Even Jefferson Had to Cross Things Out
In the period leading up to the Revolution, Americans seem
to have enjoyed a sense that their letters, speeches, pamphlets,
broadsides, newspapers, and so forth, were all a form of conversation.
The most compelling article in a newspaper was often one in
which the writer directly addressed to the printer of a newspaper
who had published ideas contrary to his own, while directly
or indirectly acknowledging that there was a larger audience
listening to their person-to-person conversation.In the same
way, sermons, pamphlets, broadsides and official governmental
communiques were often directly addressed to the ideas stated
in other sermons, pamphlets, broadsides or official letters,
petitions, and proclamations. Listen to the language, and you
will hear the way in which each writer represents himself as
a direct respondent to someone who has written previously:
I take the Liberty to address you, as the Author of
"The Regulations lately made concerning the Colonies,
and the Taxes imposed upon them considered." It
is not to the Man, whoever you are, that I address myself;
but it is to the Author of a Pamphlet which, according
to the Light I view it in, endeavors to fix Shackles
upon the American Colonies: Shackles which, however
nicely polished, can by no Means sir easy upon Men who
have just Sentiments of their own Rights and Liberties.
You have indeed brought this Trouble upon yourself,
Encouraged therefore by so candid an Invitation, I
have undertaken to examine, with an honest Plainness
and Freedom, whether the Ministry, by imposing Taxes
upon the Colonies by Authority of Parliament, have pursued
a wise and salutary Plan of Government, or whether they
have exerted pernicious and destructive Acts of Power.
inquiry into the Rights
of the British Colonies
In one of his many newspaper articles, Benjamin Franklin explains
the importance of this kind of person-to-person conversation taking
place within a larger community of readers/listeners.
In yet another letter to the printer of the Chronicle,
Franklin offers a warning about the dangers of the "conversation"
that was then taking place around him in London (during his extended
visit there as an agent) and inflaming negative attitudes towards
the Americans. He complains: "Every step is now taking to
enrage us against _America_. Pamphlets and news-papers flie about,
and coffee-houses ring with lying reports of its being in rebellion.
Force is call'd for. Fleets and troops should be sent. Those already
there should be called in from the distant posts, and quartered
on the capital towns." And why are the English worried? Because
Americans are reportedly "continually writing pamphlets,
filling news-papers, and consecrating Trees to Liberty,"
which Franklin sees as "endeavors for their relief."
(__A New Englandman to the Printer of the London Chronicle: A
Defense of the Americans_The London Chronicle_, August 18, 1768)
While this kind of direct engagement of one writer with another
is one demonstration of the way printed discourse functioned as
a kind of public conversation in the Revolutionary era, evidence
of this way of thinking can also be found in the way writers (and
speakers) directly addressed that larger audience. In his Letters
from a Farmer, John Dickinson seemed to represent himself as an
individual speaking to a group of people closely gathered around
to listen and react, as in this opening of Letter
My dear Countrymen,
I rejoice to find that my two former letters to you,
have been generally received with so much favour by such
of you, whose sentiments I have had an opportunity of
knowing. Could you look into my heart, you would instantly
perceive a zealous attachment to your interests, and a
lively resentment of every insult and injury offered to
you, to be the motives that have engaged me to address
Note: For background on Dickinson's writing, see Letters
from a Farmer in Pennsylvania at Early American Bookmarks.
You can also see
the first letter as it was originally printed in The Boston Chronicle
at the at the same site.
The same rhetorical tactic was employed by loyalists, as in the
case of Brutus
in Essay II :
1 November 1787
To the Citizens of the State of New-York.
I flatter myself that my last address established this
position, that to reduce the Thirteen States into one
government, would prove the destruction of your liberties.
But lest this truth should be doubted by some, I will
now proceed to consider its merits. . . .
Resources at Other Sites:
A Brief Essay on Loyalist/Patriot Pamphlet Wars: American
Political Writing, 1760–1789: Loyalists from The
Cambridge History of English and American Literature at Bartleby.com.
