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

By Halford Ryan | Go to book overview

but both were simultaneously defenses of Federalist policy, the former of the Jay Treaty, the latter of Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality.

Not only did Washington's statements of principle carry double-edged meaning in the highly charged political climate in which they were issued, but he also tendered, just before his peroration, an explicit defense of his conduct of foreign policy as having been guided, "to the assurance of my own conscience," by the principles delineated earlier in the Address. Referring to the Proclamation of Neutrality as "the index to my plan," he claimed his predominant motive was to give the new nation time to "progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, command of its own fortunes." Whatever errors he might have made were unintentional; he wished his country would "never cease to view them with indulgence." It was a wish his country was more than happy to grant.


CONCLUSION

Although Washington died more than a century before Theodore Roosevelt declared the White House a bully pulpit and almost two centuries before scholars became enthralled with the rhetorical presidency, few presidents have managed the rhetorical resources of the office more adroitly than its first occupant. A master of political symbolism, Washington understood that politics is theater. As the chief actor in the drama of American politics, he played his role to perfection. Knowing that in a republican form of government the ability to wield power effectively depends ultimately upon popular opinion, he used his public addresses to shape and direct opinion through a series of crises that, with a lesser chief executive, might have imperiled the survival of the new nation.

In the process, he created precedents for presidential discourse that endure to this day. Because we take for granted the rhetorical conventions associated with the presidency, it is easy to overlook the fact that every step Washington took was on untrodden ground. Although many of his rhetorical practices were modeled on forms and customs derived from British tradition, he deftly adapted those forms and customs to a new system of government and a new set of political conditions. He was, lest we forget, the first President to deliver an inaugural speech. The first to go on tour among the American people. The first to present yearly messages to Congress. The first to leave a farewell address to his fellow citizens. Although presidential rhetoric today is manifestly different in numerous ways from presidential rhetoric in the young republic, there are also many deep and abiding continuities. In his rhetoric, as in other aspects of his presidency, Washington continues to cast a long shadow across the American political landscape.

-15-

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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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