Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Committee Member

Broncano, Manuel

Committee Member

Racine, Nathaniel R.

Committee Member

Gonzalez, Ariadne A.


My Master’s Thesis examines Frederick Douglass’ definition of American identity by navigating through his struggle between his acknowledgement of American ideals and his exclusion from American society. As a fugitive slave in antebellum America, there was a tension for Douglass in adopting an identity that recognized American identity by principle. Starting with his anti-Constitution Garrisonian perspective, I venture through his written and orated works to present the gradual shift in his perspective on and attitude towards America. My first chapter examines Douglass’ first two autobiographies to compare his changing opinions on America from 1845 to 1855. In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), Douglass advocates for self-will, education, and literacy as a pathway to freedom. In contrast, in My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Douglass emphasizes the role of political influence and communal action to combat slavery. Alongside selected journal entries and orations between the 1840s and 1850s, Douglass’ changing political perspective is also indicated in his Fourth of July speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852). I argue that Douglass reconciled with his identity as a black man and as an American in his Fourth of July oration. He defines American identity in his speech by emphasizing the principles founded in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and through the actions of the American revolutionaries. In doing so, Douglass illuminates the hypocrisy of the nation for not upholding these virtues. Lastly, I argue that Douglass’ novella, The Heroic Slave (1853), encapsulates his political voyage and life as a slave-turned-political orator, portraying his definition of Americanness through the actions of the main character, Madison Washington.