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Classical Rhetoric 101: Logical Fallacies

socrates debating giving speech outline drawing

I hope you’ve enjoyed our series on classical rhetoric. Today, for our final entry in the series, we will be discussing logical fallacies. This is a pretty important topic. Much of our debating has moved out of the public square and onto the internet. And if you spend anytime reading those online debates, you’ve probably seen how debased from the principles of classical rhetoric many of them are. Commenter X sets forth a fiery opinion on an article. Commenter Y responds by calling Commenter X a Giant Poopie Head for holding said opinion. And Commenter Z joins in with a tirade on a point that is not even argued in the piece.

For true civil and effective debate to take place, citizens must understand not only how to argue, but how not to argue as well. Every man should know how to avoid the pitfalls and traps of faulty arguing and how to recognize fallacies in the rhetoric of others as well.

What Are Fallacies?

According to Aristotle in his treatise, The Art of Rhetoric, a speaker or writer has three ways to persuade his audience: ethos (appeal to the speaker’s character), pathos (appeal to emotion), and logos (appeal to logic). Aristotle believed that out of the three means of persuasion, logos was superior and that ideally all arguments should be won or lost on reason alone.

The problem with using logos as your sole means of persuasion is that it’s fraught with many opportunities for you to mess up and make errors in reasoning. These errors are called logical fallacies.

Just as there is formal and informal logic, there are formal and informal fallacies. Below we provide a quick intro to formal and informal fallacies and give examples from both.

Formal Logical Fallacies

Aristotle was a big fan of formal syllogisms. In fact, he wrote a whole treatise on them. There’s a reason why he liked them so much. Syllogisms are a powerful rhetorical tool. It’s hard to manipulate and argue against a formally laid out, sound syllogism.

A formal fallacy in syllogisms occurs whenever the structure of the argument itself is flawed and renders the argument invalid. The premises and conclusion of the argument might be true, but the argument can still be fallacious because the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. In my post about the three means of persuasion, I gave an example of an invalid syllogism:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is mortal.
Therefore, Socrates is a man.

At first blush, it looks like a decent argument. But read it carefully. Just because Socrates is mortal, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a man. He could be a squirrel for all we know. This right here is an example of the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Let’s take a look at a couple of other formal syllogistic fallacies.

Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise:

No cats are dogs.
No dogs can purr.
Therefore all cats can purr.

Just because there aren’t any dogs that can purr doesn’t necessarily mean all cats can purr.

Negative conclusion from affirmative premises:

It’s impossible for a negative conclusion to be reached with affirmative premises.

All gods are immortal.
All immortals have beards.
Therefore, no gods have beards.

Informal Logical Fallacies

Informal fallacies are arguments that are fallacious for reasons other than a flaw in the structure of the argument. You’re probably familiar with a few informal fallacies already: red herrings, slippery slopes, etc. Below we list several of the most used informal fallacies to look out for when taking part in a debate.

  • Red herring-an attempt to change the subject to divert attention from the original issue. You can see countless examples of this when you watch presidential candidates debate. Example: “Yes, I would absolutely make the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a priority. But with the unemployment rate as high as it is, we really need to concentrate on domestic issues and creating jobs, and under my plan….”
  • ad hominemattacking the person instead of the argument. The goal is to discredit the argument by discrediting the person advocating the argument. Ad hominem attacks are popular in online discussions, especially when tempers flare. “Well, you’re wrong because you’re clearly an idiot!” That sort of blatant insult is easy to spot. Harder to detect are arguments that go something like, “Well, I don’t believe what Politician X has to say about the tax plan because he has said some absolutely crazy things in the past.” It may be true that Politician X has proven himself to be a nut job on a variety of issues, and this may affect his ethos, but it does not logically disprove what he has to say about the tax plan. He might be wrong on everything but this one issue.
  • Argumentum ad populumconcluding an argument is true simply because lots of people think it’s true. We see this on commercials all the time: “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Acme Brand Toothpaste,” or “3 million Brand X Customers Can’t be Wrong! Buy Brand X Today.”
  • Appeal to authority- concluding an argument is true because a person holding authority asserts it is true. “Doctor Who is an expert in quantum physics. If he says time travel is possible, then it must be true!”
  • Appeal to emotion- instead of appealing to reason, the arguer uses emotions such as fear, pity, and flattery to persuade the listener that what he says is true. Wartime propaganda posters are a good example of an appeal to emotion:vintage war bonds poster nazi shadow children
  • Appeal to motive- a conclusion is dismissed by simply calling into question the motive of the person or group proposing the conclusion. You’ll often see political organizations use this tactic. “The conclusion of Company X’s positive report on the safety of natural gas fracking can’t be true because they funded the research and have an interest in ensuring there is a positive report.” Sure, Company X may have an interest in getting a positive result for natural gas fracking, but just because they have that motive doesn’t mean the conclusion they reached is necessarily false. Suspect, yes, but not false.
  • Appeal to tradition- concluding an argument is true because it has long been held to be true.
  • Argument from silence- reaching a conclusion based on the silence or lack of contrary evidence. Example: “Aliens must not exist because we haven’t made contact with them.”
  • Reductio ad Hitlerum- comparing an opponent or their argument to Hitler or Nazism in an attempt to associate a position with one that is universally reviled. People seem to use this one a lot on the web. Example: “You know who else was a vegetarian? Hitler. Therefore, vegetarianism is bad.”

strawman motivational poster sarcastic argument

  • Strawman– an argument based on an misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. It’s called a strawman because the person sets up a false point (the strawman) that the original arguer never made and expends all his energy attacking it, instead of the actual premises of the original argument. Example: “Senator Smith wants to cut funding for the new Air Force fighter jet because he says it’s wasteful spending. I disagree with the Senator’s stance. Why does Senator Smith want to leave our country defenseless?” Instead of debating whether the jets are actually government waste, the arguer ignores that point and instead substitutes a misrepresented version of the senator’s position, i.e. the senator wants to leave our country defenseless.
  • Appeal to hypocrisy- an argument that a certain position should be disregarded or is wrong, based on the fact that the proposer of the position fails to act in accordance with that position. Example: “Your point that entitlement programs should be eliminated is moot based on the fact that you’ve received Pell Grants and used food stamps while in college.” Sure, it’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re simultaneously using government programs and arguing for their elimination, but just because a guy doesn’t practice what he preaches, doesn’t automatically make what he’s preaching false. Instead, the debate should be focused on the pros and cons of government programs themselves.

Slippery Slope

Slippery slopes occur when a person asserts that a relatively small step will lead to a chain of events that result in a drastic change. Example: “If we legalize same sex marriage, what will stop us from legalizing marriage between humans and robots? Or humans and animals?”

Cherry Picking

Fallacy that occurs when a person only uses data that confirms a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases that contradict that position. For example, a person might argue that a vegan diet prevents cancer while ignoring cases of cultures that eat only meat and have very low cancer rates.

Begging the Question

Fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument is assumed in one of the premises. It’s also often called circular reasoning. If one’s premises entail one’s conclusion, and one’s premises are questionable, one is said to beg the question.

Here’s one of my favorite webcomics, Dinosaur Comics explaining begging the question:

logical fallacy comics t rex dinosaur begging

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” A fallacy that occurs when someone reaches a conclusion of causation because an event followed another event. Example: “It started to rain after my ice cream cone fell on the ground. Therefore, my ice cream falling on the ground caused it to rain.”

False Dilemma

A fallacy that occurs when two conclusions are held to be the only possible options, when in fact there are other options. Example: Senator A: “We either have to cut education spending or else we’ll have a huge deficit this fiscal year.” Senator B: “Hmmm…there are other options. You could raise taxes or even cut spending in other programs and agencies.”

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are dozens more informal fallacies. If you’re interested in finding out more about informal fallacies, check out the following resources:

I’d love to read what informal fallacies are your favorites to point out. Share them with us in the comments.

Using Informal Fallacies to Persuade

Reading through that list of informal fallacies, you likely stopped a few times, and thought, “Wait, but isn’t that a persuasive argument? Shouldn’t we appeal to experts, to tradition? Isn’t a slippery slope possible? Shouldn’t the character of the messenger have something to do with whether their message is believable?”

One must remember that that while sometimes they can be one and the same, there can be a difference between an argument that is logical and one that is simply persuasive.

And sometimes it’s okay to use the latter.

