It's hard to talk about the Fourth of July without addressing patriotism. After all, it's America's birthday. People wear red, white, and blue. They hang bunting and flags. They have parades. All in all, it's a rah-rah, go us, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" kind of day, and it memorializes a happy event (the signing of the Declaration of Independence).
If you can't celebrate on your birthday, when can you celebrate, right?
But that's just the thing, says Douglass in "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery." The only people who feel like celebrating are the people America works for, not the people who, um, are enslaved and made to work for America. He's less than thrilled by this whole thing because he knows that when the party is over, slaves are on cleanup duty.
Giving this speech in the context of a Fourth of July celebration is a demonstration of Douglass' patriotism.
This speech would not have had the same impact given on any day other than the Fourth of July.
You saw this one coming, didn't you? The speech is called "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery," after all, so slavery is obviously going to be a theme.
Throughout the speech, Douglass views the Fourth of July from a slave's perspective, demonstrating how totally bonkers the whole idea of celebrating freedom is while owning and otherwise oppressing slaves. He hits on many of the popular arguments against slavery, demonstrating that they're so obvious he doesn't need to really argue them, and he's not going to.
Oh, wait—except he does argue them, precisely by saying why he's not going to. Douglass is good at rhetorical tricks like that.
By refusing to argue the wrongfulness of slavery, Douglass actually succeeds in demonstrating why slavery is wrong.
Douglass uses biblical references to illustrate the idea that American slavery is not only hypocritical but also sinful in an attempt to appeal to Americans' religious beliefs.
Much like with the theme of "Slavery," you probably saw "Hypocrisy" coming a mile away.
It's right there in the title: "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery." We can't say Douglass didn't warn us. He loads up the speech with examples of how what America claims to stand for (freedom) and what America actually does (slavery) are in direct contrast. America has a serious case of "do as I say, not as I do," and Douglass lets us hear about it through the use of numerous examples of how American ideals contrast with American reality.
Douglass defines "hypocrisy" as a disconnect between ideals and actions.
Douglass' use of sarcasm and irony underline the theme of hypocrisy by juxtaposing the disconnect between words and meanings with a disconnect between ideals and reality.
To be fair, Douglass explicitly touches on the idea of race only twice. However, it's worth mentioning because race is what made American slavery different from slavery in any other historical context.
To justify slavery, many white Americans tried to prove that Black people were not the same as white people, that they were an inferior race and not fully human, and therefore white people were actually doing them a favor by "civilizing" them. Douglass points out that that's just not true, and everyone knows it.
Douglass claims he isn't going to argue the humanity of Black people, and then he goes on to do exactly that. His arguments personalize the abstract idea of race by demonstrating what white and Black people have in common.
Crime and punishment in America is a different experience for Black people than for white people, as Douglass points out. His examples fit into a long history of prejudice against Black people in the American justice system.