Definitions of Rhetoric
Definitions of Rhetoric -- See how Aristotle, Kenneth Burke,
and other rhetoricians explain the meaning and purpose of rhetoric.
Rhetoric -- A collection of definitions from a variety of
dictionaries and theorists from a course site at the University
General Resources: Texts, Definitions of Terms, Commentaries,
Links, Bibliographies, etc.
Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric, by Margaret Zulick --
A guide to classical and renaissance rhetoric. Be sure to take
a look at other sections of Zulick's site, including American
Rhetorical Movements to 1900 (the section on Three
Modes of American Public Discourse is particularly interesting
for students of the Revolution), American
Rhetorical Movements Since 1900, and Truth,
Speech, and Desire: Rhetoric in the Ancient World, Classical Rhetoric.
See The Zulick
Home Page for an index to resources.
Bibliography for the Study of Rhetoric, from English
779.01: Introduction to Graduate Study in Rhetoric at Ohio
State by H.
Lewis Ulman. Bibliographies on particular topics in rhetoric
and other resources are also available at this course site.
Bibliography of Rhetoric lists key texts and analyses of selected
quotations and terms from those texts by J. Randolph Radney.
in Rhetorical Studies by James Comas, Department of English,
University of Missouri-Columbia.
Analyses of Rhetoric in Specific Texts
Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence, by
Stephen E. Lucas
Offers an analysis of the Declaration as a work of rhetoric.
Franklin A brief overview of Franklin's major themes, style,
use of literary conventions, and audience on a page for teachers
by the Heath publishing company.
Burgh, Political Disquisitions 1:3--4, 186--89, 190, 190--93,
201--2 (Power comes from people.)
"Boston Massacre Oration," 5 March 1774
"Massacre Oration marks a distinct change from the constitutional
argument prevalent in colonial rhetoric in the decade before the
war and exhibits the radicals' more violent denunciation of the
British and American supporters." American Voices: Significant
Speeches in American History (New York: Longman, 1989), p. 41.
Classical Rhetoric: Primary Resources and Commentaries
Rhetoric: A hypertext by Lee Honeycutt
Rhetoric at the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy:
on the Genres of Rhetoric translated by John F. Tinkler (or
see the same material at: http://www.towson.edu/~tinkler/reader/cicero.html
Renaissance Rhetoric: Eloquence, The Tongue and Literature, a
course site by Catherine
Enlightenment Rhetoric: Primary Resources and Commentaries
a site on the author of forty-seven Belles Lettres Lectures that
had an influence on eighteenth century American understandings
On... Rhetoric: A Philosophical Inquiry
"Chauncey Goodrich, first professor of rhetoric at Yale(1817-1838),
conceived of communication as both oral and written. He was under
the influence of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century
British rhetoricians, who were heavily concerned with literature.
The belles lettres movement exemplified by Hugh Blair gave increased
attention to rhetorical and literary criticism. Goodrich, like
Aristotle, Bacon, and especially Blair, whose text was used at
Yale, assumes that all persuasive communication has oral qualities
whether or not the document is delivered"(6).
Blair declared that reason and argument were the foundations
of eloquence. Said he, "In order to persuade a man of sense,
you must first convince him, which is only done by satisfying
his understanding of the reasonableness of what you propose to
and Quotes about Hugh Blair" from Charles Rollin's Traite
and the Rhetorical Theories of Smith, Campbell, and Blair
Blair's concern for the audience is further reflected in
his recommendations on delivery, which share much with Rollin's
thinking on the subject. Blair breaks with the practice of his
contemporaries by urging speakers to work for extemporaneous delivery
as they gain experience. In Blair's view, there is much to be
gained, particularly in deliberative speaking, by constant adaptation
to audience response. In speaking to popular assemblies, Blair
urges, the speaker should write out beforehand 'some sentences
with which he intends to set out, in order to put himself fairly
in the train; and, for the rest, to set down short notes of the
topics, or principal thoughts upon which he is to insist, in their
order, leaving the words to be suggested by the warmth of the
occasion.' In regard to pulpit speaking, Blair rather severely
criticizes the practice of reading sermons which 'may, indeed,
have introduced accuracy; but [which] has done prejudice to Eloquence;
for a Discourse read, is far inferior to an Oration spoken. It
leads to a different sort of composition, and well as of delivery'
and can never have an equal effect on any audience.
