Political Rhetoric in the Premodern
From the earliest colonial beginnings, public speech has been an important part of politics and culture in the United States. But although continuously important, the precise role, meaning, and influence of public rhetoric over our national politics has changed over time. In part, changes in public rhetoric resulted from changes in the political culture of the United States, and in part, the changes were occasioned by changes in the technologies associated with communication. Presidential campaigning and governance relate to, and depend upon, societal organization and echnology. 1 As these changes have taken place, the role of the president in the political system has also changed. The president's function has moved from being one of administration to one of legitimation as the spoken word comes to dominate written text and as electioneering and governing move ever closer together. This changing role has increasingly constrained the president's rhetorical opportunities. A tactic that once seemed to open new opportunities for presidential leadership has contributed to an environment that, by making more demands on the office, has left the president with fewer options.
These changes are associated here with specific eras in the history of the United States. The colonial period, revolutionary era, Jacksonian America, Civil War period, postwar period, and early twentieth century all have distinctive political cultures, styles of rhetoric, and technologies for communicating that rhetoric.