What the what? Only a cad would purposely use informal fallacies in an argument, right? Well, yes and no. It’s important to remember that rhetoric is fundamentally about persuasion, and not only about crafting arguments that are perfectly logical. If we weren’t allowed to use informal fallacies in our rhetoric than two of the three means of persuasion would be off limits–ethos (appeal to the speaker’s character) and pathos (appeal to emotions). Both are informal logical fallacies.

Politicians and advertisers understand that human beings are persuaded more by emotion than by reason. That’s why you see politicians and advertisers use informal fallacies all the time.

It does create an ethical dilemma for a rhetorician. Should one eschew appeals to emotion or character because they’re not strictly logical? While using only logic and sound reasoning may seem like taking the high road, a rhetorician risks being ignored and never getting an important message to the masses. Some of the greatest speeches in history were based on both logic and emotion. Going back to the example of propaganda posters during WWII…the government needed to fund the war effort quickly and effectively; simply appealing to logic wouldn’t have accomplished what was necessary. Instead, appealing to Americans’ sense of duty, patriotism, and worry for their loved ones motivated citizens to action. Used for honorable purposes, appeals to ethos and pathos can move people to do great things. And of course in the wrong hands, they can persuade people to do evil. That’s why it’s important to have an informed and intelligent citizenry that is able to evaluate the claims and appeals made by leaders and pundits, allowing themselves to be caught up in emotion when the cause is sound, and cutting through the illusion when it is not.

Everyone is going to have a different answer as to whether or not using informal fallacies is justified. I think the key is to find a balance. Use appeals to emotion or character, but always have some actual facts and sound reasoning to back up those appeals.


Well, that does it for this series on classical rhetoric. We plan on putting the posts together into an ebook for those who are interested in having all the posts in one place. Although such projects always seem to take us forever to finish, since they’re often placed on a distant burner on the large AoM oven.

I’ll leave you with a list of resources that were helpful to me in researching this series and can help you continue your study of classical rhetoric.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery

Demosthenes practicing speech delivery by the ocean

Demosthenes practicing his delivery by the ocean.

Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. So far we’ve covered the canons of inventionarrangementstyle, and memory. Today we’ll be covering the last canon: delivery.

What Is Delivery?

Like the canon of style, the canon of delivery is concerned with how something is said.

While the canon of style focuses primarily on what sort of language you use, delivery focuses on the mechanics of how you impart your message. For ancient orators, delivery meant how a speaker used his body language and hand gestures and how he changed his tone of voice during his oration.

Mastering the canon of delivery can help a speaker establish ethos with his audience. Admit it. You’ve probably written off plenty of speakers when you saw that they mumbled through their speech and gestured like the robot on Lost in Space. I know I have. The speaker could have been making valid and groundbreaking points, but the message got lost in the delivery. Delivery can also help an orator use pathos, or emotion, to persuade. A well placed pause or a slammed fist can elicit a desired emotion from your audience in order to make your point.

The ancient Greeks held the canon of delivery in very high regard. They believed that an orator who could eloquently deliver a speech was in fact a virtuous person. The thinking being that the gift to deliver a powerful speech could only reside in a virtuous man.

The life of the famous Greek orator Demosthenes demonstrates the lengths ancient rhetoricians would take in order to master the canon of delivery. To improve his diction, Demosthenes would practice his speeches with pebbles in his mouth and even recite speeches while he ran. To strengthen his voice so he could be heard clearly in the Greek Assembly, he’d stand on the seashore and deliver his speech over the roar of the waves. All this work paid off, as Demosthenes went down in history as one of the greatest orators of ancient Greece.

While the Greeks admired men as virtuous for being able to deliver a speech eloquently, modern audiences have a tendency to be suspicious of a speaker that appears too well-polished. A charismatic speaker who can deliver a rousing speech is often seen as a silver-tongued deceiver with ulterior motives, someone who is masking his true intent with a flashy presentation. This suspicion was born in the aftermath of WWII; people felt ashamed that they had fallen under the spell of dictators who were great orators but had malicious agendas.

But for Americans, our wariness of smooth speakers goes back quite a ways more and can be traced to the cultural turn against the “genteel patriarch archetype” after the Revolutionary War and the election of Andrew Jackson as the country’s first “populist president.” Since that time, Americans have craved “authenticity” and often preferred a speaker with a bit of rough, folksy charm over one more refined and sophisticated. We saw this play out in the 2004 U.S. presidential election between John Kerry and George Bush. Many political commentators agreed the John Kerry had a hard time connecting with voters because he came off as too polished, stiff, and cerebral in debates and speeches. Bush, on the other hand, despite his occasional speaking gaffes, or perhaps because of them, was often seen as more down-to-earth–the kind of guy you’d go have a beer with–because his delivery was more rough and unpolished. He seemed authentic and approachable, and thus trustworthy. Some cultural commentators saw the election of Obama in 2008 as a victory over this suspicion for “elitism” and charismatic orators.

The Importance of Tailoring Your Delivery to Your Audience

fdr franklin roosevelt giving speech sitting bowtie

FDR knew how to match his style of delivery to the situation.

How you approach your delivery will need to be determined during the invention stage of your speech. Find out to the best of your ability the overall demographics and cultural background of your audience. What does your audience fear? What are their desires? What are their needs? This information will help you decide if you should use a more sophisticated and polished delivery or if you should go with a more informal approach.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a master of understanding the importance of tailoring your delivery according to time, place, and audience.

When FDR took office during the Great Depression, he instituted regular “Fireside Chats,” where he would address the country on the radio to discuss what the government was doing and why. If you listen to him, say, explain the need to close banks for a banking holiday, you can hear how his delivery sounds much like a kindly grandfather patiently explaining a complicated issue in a very simple and easy to understand manner. His delivery conveys warmth, comfort, and confidence. It is easy to understand how, in a time where there was “nothing to fear but fear itself,” many Americans, in a practice foreign to most of us today, had a picture of FDR hanging in their home as if he were part of the family.

Now, if you listen to FDR’s speech after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, you can hear a much different, but still very effective kind of delivery. The nation was reeling with shock, worry, and anger, and FDR, now speaking with great force, manages to convey righteous indignation and supreme confidence.

ronald reagan speech sitting at desk challenger explosion

Like FDR, Reagan knew how to effectively vary his delivery. He could often be humorous and folksy but knew how to convey sincerity and solemnity when the situation called for it, such as after the Challenger exploded.

Developing the Canon of Delivery in Oratory

Because the art of delivery in writing could be its own post, we have chosen to concentrate on how it applies to spoken rhetoric. Here are a few key tips for increasing the effectiveness of your oratorical delivery.

Master the pause. Most people are so nervous when they get up to speak that they rush through the whole thing like the Micro Machines guy. But they’re losing out on employing one of the most powerful oratorical techniques–the pause. A pause can add a bit of dramatic flair to a statement or it can help the audience really drink up an idea. The key with a pause is timing. Use it only in spots where it will be effective–places where you really want to highlight what comes after the pause. “Hello (pause) my (pause) name is (pause),” would not be such a time. Practice inserting pauses in your speech to find what works.

Watch your body language. When you’re speaking, your voice isn’t the only thing talking. Your body is also communicating. Your posture, head tilt, and the way you walk on stage all convey a message. Some occasions may require that you carry yourself in a more formal and stiff manner, while other occasions will require a more laid-back approach.

Vary your tone. Nothing will put your audience to sleep faster than a visit from android man from the year 2050. Short-circuit the flat, monotonous robot voice and keep things interesting by adding vocal inflections as you speak. Use inflections to reveal that you’re asking a question, being sarcastic, or conveying excitement. You might even exaggerate your inflections when delivering a public speech as many people have a tendency to get timid in front of an audience.

Let gestures flow naturally. If used effectively, hand gestures can give added emphasis to your words. If used incorrectly, you’ll end up looking like an octopus having a seizure. Don’t over think hand gestures; just let them flow naturally. You might want to have someone watch you practice the speech to make sure your gesticulations aren’t distracting. If they are, adjust accordingly, but don’t obsess about it; they’re part of what makes you unique as a speaker.

teddy theodore roosevelt giving speech pointing hand gesture

Nothing stops a Bull Moose’s hand gesture.

Match your speed with your emotion. How fast or slow you speak can affect the emotion you’re trying to convey. In A Natural System of Elocution and Oratory, the author gives six different speech speeds and the corresponding emotions they’re meant to elicit.

