It is true that on July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass told a crowd of mostly white supporters that he was embarrassed by July 4 celebrations. He said that each year, they reminded him of America’s failure to apply the “sentiments” of our Declaration of Independence to black Americans.
However, after the Civil War, that same Frederick Douglass was proud of America and our July 4 celebrations. And he was proud to be a “died in the wool” Republican!
In 1852, Frederick Douglass had good reason to call July 4 was an embarrassment to America. Like Abraham Lincoln, he believed that on July 4, 1776, Americans created a nation that was supposed to be based on the “sentiments” of our Declaration of Independence. These included the great principles of “political freedom and natural justice”. He described the courage and sacrifices made by the patriots who fought for our independence.
However, Like Abraham Lincoln, Douglass in 1852 was disappointed in Americans for allowing the evil of slavery to continue more than “three score and ten” (70) years after 1776. Douglass reminded them that America’s Jubilee year, its 50th year, had come and gone. (At that time, almost every American was very familiar the Biblical law that all slaves were to be set free on the Jubiliee, the 50th year. That passage from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus is written on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.)
What caused Frederick Douglass to completely change his opinion of America and the July 4 holiday?
The short answer is that for the next twenty years after Douglass gave his famous July 4 speech in 1852, America did everything Frederick Douglass urged them to do. They organized an “Underground Railroad” that helped thousands of blacks escape from slavery in the South. They risked the harsh punishments of prison and heavy fines of the Federal “Fugitive Slave Act” of 1850. Since slaves were property then worth roughly $400 ($15,000 to $40,000 in today’s currency), the “Underground Railroad” financially ruined slave owners together with banks, and insurance companies who enabled slave trading in the “Border States” (the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri).
Most white Americans also supported a new Republican Party created to end slavery in America. They elected Republicans who passed laws that stopped slavery from spreading into federal territories that had not yet become states. They also organized armed militias and fought and died to keep slavery out of Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and California. In 1860, white Americans elected Republican Abraham Lincoln as President.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 convinced whites in eleven of the fifteen slave states that most American whites agreed with Frederick Douglass. Most southern whites realized that most whites in the North were determined to end slavery in America. That is why they tried to quit the Union in 1861. White Americans in the North then rallied to preserve the Union an end slavery. They welcomed black Americans to join that fight. Roughly 310,000 white and 40,000 black Americans fought and died in that four year war.
On January 1, 1863, Republican President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared that black slaves in the eleven rebel states were free. Union armies won important victories against rebel armies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863. During the summer of 1864, Union soldiers freed tens of thousands of slaves by capturing Atlanta and marching through Georgia to Savannah. On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment to permanently end slavery in all states, on December 6, 1865, it was ratified by the states.
On November 19, 1863, Republican President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at Gettysburg to dedicate a new cemetery for Union soldiers who died during the battle that summer. In it, he responded to what Frederick Douglass had said about July 4 eleven years before:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. —Abraham Lincoln
We are a group of roughly 200 citizens who mostly live near Atlantic City, New Jersey. We volunteer our time and money to maintain this website. We do our best to post accurate information. However, we admit we make mistakes from time to time. If you see any mistakes or inaccurate, misleading, outdated, or incomplete information in this or any of our posts, please let us know. We will do our best to correct the problem as soon as possible.
Also, because Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms falsely claim our posts violate their “community standards”, they greatly restrict, “throttle back” or “shadow ban” our posts. Please help us overcome that by sharing our posts wherever you can, as often as you can. Please click the social share links below. Also copy and paste the link to the “comments” section of your favorite sites like Patch.com or PressofAtlanticCity.com and email them to your friends. Thanks.
Seth Grossman, Executive Director