The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents

The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents

The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents

The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents

Synopsis

The essays in Halford Ryan's The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents explore how presidents have used their addresses to empower themselves in office. The volume's construct holds that the president delivers persuasive speeches to move the Congress and the people, and to move the people to move the Congress if it is intransigent. Even on Inauguration Day, a largely ceremonial occasion, the president seeks acquiescence and action from Congress and the people in his first rhetorical deed as the nation's chief executive officer. Since scholars agree that the rhetorical presidency arose in the twentieth century with Theodore Roosevelt, the book commences with Roosevelt's address, followed by all subsequent presidents' inaugurals - including that of Bill Clinton. The authors' methodology applies classical rhetoric to the nexus of political discourse - the interrelationships among the speaker, the speech, and the audience - discussing vox populi, elocutio, inventio, and actio. Each of the,chapters analyzes the political situation with regard to political purpose, giving special attention to genre criticism and to the themes of campaign rhetoric that were or were not carried forth into the inaugural address. The essayists explicate the evolution of each inaugural's preparation, criticize its delivery, and evaluate its persuasive strengths and weaknesses by accounting for its reception by the media and by the American people. Recommended for scholars of political communication and rhetoric, political science, history, and presidential studies.

Excerpt

Carl R. Burgchardt

Herbert Hoover has been one of the most vilified presidents in the history of the United States. the image of a hard-hearted, incompetent, sullen president, barricaded in the White House while innocent citizens begged for bread and slept in shantytowns, is indelibly etched in the popular recollection of a nation. This ignominious stereotype was reinforced for decades after the Great Depression by Democratic party orators who sought to frighten voters about the prospect of putting another "Herbert Hoover" in the White House. These enduring impressions about Hoover are particularly ironic because, on the date of his inauguration to the presidency, March 4, 1929, Hoover's public image was diametrically different. He had been overwhelmingly elected president because the voters believed that he was unparalleled in energy, competence, compassion, and vision. Moreover, he delivered an inaugural address that capitalized on these positive public perceptions. Although he was a diffident public speaker, Hoover crafted an oration that was widely praised.

The inaugural as genre

How can we account for the relative success of Hoover's inaugural address? Unfortunately, genre theory is not very helpful in reaching a meaningful assessment. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson have argued that presidential inaugurals are characterized by four essential elements, and a case could be made that these elements exist in the 1929 inaugural. Hoover probably does "reconstitute the people" in the sense that he pleads with citizens to work together, in con-

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