  • Rapid: haste, alarm, confusion, anger, vexation, fear, revenge, and extreme terror.
  • Quick or brisk: joy, hope, playfulness, and humor.
  • Moderate: good for narration, descriptions, and teaching.
  • Slow: gloom, sorrow, melancholy, grief, pity, admiration, reverence, dignity, authority, awe, power, and majesty.
  • Very slow: used to express the strongest and deepest emotions.

Vary the force of your voice. Force is the strength and weakness of voice. Varying the force of your voice can help express different emotions. Anger, ferocity, and seriousness can be conveyed with a strong, loud voice. This doesn’t mean you need to shout. You just need to put a little more oomph in your voice. A softer voice can convey reverence, meekness, and humility. Varying the force of your voice can also help draw listeners into your speech. For example, by speaking softly, your audience has to work a bit more to hear you. It’s almost like you’re telling a secret to your audience which is a great way to emphasis a point you’re making and to connect with your listeners. Like all tactics, this must be used sparingly…don’t make the audience strain to hear your whole speech.

Enunciate. It’s easy to trip over your tongue and slur words together when you’re speaking in public. But really focus on enunciating your words as this will make you easier to understand. I have a tendency to mumble and slur words together. A trick that has helped me overcome this is practicing speaking while holding a pencil underneath my tongue. It forces your tongue to work harder as it restricts tongue movement. When you remove the pencil from underneath your tongue, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to enunciate without the obstruction. I’ll often do this exercise right before I do a podcast or give a presentation. Tongue twisters help with enunciation, too.

Look your audience in the eye. When you look people in the eye, you make a connection. But how can you look an entire audience in the eye? Well, if there are hundreds of people in your audience, you can’t. But you can at least make eye contact with a couple of them. As you go through your speech, work your way across the room making eye contact with several different people in the audience. You’ll get a strong connection with those people you look in the eye, but you’ll also give everyone else a chance to look you in the face which can help build a connection. Maintain contact for a few seconds. If it’s too short, you’ll seem nervous and shifty. If you look too long, you’ll start creeping people out.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory

vintage memory parts of brain diagram illustration

Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. So far we’ve covered the canons of inventionarrangement, and style. Today we’ll be covering the canon of memory.

The Three Elements of the Canon of Memory

1. Memorizing one’s speech.

Anciently, almost all rhetorical communication was done orally in the public forum. Ancient orators had to memorize their speeches and be able to give them without notes or crib sheets. Note taking as a way to remember things was often looked down upon in many ancient cultures. In his Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates announcing that reliance on writing weakened memory:

If men learn this, [the art of writing] it will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves.

So if you were an ancient Greek and busted out some speech notes in the Assembly, you’d probably be laughed at and mocked as weak-minded. The canon of memory then was in many ways a tool to increase an orator’s ethos, or authority with his audience.

In modern times, we still lend more credence to speakers who give their speeches (or at least appear to) from memory. You just need to look at the guff President Obama caught a few years ago when it was revealed that he almost never speaks without the help of a teleprompter. He relies on it whether giving a long speech or a short one, at a campaign event or a rodeo. And when the teleprompter malfunctions, he often flounders. This reliance on an oratorical safety net potentially hurts Obama’s ethos in two ways. First, whether fairly or not, when people know that a speaker needs a “crutch” for their speeches, it weakens their credibility and the confidence the audience has in the speaker’s authenticity. And second, notes put distance between the speaker and the audience. As a television crewman who also covered Clinton and Bush put it in reference to Obama’s use of the teleprompter: “He uses them to death. The problem is, he never looks at you. He’s looking left, right, left, right — not at the camera. It’s almost like he’s not making eye contact with the American people.”

This truth isn’t just limited to the POTUS. Think back to the speakers you’ve heard personally. Which ones seemed more dynamic and engaging? The man with his nose buried in his notes, reading them verbatim from behind the lectern…or the one who seemed like he was giving his speech from the heart and who engaged the audience visually with eye contact and natural body language? I’m pretty sure it was the second type of speaker. It pays to memorize your speech.

2. Making one’s speech memorable.

For ancient orators, the rhetorical canon of memory wasn’t just about the importance of giving speeches extemporaneously. The second element of this canon entailed organizing your oration and using certain figures of speech to help your audience remember what you said. What good is spending hours memorizing a persuasive speech if your listeners forget what you said as soon as they walk out the door?

3. Keeping a treasury of rhetorical fodder.

A third facet of the canon of memory involved storing up quotations, facts, and anecdotes that could be used at any time for future speeches or even an impromptu speech. A master orator always has a treasury of rhetorical fodder in his mind and close at hand. Roman rhetoricians like Cicero and Quintilian didn’t subscribe to the Greek prejudice against note taking and encouraged their students to carry small journals to collect quotes and ideas for future speeches. Renaissance rhetoricians continued and expanded on this tradition with their use of the “commonplace book.”

Below we’ll take a look at some of the methods classical rhetoricians used to implement the three different aspects of the canon of memory in more detail.

Memorizing Long Speeches

renaissance memory seals loci memorization technique

Renaissance memory seals to implement the method of loci technique.

Because the orations of ancient rhetoricians could last several hours, they had to develop mnemonic devices (techniques that aid memory) to help them remember all the parts of their speeches. The most famous and popular of these mnemonic devices was the “method of loci” technique.

The method of loci memory technique was first described in written form in a Roman treatise on rhetoric called ad Herennium, but it also made appearances in treatises by Cicero and Quintilian. It’s an extremely effective mnemonic device and is still used by memory champions like Joshua Foer, author of the recent book, Moonwalking With Einstein.

To use the method of loci, the speaker concentrates on the layout of a building or home that he’s familiar with. He then takes a mental walk through each room in the building and commits an engaging visual representation of a part of his speech to each room. So, for example, let’s say the first part of your speech is about the history of the Third Punic War. You can imagine Hannibal and Scipio Africanus duking it out in your living room. You could get more specific and put different parts of the battles of the Third Punic War into different rooms. The method of loci memory technique is powerful because it’s so flexible.

When you deliver your speech, you mentally walk through your “memory house” in order to retrieve the information you’re supposed to deliver. Some wordsmiths believe that the common English phrase “in the first place” came from the method of loci technique. A speaker using the technique might say, “In the first place,” in reference to the fact that the first part of his speech was in the first place or loci in his memory house. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Helping Your Audience Remember Your Speech

winston churchill giving speech parliament radio microphones

For our communication to be truly persuasive and effective, we need to ensure that our audience remembers what we’ve communicated to them. The first step in getting people to remember what you’ve said is to have something interesting to say. If everyone in the audience is zoning out and playing with their iPhones, no amount of organizational tricks will help them remember your speech.

Once you’ve formulated an interesting message, follow the basic pattern set forth in the canon of arrangement to make your speech or text easy to follow and thus easy to remember. Give a solid introduction where you set out clearly what you plan on sharing with your audience. You can say something as simple as, “Today, I’m going to discuss three things. One, blah blah blah. Two, blah blah. Three, bloop bleep blah.”

Throughout your speech, stop and give your audience a roadmap of where you’re at in your speech. If you’ve just finished the first part of your speech, say something like, “We’ve just covered blah blah. We’ll now move on to my second point, blee blop.” This constant reviewing of where you’ve been and where you have left to go will help burn the main points of your speech into the minds of your audience.

As I also discussed in our article on the canon of arrangement, telling a captivating story is one of the best ways to draw your audience in and help them remember your message. You’ve probably seen the power of story in aiding memory in your own life. What’s easier? Reciting back to a friend what you learned in your physics class or reciting the storyline of a movie you just saw? My bet is on recalling the plot of the movie. Harness the power of story by weaving in anecdotes that bolster your point throughout your speech or text.

Another tool to make your rhetoric more memorable are figures of speech. We discussed these a bit in our article on the canon of style. A well-executed figure of speech can assure that your audience remembers what you’ve said. Take Churchill’s famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech. Most people can remember segments of this speech after hearing or reading it just once because Churchill masterfully used the figure of speech of anaphora. Anaphora calls for repeating a key word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Check out this stirring section from that famous speech:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

See how many times he repeated the phrase “We shall fight?” Seven times. No wonder people remember what Churchill said. If you want people to remember what you say, do likewise.

Storing Up Quotes, Facts, and Stories for Future Speeches

17 century commonplace book journal quotes facts lists

Commonplace book from the 17th century.

