The side of the argument as they hold

The extract is
part of a speech delivered by prominent abolitionist figure, Frederick
Douglass, at Western Reserve College July 12th. Douglass’ “claims of
the negro ethnologically considered” speech forms one of the many political and
motivational rhetorical pieces he carried out in attempt sway American public
opinion on what he perceived the institution of slavery to be: a morally
corrupt system which unjustifiably mistreats African-Americans as racially
inferior. Throughout the extract, and more broadly the entire speech, Douglass
does not restrain from using bold and concise language as he believes his
audience should not take a lukewarm stance on the matter in attempting to please
both sides of the argument, or to avoid the matter completely and not take a
side altogether. This may be a subtle reference to the well-known ambiguous
rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson who frequently changed his opinion in order to
please society. In the speech, Douglass addresses the importance of scholars
whom he deems essential in understanding his side of the argument as they hold
substantial responsibility for dispersing philosophical principles amongst the
American masses.  Structurally, Douglass
aimed to examine 3 key points during his speech to actively deny the claim that
a “negro is not a man”. They consisted of denial based on pure ridicule,
denunciation and an opposing argument; the extract provided forms part of the
denunciation section. Douglass is openly criticising the growing scientific
explanations on the ideas of race and black inferiority. The speech was
delivered around the same time Josiah C. Nott published his work on the Types
of mankind. However, Douglass discourteously refers to connections of “men with
monkeys” as “scientific moonshine” using moonshine to figuratively depict nonsense.
He is discrediting the theories from the leading figures of the school of
anthropology by further including the notion of the great chain of being in his
reference to a “sliding scale” to suggest scientific individuals simply
exaggerate their ideas. This is evident in Douglass’ reference to the
“ourang-ou-tang , and the other to angels, and all the rest intermediates”. He
implies that the concept of polygenism associates the Europeans as the “angels”
and the best form of human being linked to leadership and hegemony, and the
Africans as the “ourang-ou-tangs” linked to animal-like characteristics. Douglas
attempts to ridicule the two extremes of the spectrum, as the enlightenment
thinkers massively neglect the rest of the world as “intermediates”. Douglass
suggests their ideas on natural law and order, and the supposed belief that
each race may only ever fulfil a particular status within society based on what
the nature’s hierarchy permits them to, is merely a way for Americans to
warrant Africans to the necessary evil of slavery. Contextually, the speech was
delivered after the Kansas Nebraska act, and is therefore a form of retaliation
and way for Douglass to stand his ground amid the abolitionist movement. During
a time of significant political and social reform, the extract embeds itself amongst
new and challenging theories and Douglass’ concluding proclamation that the Negro
is a MAN displays his immense passion, influenced by his own person experiences
as a slave, for opposing the peculiar institution. 

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