Douglass begins his speech by highlighting the virtues of the Founding Fathers and their thrust for independence from the British Crown. He notes that the idea of attempting to establish sovereignty by breaking away from the British command was indeed very brave and revolutionary. Having identified and praised what is meritorious about the short history of the American nation, Douglass declares how these achievements are offset by a perennial negative feature of American society – namely black slavery. Douglass’ tone is one of deliberate and measured rationality and inquiry. He punctuates his speech with numerous historical references that justify his plea of equality for blacks.
Frederick Douglass delivered his speech a decade before the onset of the Civil War – a time when blacks did not even have the nominal status of freedom. An overwhelming majority of the community is slaves and led a harsh and laborious life. For this reason, Douglass declares, the Fourth of July is a day of celebration for ‘you’ (White Americans) and not ‘us’ (Black Americans). The condition of the black community in America has not seen any improvement in the eight decades of independence that has preceded the date of his speech. Douglass is quite right in feeling about his community this way. There is no reason for rejoicing for his community till they win civil rights on par with that of white Americans.
Herman Melville’s poetry anthology Battle Pieces and the Aspects of War comprise his philosophical meditations. Although not popular during Melville’s lifetime, the work has since acquired a reputation as a classic. Comparable to the more famous Moby Dick in terms of philosophical rigor, the work contains plenty of comment on the human and social condition. The theme of war is the focus of the work, as Melville probes the meaning, utility and the consequences of war. Writing as he did in the aftermath of the Civil War, the authorial view is one of cynicism toward the enterprise of war. Through the various questions posed in the verse, Melville hints at the futility of war. This view is not out of place when one takes into account the benefits brought by the end of the war to the nation’s politics and society.