Another important part of the canon of memory is storing up information that can be used in future speeches or texts.

The ancient Roman and Renaissance rhetoricians encouraged the use of commonplace books to help facilitate this collection process and so do we. We’ve talked about the benefits of carrying a pocket notebook and the famous men who made pocket notebooks a part of their everyday arsenal before. If you’ve gotten into the habit, keep it up; if you haven’t, get started today.

Personally, my favorite notebooks to use are the thin Moleskine Cahiers that fit in my back pocket. If I have an idea or see or read something that I want to remember, I just whip out my notebook and scribble it down. A pocket notebook can be a storehouse for all the ideas you generate each day and for all the interesting thoughts and bits of advice you hear and read from other people.

Another tool I use to collect and organize all the information I gather is Evernote. Evernote is a free notetaking software that allows you to organize just about anything. At the end of each day, I’ll take the notes that I’ve made in my pocket notebook and type them into Evernote. Also, when I read a book, I’ll type sections or lines that I want to remember into Evernote before I return it to the library. Whenever I’m working on a speech or a post for the Art of Manliness, I’ll run a search through Evernote to see if I have anything in my personal library of quotes, figures, and stories. It makes putting together a speech or an essay much easier than starting from scratch.

Any other advice on improving your memory for rhetorical purposes? Share them with us in the comments!

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History 

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style

henry clay giving speech continental congress founding fathersWelcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. So far we’ve covered the canons of invention and arrangement. As a quick review, the canon of invention is about brainstorming ideas for your speech or writing, and arrangement is about organizing your speech or text to ensure maximum persuasion.

Today we’re discussing the canon of style. Let’s begin.

What Is Style?

When people write memos or give persuasive speeches, the focus is usually on what they’re going to write or say. While it’s important that you have something substantive to say, it’s also important how you present your ideas. The canon of style will help you present your ideas and arguments so people will want to listen to you.

A mentor of mine gave me a great object lesson on the importance of style when crafting a message. He placed two boxes on a table. One was small and sort of crushed and wrapped haphazardly with newspaper and duct tape. My name was scrawled with black Sharpie marker on the newspaper.

The other was a medium-sized box, wrapped with handsome looking wrapping paper and topped with a giant green bow. A present tag hung from the bow and had my name written on it in beautifully done calligraphy.

“Pick which present you’d like.”

I picked the nicely wrapped present partly because I had an idea of what he was trying to teach me and wanted to play along, and partly because I just liked how it looked.

I slowly unwrapped the present, being careful not to rip the paper. I took off the top of the box and found a bunch of red tissue paper. I rummaged through the paper until I found a silver ballpoint Fisher pen.

He asked me to open the other box. I tore off the newspaper and lifted the top of the box to reveal the exact same present: a silver ballpoint Fisher pen.

The lesson was obvious. It doesn’t matter how great your message is, if you don’t wrap it up with style, people will probably ignore it in favor of a message that’s packaged nicely.

The Five Virtues of Style

The five virtues of style were first developed by two pupils of Aristotle: Theophrastus and Demetrius. The ancient Roman rhetoricians Cicero and Quintilian taught the virtues to their students and added their own spin.

1. Correctness. Correctness means speaking or writing in accordance with the rules and norms of one’s language. An effective communicator uses words correctly and follows the rules of grammar and syntax. Why? First, correct usage ensures clear and precise communication.

And second (and perhaps more importantly), correctly using language establishes credibility (or ethos, remember that persuasive tool?) with an audience because it indicates the speaker or writer is well-educated, understands the nuances of language, and pays attention to details. When someone catches language mistakes in a speech or piece of text, the thought often arises, “If the author can’t even follow the basic rules of grammar or even take the time and effort to review them, why should I trust what he has to say?”

When you’re attempting to persuade others, try to avoid anything that would distract your audience from your argument. Don’t give them a reason to discredit you by being lazy with correct grammar and usage.

Note: I know full well that many of AoM’s articles contain grammatical mistakes (perhaps even this one does!), and that this section offers the perfect opportunity to snarkily comment on this seeming irony. In truth, Kate and I read every single article several times before publishing, sometimes even out loud. But it is nearly impossible to catch every mistake; the brain has been proven to see things that should be there, but are not. While we lack a professional editor, we do our very best. And that is what you should strive for with your rhetoric–not perfection, but your very best effort. And as a listener or reader, is it always wise to give the rhetorician a bit of the benefit of the doubt before completely writing them off.

2. Clarity. It’s hard to be persuasive when people can’t even understand what you’re trying to say. Clear and simple writing ensures that your message never gets lost between you and your audience.

Unfortunately, many people think to be persuasive they need to “look smart” by using big words and complex sentence structures. The reality is that the simpler you write, the more intelligent you seem to others. A study done at Princeton University manipulated the complexity of the vocabulary and writing style of documents and gave them to students. Over and over again, the simpler versions were rated as coming from a more intelligent writer than the more complex drafts.

Smart writing is simple writing.

Clear and simple writing is actually quite difficult to do. It requires you to think hard about your topic, get at its core, and then put that core in terms that your audience can understand. Here are a few tips on writing and speaking with greater clarity:

  • Write or speak so an 8th grader can understand. If an 8th grader can understand your speech or article, then chances are an adult of average education can too. Practice this by taking complex legal/ethical issues or scientific theories and writing a short blurb that could be put in an 8th grade textbook. If you get stumped with pen and paper in hand, grab an 8th grader and talk the issue through with them face to face. It’s amazing what keeping this rule in mind can do to  help make you a clearer communicator.
  • Use strong verbs. Avoid is, are, was, were, be, being, been. So instead of saying “Diane was killed by Jim,” say, “Jim killed Diane.” Shorter, clearer, and punchier. Whenever I edit my writing, I always do a ctrl+f for those verbs and see if I can replace them with stronger verbs. Although sometimes you can’t do so without the sentence sounding worse than before.
  • Keep average sentence length to about 20 words. Sentence length is one of the biggest factors in determining how easy it is to understand what you’re saying or writing. Ideas can get lost in super long sentences. While you should avoid really long sentences as much as possible, you don’t want all your sentences to be just five words each either. That makes your writing and speaking sound choppy and rushed. Shoot for an average of about 20 words a sentence. And mix sentences of varying lengths together.
  • Keep paragraphs short. Ideally, each paragraph should contain just one idea. This ensures that your reader doesn’t get lost in a jumble of different points. When you write long paragraphs, it’s easy for more than one idea to sneak in. Avoid this by keeping paragraphs short. Shoot for an average of five to six sentences a paragraph.
  • Don’t use a five dollar word when a fifty cent word would work just as well. If you have a choice between a fancy word and a plain word, go with the plain word.

There are dozens more tips on making your writing or speeches clearer, but we have to move on.  For more advice on writing with clarity, pick up a copy of the bible on clear and effective writing: Strunk and White Elements of Style. Another book I found insanely helpful is Legal Writing in Plain English. It’s geared towards lawyers, but the principles apply to writing and speaking in any field.

3. Evidence. We’re not using “evidence” in the sense of facts you provide to prove a logical argument. For classical rhetoricians, the quality of evidence was a way to measure how well language reached the emotions of an audience through vivid description. Remember that most people are persuaded more by emotion (pathos) than by logic (logos). One of the best ways to elicit an emotional response from people is to appeal to their physical senses by using vivid descriptions.

For example, let’s say you’re making the case to your state legislator that your state needs to devote more funds towards fighting childhood hunger. Instead of starting your speech or letter by spouting off a bunch of dry facts, it would be more persuasive to tell a story of a specific child who’s a victim of hunger. In your story, describe the conditions this child is living in–the smells, the sights, the sounds. Describe the pangs of hunger that gnaw on his stomach every night while he lies crying softly, curled in ball on a urine-soaked mattress.

Who wouldn’t want to help this kid? That’s the quality of evidence in action.

4. Propriety. Propriety is the quality of style concerned with selecting words that fit with the subject matter of your speech and ensuring they’re appropriate for your audience and for the occasion. Simply put, propriety means saying the right thing, at the right place, at the right time.

A common rhetorical event where you see the quality of propriety flagrantly violated is the best man speech at a wedding. I can’t count how many of these speeches I’ve witnessed where the best man says something that makes everyone in the room cringe. You’d think it’d be common sense, but a wedding toast in front of a groom’s new wife and her family isn’t an appropriate place to talk about the groom’s past relationships or a night of drunken debauchery you had with him back in your college days. You might think it’s funny, but a wedding reception isn’t the place for that sort of humor. It’d be fine at a roast, but not a toast.