Blair's view of speaking was thoroughly liberal and modern.
Efficaciousness in pulpit, legal, and forensic oratory resulted
when the speaker remained cognizant of the taste and interests
of his audience and when he communicated in a clear style and
with animated delivery. Floridity, ostentation, and turgidity
were to be avoided, and simplicity, elegance, and vivacity embraced.
Blair's rhetorical theory was excellently suited to an era when
old forms of unilateral authority - the church and the monarchy,
for example - were losing their exclusive hold on the people,
when education and knowledge were becoming popularized, and when
individauls had access to forms of inquiry and decision-making
which had been unavailable to them in the preceding century."
The most distinctive emotional force of those years was
sentiment and sympathy. When citizens today claim that mastery
of the continent was attained by the enterprising spirit of unselfish,
fit pioneers, or when they avow the right of all to free speech
and assembly, or whenever the U.S. government asserts that maintaining
world peace can best be accomplished by a benevolent use of American
power, the spokespersons for these ideals have relied on an inherited
vocabulary of sentiment and sympathy. In his 1801 Inaugural Address,
in words that Americans today still relate to, Jefferson termed
his country "the world's best hope." Seeing the "rising
nation" as a land that was "wide and fruitful,"
he urged its citizens to "unite with one heart and one mind,"
to restore after a decade of heated politics the sentimental values
of "harmony and affection." For, without these, he insisted,
"liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."
From the time of the Revolution, if not before, Americans
have tended to project a self-image of charitable concern and
active self-restraint. Less persuasively, perhaps, their commitment
to ordered liberty has dictated that righteous self-expression
stop short of forfeiting reason through the degenerative effects
of self-indulgence, greed, license, or political fanaticism--the
unhealthy passions. During the Revolutionary crisis, loyalists
decried rebel Americans' excesses in just such a vocabulary. The
passion they witnessed in the activities of patriots during the
1770s appeared to them dangerous and unruly; they described the
failure to check behavior in terms of "deformation,"
of a loss of reason and judgment. People recognized and feared
their own base instincts; they knew they were vulnerable creatures
subject to temptation. Freedom could not exist without morality--both
sides in the American Revolution believed that--and both felt
certain that the other lacked fortitude and enough moral strength
to avoid being victimized by untrustworthy leaders. ***
The Enlightenment made an impression on the American founders
not only in introducing a reverence for science, an appeal to
intelligent judgment, and a tone of criticism but in asserting
that harmony and sympathy existed in nature. "The prosperity
of reason in the eighteenth century," Peter Gay has written,
"was less the triumph of rationalism than of reasonableness."
The world of the literate was being emptied of religious mystery
and filled with a philosophic understanding of humanity. In America,
from the Stamp Act, which ignited Revolutionary protest, through
the Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian party battles of the 1790s, anxious
concern for the preservation of liberty and for the continued
claim to happiness intensified Americans' fears of aggressive
forces and aggressive behavior. The language of sentiment and
sympathy, used by a people who routinely called themselves peace-loving,
constituted a defense against inner and outer turmoil.
American Writers and Orators Often Use an Inflated Style,"
Alexis de Tocqueville, chapter XVIII of Democracy
in America (at the University of Virginia site). Although
this text is from the 1830's, it may be interesting to reflect
on whether the rhetorical styles of the early nineteenth century
reflected the rhetoric of the revolution in any ways.