“This Fourth of July is Yours, Not Mine, You May Rejoice, I Must Mourn.”

Frederick Douglass’s Speech is Even More Relevant Today

William Spivey
13 min readJun 29, 2024



Frederick Douglas posed this question in a speech delivered on July 5, 1852, at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York. “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”

The first Fourth of July celebration was held on July 4, 1777, in recognition of the last of the thirteen colonies signing the Declaration of Independence a year earlier. The Declaration contained noble words, such as “all men were created equal,” and it described the “equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” were entitlements of all Americans. Yet these words were never intended to include the enslaved. The primary writer of the document, Thomas Jefferson, owned over 600 enslaved people in his lifetime, manumitting less than a handful before his death 54 years later. The Declaration of Independence meant nothing to slaves, and neither did the Fourth of July.

When Douglass gave his speech in 1852, was the slave better off because of the Fourth of July? By what measure of freedom can it be said the slave prospered? The slave could not vote. Often, they were forbidden to read or write. Douglass lauded the fathers of the republic for their accomplishments in founding a new nation. Yet he noted their…