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The Rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln


The Rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln Ashley Arnold Casey Wilkinson Lincoln s Equality Rhetoric David Zarefsky The Nature of Rhetoric and Change The classic political ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln

The Rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln
  • Ashley Arnold
  • Casey Wilkinson

Lincolns Equality Rhetoric
  • David Zarefsky

The Nature of Rhetoric and Change
  • The classic political paradox remaining
    consistent in ones basic principles while also
    adapting to changing circumstances and audiences
  • David Zarefsky examines how Lincoln navigated
    this paradox in respect to the pressing issue of
  • We will attempt to trace the evolution of
    Lincolns stance by examining his rhetoric in
    public statements

Lincolns Early Thoughts on Equality
  • Lincoln held a consistently limited view of
    racial equality until midway through the Civil
    War when, under the force of military necessity,
    it began to change. Yet he articulated his
    position in a way that also permitted a more
    expansive view of equality once the time was
  • Lincolns first public statement on slavery came
    in 1837. He stated, (slavery is) founded on
    both injustice and bad policy. He then added,
    abolition doctrines tend rather to increase than
    abate its evils
  • Therefore, he condemned slavery, but did not see
    abolition as a satisfactory alternative, and did
    not yet advocate equality.

Lincolns Early Thoughts on Equality
  • In 1854 Lincoln the issue of slavery becomes
    paramount in public discourse due to the
    Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • Lincolns speeches then began to clarify his
    objection to slavery on moral grounds, however,
    he focused on his objection to extending slavery
    into the free territories.
  • In 1854 Lincoln stated, There is a vast
    difference between toleration slavery where it
    enjoyed institutional protection, and protecting
    the slaveholder in the rights granted him by the
    Constitution, and extending slavery over a
    territory already free, and uncontaminated with
    the institution.
  • Lincoln was not ready to support abolition or
    equality in public

Lincolns Early Thoughts on Equality
  • In October, Lincoln continued to establish a
    foundation of moral objection to slavery in his
    rhetoric. He stated that he hated slavery both,
    because of the monstrous injustice of slavery
    itself and because it deprives our republican
    example of its just influence in the world.
  • This statement gives Lincoln a basis for
    universal objection to slavery. At this time,
    however, he refuses to take it that far.

Lincolns Early Thoughts on Equality
  • In 1855 there were two major developments in
    Lincolns equality rhetoric
  • First, he focused on ending slavery in the future
    rather than in the present. Lincoln stated, Can
    we, as a nation, continue together permanently
    forever half slave and half free?
  • Second, Lincolns speeches and writings began to
    clarify that slavery was evil because it denied
    the basic human right of the right to rise.

1857 The Springfield Speech
  • This speech was given shortly after the Dred
    Scott decision.
  • It is vital in Lincolns equality rhetoric
    evolution because it marks the first time he
    publicly articulated the goal of an eventual end
    to slavery and is evidence he was beginning to
    support the idea of equality.

Four Key Components of the Speech
  • 1. Dissociation and the Meaning of Equality
  • 2. Constructing Equality as an abstract idea
  • 3. Defending against the charge of Extremism
  • 4. Defining Douglas as an Extremist

Dissociation and the Meaning of Equality
  • At this time debate centered around what the
    founders mean by all men are created equal.
  • In this speech, Lincoln stated, I think the
    authors of that notable instrument intended to
    include all men, but they did not intend to
    declare all men equal in all respects. They did
    not mean to say that all were equal in color,
    size, intellect, moral developments, or social
    capacity. They defined with tolerable
    distinctness, in what respects they did consider
    all men equal equal in certain inalienable
    rights, among which are life liberty, and the
    pursuit of happiness.
  • This is called dissociation, taking a seemingly
    unitary term equality and suggesting it
    actually has several different dimensions and
    meanings, rejecting some and embracing others.

Equality as an Abstract Ideal
  • Lincolns second move in the Springfield speech
    was to regard the achievement of equality as an
    abstract ideal rather than an immediate political
  • Lincoln stated, (the Founders) did not mean to
    assert the obvious untruth, that all were then
    actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that
    they were about to confer it immediately upon
    them. In fact they had no power to confer such a
    boon. They meant to simply declare the right, so
    that the enforcement of it might follow as fast
    as circumstances should permit.
  • Thus, Lincoln establishes the Founding Fathers as
    his allies which leads to contrasting Douglas as
    a villain.

Defending against the charge of Extremism
  • Lincoln emphasized that Republicans had yielded
    to the Courts Dred Scott decision.
  • (Douglas) denounces all who question the
    correctness of that decision, as offering violent
    resistance to it. But who resists it? Who has,
    in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott
    free, and resisted the authority of his master
    over him?
  • Lincoln also stated that Douglas was attempting
    to dodging the real issues by focusing on the
    slavery debate.

