U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

U.S. Presidents as Orators: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook


This first systematic critique on the rhetoric of 21 presidents shows how political constraints shaped rhetoric and how oratory shaped politics. An introduction places American public address in the context of classical rhetorical practices and theory and sets the stage for the bio-critical essays about presidents ranging from Washington to Clinton. Experts analyze the style and use of language, important speeches and their impact, and their ethical ramifications. Each essay on a president also keys major speeches to authoritative texts and offers a chronology and bibliography of primary and secondary sources. For students, teachers, and professionals in American public address, political communication, and the presidency.


This book is about the nexus of oratory and politics that was practiced by certain men who attained the presidency of the United States of America. Accordingly, section one treats rhetoric in history and politics, and section two discusses presidents as public speakers. At the end of the introduction is a bibliography that lists specific sources cited, as well as general works that consider together oratory and the presidency.

I. presidential oratory

The oldest academic textbook in the Western world is about public speaking. Corax of Sicily composed Techne, sometime after 467 B.C., in order to instruct citizens in the practice of public speaking in the courtroom, which was later carried over to the assembly. Historically linked to a democratic government, speech was an integral part of Athenian democracy. Greek citizens participated in the daily government of Athens, pleaded their own cases before juries of peers, and the better orators amongst the citizenery delivered ceremonial addresses on festive occasions. the Greek rhetorical tradition, refined by the Romans, passed on by the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic in medieval and renaissance universities, and studied in the liberal arts curriculum in the twentieth century, is inextricably linked, as it was in Athens and is now in the United States, to the practice of free speech in an open and democratic society.

Inherent in the art of oratory is the basis for its criticism. At first, the "do's" and "don'ts" predominated, but over the centuries commentators and practitioners progressed to the point where systematic appraisals could be mounted and ethical judgments could be assessed about the means and ends of public persuasion.

In 1943,William Norwood Brigance, professor of speech at Wabash College . . .

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