5. Ornateness. Ornateness involves making your speech or text interesting to listen to or read by using figures of speech and manipulating the sound and rhythm of words. Classical rhetoricians focused on incorporating different figures of speech to decorate their speeches. Here are a few that I particularly enjoy using:

  • Alliteration. Repetition of the same letter or sound within nearby words. Most often, repeated initial consonants.
    • Example: “Somewhere at this very moment a child is being born in America. Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy family, and a hopeful future.” — Bill Clinton, 1992 Democratic National Convention Acceptance Address
  • Onomatopoeia. Use of words which sound like the thing they describe.
    • Example: Batman action words. Bang! Pow! Buzz! Zip!
  • Antanaclasis. Repetition of a word in two different senses.
    • Example: “If we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately.” —Benjamin Franklin
  • Asyndeton. The omission of conjunctions between clauses, often resulting in a hurried rhythm or vehement effect.
    • Example: “I came; I saw; I conquered.”
  • Simile. An explicit comparison, often (but not necessarily) employing “like” or “as.”
    • Example: “The full green hills are round and soft as breasts.” —The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
  • Metaphor. A comparison made by equating one thing with another, showing that two unlike things have something in common.
    • Example: “A mighty fortress is our God.”

For an extensive list of figures of speech, check out Silva Rhetoricae.

Any other advice on improving your rhetorical style? What are some resources that you’ve come across that have helped your writing and speaking style? Share them with us in the comments!

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History 

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement

martin luther king jr giving speech to crowd
Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. Last time we discussed invention, which is essentially brainstorming and planning your speech or writing. In this installment, we’ll be exploring the canon of arrangement. Let’s get started.

What Is Arrangement?

Arrangement is simply the organization of a speech or text to ensure maximum persuasion. Classical rhetoricians divided a speech into six different parts. They are:

  1. Introduction (exordium)
  2. Statement of Facts (narratio)
  3. Division (partitio)
  4. Proof (confirmatio)
  5. Refutation (refutatio)
  6. Conclusion (peroratio)

If you’ve taken debate or philosophy classes, you’ve probably seen this format for organizing a speech or paper.

1. Introduction

There are two aspects of an effective introduction: 1) introducing your topic and 2) establishing credibility.

Introducing your topic. In your introduction, your main goal is to announce your subject or the purpose of your speech–to persuade, to teach, to praise, etc. Simple, huh? Well, not really.

Your introduction is crucial for the success of your speech or essay. In the first few seconds, your audience will determine whether your speech is worth listening to. If you can’t grab their attention right off the bat, you’ve lost them for the remainder of the speech.

So how can you announce your subject in a way that grabs your audience’s attention? You have the old stand-bys: start off with a quote, ask a rhetorical question, or state some shocking fact relating to your topic. Those are decent ways to introduce your topic, but they’re overdone. Some men also try to open with a joke, but most of the time it falls flat, the credibility of the speaker takes a nose dive, and the audience begins tuning the speaker out.

In my experience, the best way to start a speech is to tell a captivating story that draws readers in and engages them emotionally. Journalists do this all the time. They always try to find a human angle to any story no matter how tangential the connection. For tips on crafting compelling and sticky stories, check out a book I recommended last time, Made to Stick.

Establishing credibility. Quintilian taught that it was during the introduction that a rhetorician should use the persuasive appeal of ethos. Ethos, if you remember from our class on the three means of persuasion, is an appeal to your character or reputation to persuade your audience. It doesn’t matter how logical your argument is, if people don’t think you’re trustworthy or a credible source, you’ll have no sway with them.

2. Statement of Facts (narratio)

The statement of facts is the background information needed to get your audience up to speed on the history of your issue. The goal is to provide enough information for your audience to understand the context of your argument. If your rhetoric is seeking to persuade people to adopt a certain course of action, you must first convince the audience that there really is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Don’t just dryly list off a bunch of facts. Make them interesting to read or listen to. Create a story. Narrate.

While the statement of facts is primarily used to inform your audience, with some subtle tweaking, you can use your facts to persuade as well. Now, I don’t mean you should make up facts out of thin air; only a scalawag would do that. But you can emphasize and deemphasize facts that support or hurt your argument

Attorneys do this all the time. They’ll use certain language and emphasize or deemphasize certain facts to help their case and their client. Let’s use a murder trial as an example.

Both sides have to recognize the fact that someone is dead, but each will do it differently to further their case.

The prosecutor might say,”The defendant, Mr. Killzalots, shot the victim John Smith, a beloved community philanthropist, twenty times at point blank range in front of the victim’s children.”

The defendant’s attorney might convey the same fact thusly: “John Smith was shot.”

The prosecutor emphasized the fact that Mr. Killzalots did the shooting and did so multiple times at point blank range in front of the victim’s children. Moreover, he mentioned that the victim was admired by his community. This was an attempt to create sympathy for the victim and rage towards the defendant. The defending attorney did a lot of deemphasizing. He didn’t want sympathy for the victim or rage directed at his client. So he tried to describe the murder in as neutral a tone as possible.

It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates how your statement of facts can be a powerfully persuasive tool.

3. Division (partitio)

Quintilian taught that after stating your facts, the most effective way to transition into your argument is with a partitio: a summary of the arguments you’re about to make. Think of the division as your audience’s roadmap. You’re about to take them on a journey of logic and emotion, so give them an idea of where they’re going, so it’s easier to follow you. When I listen to a speech, I like when the speaker starts out by saying something like, “I have three points to make tonight.” That way I know how far along in the speech he is (and if it’s boring, when it’s going to end!).

4. Proof (confirmatio)

Now comes the main body of your speech or essay. This is when you will make your argument. In the proof section, you want to construct logical arguments that your audience can understand and follow. If you need to, review our previous segment on logos to ensure you’re using sound and valid arguments. When you construct your arguments, be sure to relate back to the facts you mentioned in your statement of facts to back up what you say. If you’re suggesting a course of action, you want to convince people that your solution is the best one for resolving the problem you just described.

5. Refutation (refutatio)

After you’ve crafted a strong and convincing argument for your case, it’s time to highlight the weaknesses in your argument to your audience. This might seem surprising. Why on earth would we go out of our way to show our audience possible reasons our argument is faulty? While at first blush this tactic would seem to be counterproductive, sharing the weaknesses of your arguments will actually make you more persuasive in two ways.

First, it gives you a chance to preemptively answer any counterarguments an opposing side may bring  up and resolve any doubts your audience might be harboring. Bringing up weaknesses before your opponent or audience takes the bite out of a coming counterargument. And some people will already have objections they’re mulling over in their heads; if you don’t address those objections, your audience will assume it is because you can’t, that you have something to hide, and that they’re right after all.

Second, highlighting the weaknesses in your argument is an effective use of ethos. No one likes a know-it-all. A bit of intellectual modesty can go a long way to getting the audience to trust and like you, and consequently, be persuaded by what you have to say. Recognizing that your argument isn’t iron-clad is an easy way to gain the sympathy and trust of your audience.

6. Conclusion (peroratio)

The goal of your conclusion is to sum up your argument as forcefully and as memorably as possible. Simply restating your facts and proof won’t cut it. If you want people to remember what you said, you have to inject some emotion into your conclusion. In fact, Quintilian taught that the conclusion of a speech was when one should liberally use pathos–or the appeal to emotion. Perhaps the best example of an amazingly effective, emotion-filled conclusion is the finish to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” still brings tears to eyes and chills to spines, forever searing the memory of the speech in the minds of those who hear it.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention

abraham lincoln giving speech on platform illustration

Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re kicking off a five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. As you remember from our brief introduction to classical rhetoric, the Five Canons of Rhetoric constitute a system and guide on crafting powerful speeches and writing. It’s also a template by which to judge effective rhetoric. The Five Canons were brought together and organized by the Roman orator Cicero, in his treatise, De Inventione, written around 50 BC. 150 years later in 95 AD, the Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored the Five Canons in more depth in his landmark 12-volume textbook on rhetoric, Institutio Oratoria. His textbook, and consequently the Five Canons of Rhetoric, went on to become the backbone of rhetorical education well into the medieval period.

Enough with the history. What are the Five Canons of Rhetoric? Glad you asked.