Defining Douglas as Extremist
  • Lincoln charged that Douglas was actively working
    to spread slavery into the territories.
  • Just like today, both were trying to paint the
    other as extremists to make them less appealing
    to the middle.

1858 The Lincoln-Douglas Debates
  • Lincoln would make seemingly contrasting
    statements in different regions of the state in
    regards to equality while running for Senate.
  • For example, Lincoln stated, Let us discard all
    this quibbling about this race or that race being
    in an inferior positionlet us discard all these
    things and unite as one people throughout this
  • Two weeks later he stated, there must be the
    position of superior and inferior, and I as much
    as any other man am in favor of having the
    superior position assigned to the white race.
  • Lincoln was able to make such statements in
    different regions, yet also remain consistent
    overall by maintaining the dissociation and
    utilizing hedging devices.

Maintaining the Dissociation
  • Lincoln continued to distinguish between equality
    as an economic principle and equality as a social
    and political principle.
  • Lincoln distinguished between the rights of a man
    and the rights of a citizen.
  • Therefore, when he said all men are created
    equal, he was speaking in an economic sense, when
    he disclaimed equality, he was speaking in a
    social and political sense. Thus making the two
    statements consistent.

Hedging Devices
  • Lincoln used hedging devices to give himself room
    to modify his views later when conditions
    warranted, and still be able to claim
  • For example, tied all of his statements about
    rights to the Declaration of Independence.
    Therefore, if with time the views of the meaning
    of the rights outlined in the Declaration of
    Independence changed, then his did too.
  • Another example can be found in a response to
    Douglas, I agree with Judge Douglas the negro
    is not my equal in many respectscertainly not in
    color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual
    endowment. (emphasis added)

Into the Presidency
  • Lincolns basic position on racial equality
    changed little between the debates in 1858 and
    his accession to the presidency in 1861.
  • He increasingly aligned his view with that which
    he attributed to the founding fathers and the
    Declaration of Independence, yet he consistently
    distinguished economic rights from political and
    social rights.

Into the Presidency
  • The Civil War caused Lincoln to gently began
    distancing himself from his earlier disavowals of
    racial equality.
  • For the first two years of the war, he made it
    clear that the goal was the preservation of the
    Union, not the eradication of slavery.
  • As the war proceeded, that goal allowed him to
    justify more radical measures. The Union would
    be helped if slaves in the rebel states could
    defect to the Union side.

Into the Presidency
  • In 1864 he wrote a letter to Albert Hodges, in
    which he stated, I am naturally anti-slavery.
    If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can
    not remember when I did not so think, and feel.
    And yet I have never understood that the
    Presidency conferred upon me any unrestricted
    right to act officially upon this judgment and
  • Lincolns own beliefs were not deemed sufficient
    to justify his attacks on slavery only military
    necessity could do that.

  • Lincolns basic position always remained the same
    throughout his career
  • He favored economic equality, but not social and
    political equality between the races.
  • Lincoln adapted this basic position in different
    ways as the audience and situation required,
    relying on dissociation and hedging devices.
  • In the end, it was military necessity and desire
    to keep the union together that gave him the
    RIGHT to act on how he FELT.

Major Rhetorical Challenges facing Lincoln
  • Interpret conflict between the North and the
  • Ensue the Civil War to support the Union cause
  • Sustain commitment to the war
  • Justify the sacrifices entailed

  • The First
  • Inaugural
  • Address
  • March 4, 1861

First Inaugural
  • Lincoln entered his first term with the intent to
    preserve the union at all costs
  • In his first address, he attempts to cement the
    continued support of the citizens.
  • In terms of understanding Lincolns rhetoric,
    this speech is quite clear as it reflects the
    controversies that surrounded Lincoln at the

First Inaugural
  • Announces Lincolns intention to respect the
    rights of states in regard to slavery.
  • Lincoln remarked I have no purpose, directly or
    indirectly, to interfere with the institution of
    Slavery in the states where it exists. I believe
    that I have no lawful right to do so, and I have
    no inclination to do so.

