Theodore Parker: Orator of Superior Ideas

By David B. Chesebrough; Mark A. Noll | Go to book overview

Introduction

The mid- nineteenth century was the golden age of American oratory, both in quantity and quality. The United States Senate has never included the number of rhetorical giants as it did then: John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, William Graham Sumner, and Daniel Webster. There was another politician with extraordinary oratorical skills, who served for a brief time in the House of Representatives and later in a higher office, by the name of Abraham Lincoln. The abolitionist movement added its own names to the oratorical hall of fame: Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Dwight Weld, and the illiterate but extremely effective former slave, Sojourner Truth. In addition to Sojourner Truth, there were other women whose rhetoric moved the people of those times, especially on behalf of women's suffrage and other rights, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The clergy, as they do in every era, made their own contributions to oratorical greatness: Henry Ward Beecher, whom one biographer has labeled as "our first, self-appointed national chaplain;" 1 Phillips Brooks; Charles Grandison Finney, "the father of modern revivalism;" and the southern minister who championed slavery and secession, Benjamin Morgan Palmer. Add to this list the names of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Everett, and several others who should be included, and one begins to wonder if ever there was a period in American history when the nation had so many individuals who so excelled in what they said and how they said it. No ghost writers, no speech mechanics, for these orators. Though all of them borrowed ideas and phrases from numerous sources, including each other, they arranged the material in their own unique ways and delivered their discourses in a manner that best suited their individual personalities.

Another name from the mid- nineteenth century that must be added to the list of oratorical giants, a name that is equal to any of the above when rhetorical

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