The Five Canons of Rhetoric are:

  • inventio (invention): The process of developing and refining your arguments.
  • dispositio (arrangement): The process of arranging and organizing your arguments for maximum impact.
  • elocutio (style): The process of determining how you present your arguments using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques.
  • memoria (memory): The process of learning and memorizing your speech so you can deliver it without the use of notes. Memory-work not only consisted of memorizing the words of a specific speech, but also storing up famous quotes, literary references, and other facts that could be used in impromptu speeches.
  • actio (delivery): The process of practicing how you deliver your speech using gestures, pronunciation, and tone of voice.

If you’ve taken a public speaking class, you were probably taught a version of The Five Canons. They also form the foundation of many composition courses.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at each of the Five Canons separately and exploring how we use them in everyday situations to be more effective communicators. Ready, to get started? Let’s kick things off by talking about the first Canon of Rhetoric: Invention.

What Is Invention?

Invention, according to Aristotle, involves “discovering the best available means of persuasion.” It may sound simple, but Invention is possibly the most difficult phase in crafting a speech or piece of writing as it lays the groundwork for all the other phases; you must start from nothing to build the framework of your piece. During the Invention Phase, the goal is to brainstorm ideas on what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it in order to maximize persuasion. Any good orator or writer will tell you they probably spend more time in the Invention step than they do any of the others.

Take Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Yeah, the man is polarizing and a lightning rod for controversy, but lawyers and jurists across the political spectrum recognize him as one of the best legal writers in the history of the Supreme Court. He’s able to take complex issues and arguments and distill them into short, powerful, and often witty sentences and paragraphs. Even if you don’t agree with the outcome of his opinions, you’re often left thinking, “Damn, that was a really good argument!”

What’s the secret to Justice Scalia’s rhetorical ability? Spending lots and lots of time in the Invention Phase. In an interview about his writing process, Scalia explained that he goes through “a lengthy germination process” for ideas before he puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Scalia brainstorms in his car while driving home from work and at the gym while exercising. This germination process lasts anywhere from a few days to even a few weeks. But the time invested in simply thinking and brainstorming pays off when he finally gets down to writing. I find this to be the case in my own life as well; my best posts are those which I allow to percolate in my brain for a long time, months, even years. I’m kicking around ideas when I’m brushing my teeth and taking a walk. When I finally sit down to write, the ideas come tumbling out, already nicely aged and seasoned.

Things to Consider in the Invention Phase

So what sorts of things should you be thinking about during the Invention Phase? Without some direction and guidance, brainstorming can often be fruitless and frustrating. Pondering the following elements can increase the effectiveness of your Invention sessions.

Your audience. One of the key factors in crafting a persuasive piece of rhetoric is tailoring your message to your specific audience. Find out to the best of your ability the overall demographics and cultural background of your audience. What does your audience fear? What are their desires? What are their needs? This information will help you decide what sorts of facts to incorporate into your rhetoric as well as help you determine which means of persuasion would be the most effective to employ.

Your evidence. When planning your speech or writing, collect any and every type of evidence you can find. Evidence could be facts, statistics, laws, and individual testimonies. It’s always good to have a nice blend, but remember different audiences are persuaded by different types of evidence. Some people need cold, hard facts and statistics in order to be persuaded. Others find the testimony of peers or a reputable authority to be more convincing. Part of getting to know your audience is figuring out what kinds of evidence they will find most credible and compelling.

The means of persuasion. You remember the three means of persuasion, right? Pathos, logos, and ethos? This is the time when you want to determine which of the three persuasive appeals you’ll use in your speech. Ideally, you’d have a nice mixture of all three, but again, different audiences will be better persuaded by different appeals.  Using pathos (appeal to emotion) to convince a room full of scientists that you have discovered cold fusion probably won’t get you very far. A focus on logos would work much better. Again, it’s all about suiting your rhetoric to your audience.

Timing. People are receptive to certain ideas at different times depending on context. People often advise couples not to go to bed angry, to work out their problems before hitting the sack. But at night we’re tired and cranky; our defenses are down. Trying to convey your side of things at this time frequently results in a small issue blowing up into something much bigger. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep often helps put things in perspective. You’ll likely find your spouse more willing to hear you out in the morning. As it is in marriage, so it is with everything in life; the importance of timing cannot be underestimated. Present a cost-cutting idea at work the same day five of everyone’s favorite employees were laid off, and you’ll get a icy, hostile reception. Present it six months later and people will actually listen.

Another aspect of timing is the duration of your speech or writing. In some instances a long, well-developed, and nuanced speech is appropriate;  other times, a shorter, and more forceful presentation will be more effective. Again, it often depends on your audience and the context of your speech.

Abraham Lincoln was a master of timing. His Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in history. Many people don’t know that Lincoln actually wasn’t the keynote speaker that day; rather, that honor fell to renowned orator, Edward Everett. Everett delivered a two hour speech that displayed some of the finest skill in oration and rhetoric; he held the audience in rapt attention. Lincoln took to the stand and delivered his address in less than five minutes. While the contemporary audience was not overly impressed, Everett knew he had been witness to greatness. He wrote Lincoln, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” And of course, 150 years later, no one quotes Everett or even remembers he spoke at Gettysburg, but everyone remembers Lincoln and are familiar with his words. Timing matters.

Format of argument. So you have a vague idea of what you’re supposed to write or talk about. The hard part is taking that vague idea and organizing it into a concrete theme or thesis. Without some guidance on how to do this, a man can rack his brain for hours and not get anywhere. Fortunately for us, the ancient rhetoricians left us some nifty little cheat sheets on developing the format and theme for our arguments, which is where we turn next.

Ancient Helps for the Invention Phase

Stasis. Stasis is a procedure designed to help a rhetorician develop and clarify the main points of his argument. Stasis consists of four types of questions a speaker asks himself. They are:

  1. Questions of fact: What is it exactly that I’m talking about? Is it a person? An idea? A problem? Does it really exist? What’s the source of the problem? Are there facts to support the truth of this opinion?
  2. Questions of definition: What’s the best way to define this idea/object/action? What are the different parts? Can it be grouped with similar ideas/objects/actions?
  3. Questions of quality: Is it good or bad? Is it right or wrong? Is it frivolous or important?
  4. Questions of procedure/jurisdiction: Is this the right venue to discuss this topic? What actions do I want my reader/listener to take?

These questions may sound completely elementary, but trust me, when you’re struggling to get your mind around an idea for a speech or writing theme, stasis has an almost magical way of focusing your thinking and helping you develop your argument. Don’t skip out on it.

Topoi (Topics of Invention). Topoi, or topics,  consist of a set of categories that are designed to help a writer or speaker find relationships among ideas, which in turn helps organize his thoughts into a solid argument. Aristotle organized the different rhetorical topics in his treatise The Art of Rhetoric. He divided the topics into two large categories: common and special. We’ll focus on common topics as they’re more general and applicable to every day rhetorical situations. (If you’d like more info on special topics see here.) Below, I’ve listed a few of the common topics that are especially helpful in forming arguments.

  • Definition. My classics professor crammed it into my head that in any rhetorical debate, definitions are vital. Whoever can dictate and control the meaning of a word or idea, will typically win. Politicians know this and spend a lot of energy working to frame and define the debate in their own terms and with their own spin. The topic of definition requires an author to determine how he would classify the idea, what its substance is, and to what degree it has that substance.
  • Comparison. You’re probably familiar with this one from your middle school days when you had to write compare and contrast essays. It’s a great way to explore and organize. But the real power of comparison lies in its ability to help you develop powerful analogies and metaphors that stick with your audience.
  • Cause and Effect. Perhaps you’re in a city hall meeting arguing against a new ordinance that requires restaurants to display nutrition information on all their food. You could use cause and effect as an effective way to persuade your listeners that it’s not a good idea. Using strong, factual evidence, present some of the possible detrimental effects of implementing the ordinance. (i.e. expensive for businesses, extra costs to city government to regulate, etc.)
  • Circumstance. This topic looks at what is possible or impossible based on circumstances. With the topic of circumstance, you can also attempt to draw conclusions on future facts or events by referring to events in the past. “I know the sun will rise tomorrow because it has risen every day for thousands of years,” is a very simple example of the topic of circumstance in action.

Stasis and the topoi are just starting points in helping you organize your thoughts and arguments.