First Inaugural
  • Mention of the Constitution occurs often mostly
    to justify his beliefs
  • Lincoln comments that he intends to uphold the
    provision of the Constitution that assures the
    return of fugitive slaves, and also vows to never
    construe the Constitution by any hypercritical
  • All members of congress swear their support to
    the whole constitution-to this provision, as much
    as to any other

First Inaugural
  • Most significant issue addressed the disruption
    of the Union.
  • Lincoln states in a lucid manner, no state upon
    its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the
    Unionand acts of violence within any State or
    States, against the United states are

First Inaugural
  • Boldly, Lincoln implies what he will and will not
    do to preserve the Union.
  • He will see that the laws are adhered to in all
    states, and he will continue to hope for a
    peaceful solution of the national troubles and
    the restoration of fraternal sympathies and
  • He will not tolerate violence or force to enforce
    laws unless necessary to defend the property of
    the government.

First Inaugural
  • Lincoln continues to make his support of the
    Union known, and moreover, tries to offer advice
    to those not in favor of the principles of the
  • By stating the central idea of secession is the
    essence of anarchy, Lincoln attempts to persuade
    the minority to agree to the will of the majority
    (the Union).

  • The
  • Gettysburg
  • Address
  • November 19, 1863

Gettysburg Address
  • As the war continued, Lincoln began to see it as
    a struggle over the values in the Declaration of
    Independence rather than simply a disagreement
    over constitutional issues.
  • In this address, Lincolns main rhetorical task
    was to offer citizens a fair interpretation of
    what the war meant and to make sense of issues at

Gettysburg Address
  • Lincoln intends to represent the larger meaning
    that emerges from the sacrifices made by the
  • Lincoln notes that we have come to dedicate a
    portion of that field, as a final resting place
    for those who here gave their lives
  • He goes on to state that in a larger sense, we
    cannot dedicate, consecrate or hollow this
    ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
    struggled here, have consecrated it, far above
    our poor power to add or detract.

Gettysburg Address
  • At this point, Lincoln encourages listeners that
    they can resolve that these dead shall not have
    died in vain that the nation shall, under God,
    have a new birth of freedom, and that the
    government of the people, by the people and for
    the people, shall not perish from the earth.
  • Lincoln emphasizes here that the Civil War is not
    a political struggle over the rights of states to
    secede, but rather a test of the survival of the
    nation, by and for the people.
  • He wanted to make sure that the sacrifices of the
    men during the war were recognized and that the
    cause for which they died was not lost.

  • The Second
  • Inaugural
  • Address
  • March 4,1865

Second Inaugural
  • Lincoln spoke from quite a different perspective
    in this addresshe adopted the platform that
    advocated the emancipation of the slaves.
  • In this address, he reflects upon the meaning of
    the war for the country as a whole.
  • Only four paragraphs, yet encompassing and

Second Inaugural
  • In the introductory paragraph, Lincoln comments
    briefly on the state of the war, as he notes it
    is reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to
  • Lincoln then sums up the first paragraph by
    noting that he has high hope for the future in
    terms of the state of war.

Second Inaugural
  • In the second paragraph of the speech, Lincoln
    starts with a description of the situation in
    1861, when all dreaded war.
  • The paragraph then shifts to a clear description
    of the positions of the two sides, all the while,
    placing blame on the South for ultimately ensuing
    the events.
  • Of the South, Lincoln states one of them would
    make war rather than let the nation survive, and
    of the North he comments the other would accept
    war rather than let it perish.

Second Inaugural
  • In the third paragraph, Lincoln suggests that all
    knew that slavery was somehow the cause of the
  • He clearly denotes a contrast between the north
    and the south when he states, It may seem
    strange that any men should dare to ask a just
    God's assistance in wringing their bread from the
    sweat of other men's faces but let us judge not
    that we be not judged.
  • Places Lincoln and the North on a superior level.

Second Inaugural
  • Lincoln continues with the ethereal theme as he
    continues into the third paragraph.
  • He states that the Almighty has His own
    purposes and further continues to state that God
    having now continued through His appointed time,
    He now wills to remove.
  • Lincoln suggests that for it needs be that
    offenses come and both the North and South are
    required to sacrifice through the war to
    compensate for the guilt of slavery. However, he
    makes it known that the South advocated the
    practice of slavery, while the North sought to
    restrict its spread.

Second Inaugural
  • Though Lincoln takes a stance of non-judgment, he
    makes it blatantly clear that the North is
    morally superior to the insurgents of the
  • Lincoln seemed to realize that the mere cause of
    the Union was insufficient to justify the
    sacrifices of so many, and thus he turned to
    slavery as the sole cause of the war. Perhaps
    this provided more internal justification than it
    did external.

Rhetorical Points
  • Across all three speeches, Lincoln seems to move
    from minimizing the importance of the issues at
    hand to highlighting the struggles and moral
    dilemmas of the country at war.
  • He moves, respectively, from the basis of the
    principles of the constitution, to the views of
    the Declaration of Independence, to more
    personal, moral principles.
  • Equality and Justice instilled in people