You share the rich inheritance of justice and liberty, prosperity, and independence that your fathers left you. You have brought me stripes and death, while the sun has brought you life and healing. This Fourth of July [of] July belongs to you, and not mine.
Douglass made what historians call the greatest antislavery speech. He cited Shakespeare, invoked the Bible and praised the Constitution as a "glorious liberty" document that was "entirely hostile to slavery."
"He's trying tamper with this American hypocrisy about how you could have such an enormous and growing slave system, and (a) society which claims it's dedicated liberty and freedom, even to equality," stated David Blight, Yale history professor and author of "Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom."
Douglass' speech, which is almost 170 years old today, still resonates in American public consciousness. This speech is often recited and quoted at this time of the year. USA TODAY spoke to leading Douglass scholars about the motivations for Douglass' harsh critique of America.
Douglass spent nearly three weeks creating the speech. Raymond Winbush (director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University) said that Douglass' motivation was simple.
Winbush stated that Winbush was inspired by the hypocrisy in this country. He was mad when he wrote it.
Douglass saw two Americas. One with 3 million slaves. The other where Americans beat drums, sang hymns and wave banners of "joyous enthusiasm" in celebration of their freedom.
Douglass' famous speech was two years ago when the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1800, which required that runaway slaves be returned to their owners.
Underground Railroad was used to transport slaves from the South for decades. The Fugitive Slave Law made it illegal for Northern states to arrest runaways until the passage of this law.
Federal law required that U.S. marshals and federal officials, as well as everyday citizens, assist in the capture of suspected runaways even if they are located in free states. Anyone who refuses to capture a slave runaway or helps them can be punished with a fine or imprisonment.