That does it for today. I hope you learned something you could apply in your own life. Next, time we’ll be discussing the canon of arrangement.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

Classical Rhetoric 101: The Three Means of Persuasion

winston churchill giving speech in parliament glasses and suit

Welcome back to our ongoing series on classical rhetoric. Today we’ll cover the three means of persuasion as set forth by Aristotle in The Art of Rhetoric. According to Aristotle, a speaker or writer has three ways to persuade his audience:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.

Below we cover the basics of the three means of persuasion and offer a few suggestions on how to implement them into your rhetorical arsenal. And because this aspect of rhetoric is so meaty, I’ve also included suggestions for further reading for those who wish to learn more about each element (I’ll provide a reading list for exploring the subject of rhetoric as a whole in the last post of the series).

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Ethos: The Appeal to the Speaker’s or Writer’s Character or Reputation

If you wish to persuade, you need to establish credibility and authority with your audience. A man may have the most logical and well-thought-out argument, but if his audience doesn’t think he’s trustworthy or even worth listening to, all his reasoning will be for naught.

For Aristotle, a speaker’s ethos consists of appearing knowledgeable about the topic he’s speaking about and being a man of good character. Aristotle and Cicero thought that a speaker could only appeal to his ethos within the speech itself and that an orator should spend the first part of his speech establishing his credibility. The classical rhetorician Isocrates believed that developing one’s ethos and credibility with the audience began even before the speaker opened his mouth. Audiences naturally approach speakers and writers with some suspicion, so they’ll look to his past for evidence that he is trustworthy and knowledgeable about what he’s speaking or writing about.

A speaker or writer can use ethos in several ways.  First, you can simply begin your speech or text by referring to your expertise on the subject. Share how long you’ve studied the subject, mention how many articles you’ve published and where you published them, and refer to awards or recognition you’ve received in relation to the subject at hand.

A nuanced way to establish credibility and rapport with your audience is to downplay your accomplishments. People don’t like a braggart or one-upper. In some cases, having a highfalutin resume might hinder people from trusting you. A bit of modesty can go a long way to getting the audience to trust and like you, and consequently, be persuaded by what you have to say.

Another powerful way to establish ethos with your audience is to find common ground with them. Human beings are social animals. We have a tendency to trust others that are like us (or at least appear like us). You can establish common ground by acknowledging shared values or beliefs. You can establish common ground by simply recognizing a shared history. You see this all the time with presidential candidates. They’ll visit a state they have no immediate connection to, but they’ll find some story from their distant past that connects them to the state. Maybe their great-great-grandfather passed through the area in a covered wagon. That commonality, however slight or silly it may be, helps the audience feel connected to the speaker, and, consequently, makes him more trustworthy.

Living a life of virtue is perhaps the best way to develop ethos. The very hint of hypocrisy will doom even the most eloquent speech. Conversely, when you are virtuous, honest, and earnestly committed to that which you speak of, this inner-commitment will tinge each word you utter with sincerity. The audience will feel the depth of your commitment and will listen far more intently then when they know it is mere claptrap.

Further Reading on Ethos

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (available free online!) Read Franklin’s autobiography for insights on how to live a life of virtue. Also, scattered throughout his life’s story, Franklin gives short lessons in ethos building by sharing insights on how he developed credibility and influence with those around him.
  • Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship A professional magician lays out the secrets of building instant rapport and connection with an audience or individual. Who better to explain how to gain credibility than a man who has to convince people to suspend belief and believe the incredible?
  • Good in a Room In order to succeed in Hollywood, writers, directors, and producers often have just a few minutes to convince a studio executive to finance their project. In this small window of time, they have to build instant credibility, or ethos. In Good in a Room, a former MGM Director shares the most successful techniques on how to establish your authority and credibility in any situation.

Pathos: The Appeal to Emotion

Men have a tendency to dismiss the power of emotion. I know a lot of guys who think you should only persuade through pure reason and logic. But in a battle between emotion and rationality, emotion usually wins, hands down. This isn’t cynicism, it’s just an acknowledgment of the reality of human nature.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt created a powerful metaphor that depicts the tension between our emotional and rational side: The Elephant and the Rider.

The Heath brothers summarize it nicely in their book Switch:

Haidt says our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the Rider.  Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.

The battle between the Rational Rider  and the Emotional Elephant is why we see doctors who smoke and are overweight. They know their behavior isn’t rational and that they should change. They’re doctors for Pete’s sake! But it doesn’t matter. Unless they have a powerful emotional motivation to change, they’ll keep puffing and eating away.

Advertisers understand emotion’s power. Turn on your TV and watch some commercials. How many of them use hard facts and figures to convince you to buy their product? I bet it’s a big fat zilch. Advertisers want you to feel a certain way when you think about their product. Take this commercial for Chivas scotch:

Not once does this commercial mention how Chivas tastes or how it is made or even what Chivas is. But even though I don’t even drink, this commercial made me want to go out and buy a bottle of Chivas! Why? Because it roused a bunch of emotions in me. In tapped into the way I feel about being a man who tries to live a good life. And the music makes your heart swell. It’s a perfect example of pathos at work.

What specific things can you do to inject some more emotion into your arguments? Metaphors and storytelling are powerful tools of persuasion. People are more likely to remember stories than facts because stories tap into our emotions. Next time you give a presentation to a client at work, instead of just slapping up some bar charts and bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation, make the extra effort to weave those facts and figures into an engaging story with conflicts and a cast of characters.

You can also call upon several figures of speech that are designed to provoke an emotional response. Here is a sampling of the dozens you can use:

  • antithesis-Figure of balance in which two contrasting ideas are intentionally juxtaposed, usually through parallel structure (“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”-MLK)
  • aposiopesis– Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion. (Glenn Beck does this a lot.)
  • assonance-Figure of repetition in which different words with the same or similar vowel sounds occur successively in words with different consonants. (“I feel the need, the need for speed.” -Maverick in Top Gun)
  • conduplicatio– The repetition of a word or words in adjacent phrases or clauses, either to amplify the thought or to express emotion. (“So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.” -Robert Kennedy)
  • enargia– Enargia, or vivid description, can be inherently moving, especially when depicting things graphic in nature.
  • energia– Energia, the vigor with which one expresses oneself, can obviously be emotionally affecting.
  • epistrophe-Figure of repetition that occurs when the last word or set of words in one sentence, clause, or phrase is repeated one or more times at the end of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases. (“…and that government of the peopleby the peoplefor the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -A. Lincoln)

Further Reading on Pathos

  • Made to StickBest book I’ve ever read on conveying information in a memorable way. The authors devote an entire section on the persuasive power of storytelling and give concrete tips and examples on how to develop compelling stories that persuade with emotion.
  • SwitchSwitch covers how to use emotions to create change in yourself or an organization. If you want specific tactics on how to appeal to a person’s emotions, read this book.
  • Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of ScreenwritingWritten by a one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, Story lays out in methodical detail how to structure memorable stories. The book is geared towards movie screenwriters, but the principles in the book are applicable to the lawyer writing a brief or a salesman giving a pitch.

Logos: The Appeal to Reason

Finally, we come to logos, or the appeal to reason. Aristotle believed logos to be the superior persuasive appeal and that all arguments should be won or lost on reason alone. However, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles and so the other appeals needed to be used as well.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle states that appealing to reason means allowing “the words of the speech itself” to do the persuading. This was accomplished through making inferences using deductive reasoning, usually in the form of a formal syllogism. You’ve seen these before. You start with two premises and end with a conclusion that naturally follows the premises. For example:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Easy, huh? When forming syllogistic arguments, one should ensure that they’re sound. An argument is sound if:

  1. the argument is valid, and;
  2. all of its premises are true.

Alright, for an argument to be sound, it needs to be valid. What’s a valid argument? A valid argument is one that has a conclusion that necessarily follows the premises.  If we switched things up in our above argument, we can make it invalid. Check it:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is mortal.
Therefore, Socrates is a man.

At first blush, it looks like a decent argument. But read it carefully. Just because Socrates is mortal, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a man. He could be a squirrel for all we know. Thus, the argument is invalid.

Determining whether premises are true will depend on observation and your knowledge.

Syllogisms are a powerful rhetorical tool. It’s hard to manipulate and argue against a formally laid out, sound syllogism.

We could go into even more detail about formal logic (it’s one of my favorite subjects), but it would be a series unto itself. So, I’ll stop here and let you do some more reading on your own.

