Frederick Douglass and “We the People”
This chapter explores speeches and essays by Frederick Douglass to show the peculiarities of democratic claims making from an understanding of the people not as a unified subject but as a form of political subjectification. It focuses on Douglass’s most celebrated address, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” The chapter describes and analyzes how Douglass exemplifies a form of political subjectification called a “constituent moment,” in which someone gladly speaks in the name of a certain group but does not have the authority to do so. It illuminates the connections between the formal and constitutional dimensions of Douglass’s speeches and explores his consideration of the power of claims enacted through practice as well as speech. Moreover, the chapter examines the art of rhetoric and how Douglass’s delivery of the famous speech in 1852 demonstrates an example of “staging dissensus.”
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