Rhetorical Analysis: Douglass Frederick. “What the Black Man Wants.
Frederick Douglas was an extraordinary person, who “escaped slavery, and was a leading abolitionist, orator and newspaper publisher, diplomat and advisor to presidents.” That made him not only one of the greatest voices against oppression, but also relentless advocate of human right, be it women, black, immigrants or Native Americans.
In April 1865, to express his support for black people’s efforts to seek same privileges as others, he gave a remarkable speech at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. This speech was against the background of his belief that the government’s role was to protect the individual’s rights and ensure equality before the law. His famous speech was not only about the right of African-Americans, but about all those who were standing up against oppression of any kind. He didn’t advocate a welfare state, but something very broad and all encompassing. He believed in limiting the role of government, and that it cannot force people to obey the laws that are against the “natural rights and happiness” of the people.
Expanding further on his ideology for laws to be in harmony with natural rights, he believed that the economic liberty was a critical piece of the overarching concept of liberty. He was very practical in his approach and strongly believed that the accumulation of property/wealth was everybody’s duty. However, he was accused of having a pro-capitalist bias as he was not a strong proponent of redistribution of wealth.
The major learning experience from his speech is that; one should seek examples from history in search for current solutions; should see things in a very logical way; even in times of struggle one should be considerate towards opponents; one should take advantage of the momentum gained as such times don’t come again; and the need to rise to the occasion.
At the beginning of his speech, Frederick Douglas says, ” as a listener, and not as a speaker; and one of the reasons why I have not been more frequently to the meeting of the society.” What Douglass wants to convey in this passage is that he came to this meeting as a listener and not as a speaker. He says the reason he has not been more frequent is because some member of the society has the tendency of calling him over the platform. He believes this is in spite of the fact there are some differences of opinion between him and other people sharing the platform. Also, he didn’t want to be seen as someone trying to disturb the proceedings of the meeting.
In the above mentioned points, the speaker is trying to clarify that it was not his sole intent to come over the platform, and speak. He is trying to clarify that he has agreed to share the platform after much hesitation and persuasion. Also, he is conveying that there might be some difference of opinion between him and others sharing the platform, and he shouldn’t be seen as a disruptive person.
The significance of the passage quoted above is that he is trying to create an ethos, as he didn’t aim to be at the platform. He is creating a foreground about what he is about to deliver. In particular, that he will be speaking his own mind and will not necessarily agree with other members sharing the platform. He is also clarifying that his difference of opinion shouldn’t be seen as an act of disruption or an attempt to stall the proceedings.
In the next paragraph, Frederick Douglass states, “What is freedom? It is the right to choose one’s own employment.” Here, Douglass tries to convey is that he is against Gen. Banks and his policy; this policy is also the main danger as it will reverse the previous gains. He gives further details by stating the dangers of this policy. He believes that his policy will allow others to decide their, when, where, what, and for whom they work. This he believes will take them back to the days of slavery. He feared that it will create wrong kind of institutions, where it agents will continue to oppress in the name of system.
In the third paragraph, he states, “I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every State in the Union.” Here, he tried to convey that he has been firm on his idea for past three years that he wants complete abolition once and for all throughout the nation. He believed anything short of this would be mockery of the system, and would still fit the definition of slavery.
In this passage he is using ethos to convey to the audience that they should aim for nothing short of complete abolition of slavery, and across the country. There is great significance of this statement in the context of their struggle against oppression, and considering this is the first time he has been invited to share the platform. Even though there is no disagreement among the members, the significance of the statement lies in focusing everybody’s energies towards their ultimate goal.
In the fourth paragraph, he states, “that this pressing of the Negros’ right to suffrage is premature. Let us have slavery abolished,” He states his disagreement with those who feel that their demand for the abolition is premature. Also, the stepwise approach to the abolition of suffrage would also be inappropriate. He believes that the American people have had their share of miseries, and rebellion is the need of the hour. He tries to convey that they have reached a breaking point; if they fail to take advantage the momentum, they will have difficulty gaining the same again soon.
In the above passage, Frederick Douglass, uses pathos to convince the audience that have suffered enough, and it is time to rise to the occasion and get the abolition. The significance of the paragraph lies in the fact that they need to take advantage of the momentum they have gained. They should not be swayed by those who say the idea was premature or a stepwise approach would be better. He further emphasizes that they have all come together as one after much misery and bloodshed. They should not let this moment go. If they do, then it they’d probably have to wait till another century or so before they are able to unite like that day.
