Actor Ossie Davis recorded a portion of this lecture for Folkways Records; it was released in 1975. I’m streaming a 7½ -minute excerpt on my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear this sterling example of abolitionist rhetoric.
(Davis’s full 18-minute recitation can be purchased for download here, if you’re an eMusic subscriber.)
To get the most out of my nytimes.com “TimesSelect” subscription, I decided to check whether the New York Times had reported anything on Frederick Douglass’s speech. (The Times digital archive goes back to 1851. Oh, the fun to be had by a history nerd!)
I found no mention of the Douglass speech, but I learned something interesting – kind of hilarious, actually, in a sick way – about the manner in which the Fourth of July used to be celebrated.
Basically, umm... people used to die. From cannon blasts. Because folks used to shoot off cannons. You know, to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Here’s what the New York Times reported on July 7, 1852, in its roundup of Independence Day festivities:
“EXETER, N.H. ... On the 5th, a cannon burst in this town, dangerously wounding Clark Papsen, John Hale, John Birdsly, and Gideon Carter. The two first are not expected to survive. In Heniker, N.H., Geo. R. Davis was instantly killed by the bursting of a cannon on the 5th.”
Another thing: In New York City, rowdy-ass immigrants – Irishmen, that is – used to run wild on the Fourth of July. Here’s what the Times reported on July 6, 1853:
Never was a Fourth of July more prolific in accident and confusion, setting aside the sterner designation of criminal disregard of law and order. ... A serious riot which occurred in the Wards of the West side, having its origin in an accident so simple as the inability of a stage-driver to govern his team, was attended with distressing results.
A mob, consisting chiefly of the members of a Hibernian Society, interrupted in their line of march, fell furiously upon the offending individual, and by their terrible maltreatment of him, created a disturbance greater than any sudden provocation seemed to warrant.
The spirited conduct of the Police, and the ready assistance tendered them by the citizens, finally quelled the riot, but not until several persons were seriously wounded, and one or two of them fatally so.
Carelessness in handling fire-arms was productive of the usual catalogue of small disasters. Beyond these events, the Day was really celebrated with becoming enthusiasm. The occasion comes but once in the year, and it is perhaps but fair that it should be allowed to excuse, as best it may, the excesses to which it has given birth.