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

By Halford Ryan | Go to book overview

preme Court. These examples also illustrate a caveat with regard to the rhetorical presidency, for it is a mistake to equate presidential speaking with presidential governing, as success is not guaranteed: Wilson and Roosevelt lost.

The modern rhetorical presidency is apparently a creature of the twentieth century. With the advent of the railroad and the airplane, the telegraph, the radio, motion picture newsreels, and eventually television, presidents naturally and increasingly availed themselves of emerging technologies to reach beyond the immediate listener to the mass audience.

But this book revises the compass of the rhetorical presidency. Granted, pre twentieth-centurypresidents' ability to function as "modern" rhetorical presidents were hampered by the technology of their times, and it is true that early presidents did not unseemly seek the office, for it supposedly sought them. But in fact, the rhetorical presidency, without the adjective "modern," was practiced by earlier presidents, as the essayists demonstrate, beginning with George Washington, and including the two Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln. Moreover, presidents from Washington forward used newspapers to reach larger audiences than actually heard them speak. Indeed, William Jennings Bryan believed in 1906 that "The age of oratory has not passed; nor will it pass. The press, instead of displacing the orator, has given him a larger audience and enabled him to do a more extended work" (x). And the persuasive goals of many of these early presidents were remarkably similar to their twentiethcentury counterparts: They delivered speeches to gain support from the people and to move the Congress.

"As long as there are human rights to be defended," wrote Bryan, "as long as there are great interests to be guarded; as long as the welfare of nations is a matter for discussion, so long will public speaking have its place" (x). In fine, the essayists in this book have selected presidential oratory that has usually innervated the people, often enervated the Congress, and occasionally eviscerated the Constitution. They have propounded whether the presidents' oratory preserved, protected, and defended the Constitution of the United States or preserved, protected, and defended their own tenures in office, the two ends not necessarily being the same or salutary. And they have validated Abraham Lincoln's famous, ethical maxim, spoken in Clinton, Illinois in 1858, that "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Considering the state of the Union, the persuasive effect of presidential oratory is that presidents are of late gaining ground in Lincoln's first two clauses at the expense of the third clause. Plato would have said "I told you so."


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES

Andrews James R. The Practice of Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Andrews James, and David Zarefsky. American Voices: Significant Speeches in American History, 1640-1945. New York: Longman, 1989.

-xvii-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • An Introduction to Presidential Oratory ix
  • BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES xvii
  • George Washington (1732-1799) 3
  • Conclusion 15
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 16
  • John Adams (1735-1826) 18
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 26
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) 28
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 40
  • James Madison (1751-1836) 43
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 52
  • John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) 54
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 63
  • Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) 65
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 75
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 77
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 89
  • Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) 93
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 107
  • Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) 111
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 132
  • Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964) 134
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 144
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) 146
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 164
  • Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) 168
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 187
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) 190
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 204
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) 210
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 225
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) 228
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 245
  • Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994) 249
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 269
  • Gerald R. Ford (1913- ) 274
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 296
  • Jimmy Carter (1924- ) 299
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 311
  • Ronald Reagan (1911- ) 316
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 337
  • George Herbert Walker Bush (1924- ) 344
  • RHETORICAL SOURCES 358
  • Bill Clinton (1946- ) 361
  • RHETORICAL RESOURCES 374
  • Index 377
  • About the Editor and Contributors 387
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