “the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, and that it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters.” In this quote, Douglass argues that the American church actually supports people whose actions go against the Bible’s principles. Therefore, he appeals to the Exodus as a source of beliefs of the people, highlighting that the church fails to demonstrate these values.

Next, the Exodus refers to the story of Israelites who were enslaved by the Egyptians, which is a narrative demonstrating God’s view of slavery. Douglass states the following – “but, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea.” This quote refers to the story in Exodus, where Moses parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites people to pass. The Pharaoh and his army followed, but they drowned in the Red Sea.

Here, Douglass compares slavery in the United States to the enslavement of Israelites. Additionally, Douglass argues that God helped Moses and the Israelites escape from enslavement, and slavery is against God’s will. Therefore, the Exodus describes the Israelites freed from the Egyptians, and Douglass uses it to demonstrate the need to address slavery as something that is against the Bible.

Notably, Douglass makes a distinction between religion and the sects or churches that supported slavery at that time. In his speech, he notes that he is a religious man. However, he does not adhere to the teachings of the church. Both Douglass and his audience based their views of the world and of what is right and wrong on the same primary source – the Bible. However, they manifested these views differently, and in this speech, Douglass aimed to bridge this gap by stating that:

“they convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done.”

However, despite these statements, Douglass believed that religion and church could help find a solution to the problem of slavery. He cites an example of Great Britain that was able to overcome these pro-slavery beliefs and establish a civil society as their way of manifesting the Bible’s teachings. Therefore, the Bible was an important reference source for Douglass and helped him find common ground with his listeners.

Douglass used the Bible in his other works as well, as part of his anti-slavery argument. However, he did not base his anti-slavery position solely on the Bible or religious texts. He mainly referred to the Constitution and the principles outlined there, such as freedom and liberty. The Bible served as a source of support for his opinion and as a way of appealing to the religious communities.

The purpose of using allusions from the Bible is to create an argument that is tailored to the listener. Since the majority of people in the United States were Christians, including the African-American community, the Bible could provide support to the arguments that Douglass stated. Moreover, by demonstrating his knowledge of the Bible, Douglass was able to show his audience the similarities between his community and pro-slavery individuals. He was able to show that both communities use the same source to guide their decisions and to learn values and ethics. However, the use of this source differed, and in Douglass opinion, it was because of church and its support of slavery.

Douglass mentions that the anti-slavery movement was asked to spare the church. As he notes in his speech, the church ministers argue that one must obey the “man’s laws before obeying God’s laws” (Douglas). This quote suggests that Douglas and the anti-slavery moment saw the church as an enemy because of their controversial views and teachings that were against what is said in the Bible.

Overall, Douglass’ speech was written to appeal to the audience and create understandable references for the author’s arguments. He used the Bible, and in particular, the Exodus because it includes the story about the Israel slaves being freed from the Egyptians. These references make Douglass’ speech more convincing because his listeners were often religious. Through the use of the Bible and other references, Douglass is able to demonstrate the inconsistency between what the Americans of that time believed in and their actions.

Work Cited

Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?Teaching American History. Web.


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