In the fifth paragraph, he states,” It may be asked, “Why do you want it? Some men have got along very well without it.”. In this conversation he countered the construct that just because other men had got along without franchise and women didn’t have it either, didn’t mean they shouldn’t have it. He emphatically states that they need it because they consider it as their right, and as a means of educating themselves. Further, he states that individual set expectations about themselves from estimate formed from others. He implied that had they been living in an autocratic environment; they would have been contented. But, upon seeing their kinds enjoying fruits of franchise, they are compelled to have similar expectations. Therefore, they should demand the franchise for black people. I would consider this point as the climax of the speech.
Here Fredrick Douglass demonstrates a very strong element of logos in hammering his point. His purpose is to motivate his people, and this he does by stating strong logic in support of his cause. He wants his audience to understand that franchise is something they are entitled to no matter how the opponents try to portray. In a classic case of euphemism, he tries to explain to them that they are not living in an autocratic environment, it is appropriate for them to set expectations for themselves based on others (read white males) in the society. The significance of this approach was to make the audience realize that they should not accept the status quo and disregard the binaries existing in the system. Also, they should realize that, in their fight for justice they need to take along with them others, such as white women, who would have had similar grievances.
In the later part of the sixth paragraph, he states that, “The South was fighting to take slavery out of the Union, and the North fighting to keep it in the Union; the South fighting for new guarantees, and the North fighting for the old guarantees;” In this passage he is trying to convey to the audience that African-American of the Union, in South and in North, are fighting in their own way. However, their approaches are quite different.
In this passage, he used a strong element of ethos in conveying to the audience the need for concerted effort by the Blacks of the North and the South. Instead of conflicting approaches, there was need for a unified approach as the spirit behind the struggle was the same. The significance of the passage lays the element of persuasion in order to have all the Blacks work together towards their goal of universal franchise for all in the Union. He was reemphasizing the need for unified struggle, as that would be something that desirable.
In the seventh paragraph, he states, “I know that we are inferior to you in some things – virtually inferior.” Here he tried to convey, in a negative sense, that given a chance they are inferior to none. Further, taking an ethical approach, the clarified that nobody is inferior in the globe; this concept is had just been carried forward from ages. He then cited example of how just six centuries ago Anglo Saxon were considered inferior by Normans.
This passage is a beautiful example of both pathos and logos. Here Frederick Douglass tried to convey that relatively little time has passed since reconciliation between Anglo Saxons and Normans. And their struggle for franchise is a natural progression of the same. The significance of this passage is that he first raised and then tried to calm the passion of his audience. Here he tried to convey that Black people need not be indignant of Whites. They should be considerate towards them, and at the same time continue their fight for equality.
In the eighth paragraph he states that, “as I have said; for whenever men oppress their fellows,” In this passage he gives various example from the world over about how oppressors have viewed the oppressed. In his support, he gives a metaphor of U.S., when it wanted to take part of Mexico. Also, when Russia wanted to take part of Turkey then treated as inferior. Similarly, when England wanted to stake claim of Ireland, they too treated them as inferior.
In the above mentioned passage, he makes a strong use of logos. He is trying to convey that, in the world history, when one power tries to suppress the other, the latter is always projected as inferior. Here he is trying to reinforce that what had been happening with them was nothing new. The significance of this part of speech is that they shouldn’t feel discouraged and should evaluate their condition in historical and evolutionary context. He also makes use of pathos in raising their hopes that that was a passing phase. Like in the previous historical examples, with determined effort, they too will achieve equality they so cherish. To elevate the mood of the audience, he ends the passage with lighter note by saying if they are good enough to be hanged, they are good enough for pretty much anything. He also makes an attempt to raise their morale by stating if they were good enough for paying taxes, they were also good enough to get franchise.
In conclusion, I believe that this speech is a classic piece of work. What strikes me most is how Frederick Douglass so effectively used Aristotle’s means of persuasion – ethos, pathos, and logos. Another important part is how the use of these means of persuasion, in alternate paragraphs, help reached climax and conveyed the message so effectively. This alternate use allows for captive audience and prevents the speech from being biased or monotonous.
The rhetorical analysis of this speech allowed me to gain valuable knowledge about when how to use these means of persuasion. It will not only help me in writing and delivering speech effectively, but also in making brainstorming or other arguments effective. The whole process of writing such speech would be a stimulating experience and will improve my cognitive abilities.
Douglass, Frederick. What the Black Man Wants. 1865. Web. 13 02 2014. <http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-the-black-man-wants/>.
—. What The Black Man Wants: Speech Of Frederick Douglass. 1865. Web. 13 02 2014. <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/IN/RBSCP/Frederick_Douglass/ATTACHMENTS/Douglass_What_the_Black_Man_Wants.pdf>.
Tanner, Michael. What Frederick Douglass Stood For. 13 06 2013. <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/351396/what-frederick-douglass-stood-michael-tanner>.