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Friday, August 9, 2013

America: Land of the Free?



I took the time to read a speech by Frederick Douglas, on the Fourth of July and I am glad I did. Here are a few excerpts of that speech I wanted to use for this article, "Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. 



My subject, then fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;" I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be fight and just. But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. 



But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, their will I argue with you that the slave is a man!
For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him. 




Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival. Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic.



 In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) "the internal slave trade." It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our doctors of divinity. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable."



I felt as though I not only walked through a door, 160 years into the past, but saw a distinct parallel between then and our society today. While old-fashioned slavery, with whips, chains, and plantations may no longer exist, as they once did, we have a modern form of slavery, with which we live every day. I am talking about the middle class, working poor, and the destitute, who struggle every single day in our country, many working longer, harder hours, for less money and shrinking benefits, while the rich line their pockets deeper and deeper off the backs of the 99%.

This speech, though 160 years ago can easily characterize the society we live in today. To think of the vast technological innovations and advancements of just the last generation and yet in so many other ways we are as backward and ignorant as we see those from centuries past. It makes me wonder if we truly will be able to survive as a species, considering how far we still have to go to reach equality and justice for all. Our society has become a place where capitalism is the new religion, where it is heresy to speak out in public against the corporation, the elite and wealthy few who control the vast majority. A society where politicians are bought and paid spokesman's for special interest groups, instead of representatives of the people. We have a constitution being shredded a little more every day, while we are told to follow fashion, obey authority, watch television, conform, submit, go to work, pay taxes, be good Americans, trust in your government, wave the flag, anything less than that and we will consider you a traitor, a terrorist sympathizer, evil, or un-American. Our country warehouses human beings, in for-profit correctional institutions, and people actually make money off of human warehousing, instead of investing in rehabilitative services for those in the justice system. Many prisons have resorted to forcing prisoners to work in exchange for pennies on the dollar, leaving huge windfalls for those in control; Furthermore,  Child Protection Services, or Children and Youth Services as they are called in some states actually have Justice Department investigations open, due to the human trafficking of children..

This speech, though 160 years ago can easily characterize the society we live in today. To think of the vast technological innovations and advancements of just the last generation and yet in so many other ways we are as backward and ignorant as we see those from centuries past. It makes me wonder if we truly will be able to survive as a species, considering how far we still have to go to reach equality and justice for all.




References:



Frederick Douglass Speech: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1852-frederick-douglass-what-slave-fourth-july



Yvonne Mason, Writer for WordPress: http://protectingourchildrenfrombeingsold.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/cps-corruption-and-human-trafficking-exposed-in-san-luis-obispo/