In addition to formal logic, a rhetorician should be adept in informal logic. What’s informal logic? Well, there’s no clear cut answer. Philosophers still debate what exactly makes up informal logic, but a rough answer would be that informal logic encompasses several disciplines from formal logic to psychology to help individuals think more critically about the input they receive every day.

A big component of informal logic are fallacies. A “fallacy is a pattern of poor reasoning which appears to be (and in this sense mimics) a pattern of good reasoning.” There’s a whole slew of logical fallacies and chances are you’re familiar with a few of them: ad hominems, slippery slopes, red herrings. It’s important to be familiar with as many fallacies as possible so a) you don’t use them and thus lose credibility (ethos!) with your audience, and b) you don’t get sucked into arguments with scalawags who use them. We’ll cover fallacies a bit more in depth in a later post. Stay tuned!

Further reading on Logos

Alrighty. That does it for this class. As I said at the beginning, this was a very basic intro to the three means of persuasion. I definitely encourage you to check out some of the books I listed for a more in-depth treatment.

Anything you’d like to add? We’d love to read your insights on the three means of persuasion. Share them with us in the comments!

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History 

Classical Rhetoric 101: A Brief History

aristotle bust stone marble statue beard robes

This is the second in a series on classical rhetoric. In this post, we lay the foundation of our study of rhetoric by taking a look at its history. While this post is in no way a comprehensive history of rhetoric, it should give you enough background information to understand the context of the principles we’ll be discussing over the next few months.

Humans have studied and praised rhetoric since the early days of the written word. The Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians both valued the ability to speak with eloquence and wisdom. However, it wasn’t until the rise of Greek democracy that rhetoric became a high art that was studied and developed systematically.

Rhetoric in Ancient Greece: The Sophists

socrates debating philosophy painting with other men

Many historians credit the ancient city-state of Athens as the birthplace of classical rhetoric. Because Athenian democracy marshaled every free male into politics, every Athenian man had to be ready to stand in the Assembly and speak to persuade his countrymen to vote for or against a particular piece of legislation. A man’s success and influence in ancient Athens depended on his rhetorical ability. Consequently, small schools dedicated to teaching rhetoric began to form. The first of these schools began in the 5th century B.C. among an itinerant group of teachers called the Sophists.

The Sophists would travel from polis to polis teaching young men in public spaces how to speak and debate. The most famous of the Sophists schools were led by Gorgias and Isocrates. Because rhetoric and public speaking were essential for success in political life, students were willing to pay Sophist teachers great sums of money in exchange for tutoring. A typical Sophist curriculum consisted of analyzing poetry, defining parts of speech, and instruction on argumentation styles. They taught their students how to make a weak argument stronger and a strong argument weak.

Sophists prided themselves on their ability to win any debate on any subject even if they had no prior knowledge of the topic through the use of confusing analogies, flowery metaphors, and clever wordplay. In short, the Sophists focused on style and presentation even at the expense of truth.

The negative connotation that we have with the word “sophist” today began in ancient Greece. For the ancient Greeks, a “sophist” was a man who manipulated the truth for financial gain. It had such a pejorative meaning that Socrates was executed by the Athenians on the charge of being a Sophist.  Both Plato and Aristotle condemned Sophists for relying solely on emotion to persuade an audience and for their disregard for truth. Despite criticism from their contemporaries, the Sophists had a huge influence on developing the study and teaching of rhetoric.

Rhetoric in Ancient Greece: Aristotle and The Art of Rhetoric

alexander and aristotle painting black white debatingWhile the great philosopher Aristotle criticized the Sophists’ misuse of rhetoric, he did see it as a useful tool in helping audiences see and understand truth. In his treatise, The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle established a system of understanding and teaching rhetoric.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” While Aristotle favored persuasion through reason alone, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles. In those instances, persuasive language and techniques were necessary for truth to be taught. Moreover, rhetoric armed a man with the necessary weapons to refute demagogues and those who used rhetoric for evil purposes. According to Aristotle, sometimes you had to fight fire with fire.

After establishing the need for rhetorical knowledge, Aristotle sets forth his system for effectively applying rhetoric:

  • Three Means of Persuasion (logos, pathos, and ethos)
  • Three Genres of Rhetoric (deliberative, forensic, and epideictic)
  • Rhetorical topics
  • Parts of speech
  • Effective use of style

The Art of Rhetoric had a tremendous influence on the development of the study of rhetoric for the next 2,000 years. Roman rhetoricians Cicero and Quintilian frequently referred to Aristotle’s work, and universities required students to study The Art of Rhetoric during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rhetoric in Ancient Rome: Cicero

cicero bust marble statue older balding wrinkles

Rhetoric was slow to develop in ancient Rome, but it started to flourish when that empire conquered Greece and began to be influenced by its traditions. While ancient Romans incorporated many of the rhetorical elements established by the Greeks, they diverged from the Grecian tradition in many ways. For example, orators and writers in ancient Rome depended more on stylistic flourishes, riveting stories, and compelling metaphors and less on logical reasoning than their ancient Greek counterparts.

The first master rhetorician Rome produced was the great statesman Cicero. During his career he wrote several treatises on the subject including On InventionOn Oration, and Topics. His writings on rhetoric guided schools on the subject well into Renaissance.

Cicero’s approach to rhetoric emphasized the importance of a liberal education. According to Cicero, to be persuasive a man needed knowledge in history, politics, art, literature, ethics, law, and medicine. By being liberally educated, a man would be able to connect with any audience he addressed.

Rhetoric in Ancient Rome: Quintilian

ancient greek party debating philosophy as group

The second Roman to leave his mark on the study of rhetoric was Quintilian. After honing his rhetorical skills for years in the Roman courts, Quintilian opened a public school of rhetoric. There he developed a study system that took a  student through different stages of intense rhetorical training. In 95 AD, Quintilian immortalized his rhetorical education system in a twelve-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria.

Institutio Oratoria covers all aspects of the art of rhetoric. While Quintilian focuses primarily on the technical aspects of effective rhetoric, he also spends a considerable  amount of time setting forth a curriculum he believes should serve as the foundation of every man’s education. In fact, Quintilian’s rhetorical education ideally begins as soon as a baby is born. For example, he counsels parents to find their sons nurses that are articulate and well-versed in philosophy.

Quintilian devotes much of his treatise to fleshing out and explaining the Five Canons of Rhetoric. First seen in Cicero’s De Inventione, the Five Canons provide a guide on creating a powerful speech. The Five Canons are:

  • inventio (invention): The process of developing and refining your arguments.
  • dispositio (arrangement): The process of arranging and organizing your arguments for maximum impact.
  • elocutio (style): The process of determining how you present your arguments using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques.
  • memoria (memory): The process of learning and memorizing your speech so you can deliver it without the use of notes. Memory-work not only consisted of memorizing the words of a specific speech, but also storing up famous quotes, literary references, and other facts that could be used in impromptu speeches.
  • actio (delivery): The process of practicing how you deliver your speech using gestures, pronunciation, and tone of voice.

If you’ve taken a public speaking class, you were probably taught a version of the Five Canons. We’ll be revisiting these in more detail in a later post.

Rhetoric in Medieval Times and the Renaissance

augustinus painting reading wearing robe

During the Middle Ages, rhetoric shifted from political to religious discourse. Instead of being a tool to lead the state, rhetoric was seen as a means to save souls. Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, explored how they could use the “pagan” art of rhetoric to better spread the gospel to the unconverted and preach to the believers.

During the latter part of the Medieval period, universities began forming in France, Italy, and England where students took classes on grammar, logic, and (you guessed it) rhetoric. Medieval students poured over texts written by Aristotle to learn rhetorical theory and spent hours repeating rote exercises in Greek and Latin to improve their rhetorical skill. Despite the emphasis on a rhetorical education, however, Medieval thinkers and writers made few new contributions to the study of rhetoric.

Like the arts and sciences, the study of rhetoric experienced a re-birth during the Renaissance period. Texts by Cicero and Quintilian were rediscovered and utilized in courses of study; for example, Quintilian’s De Inventione quickly became a standard rhetoric textbook at European universities. Renaissance scholars began producing new treatises and books on rhetoric, many of them emphasizing applying rhetorical skill in one’s own vernacular as opposed to Latin or ancient Greek.

Rhetoric in the Modern Day

patrick henry painting giving speech to founding fathers

The rejuvenation of rhetoric continued through the Enlightenment. As democratic ideals spread throughout Europe and the American colonies, rhetoric shifted back from religious to political discourse. Political philosophers and revolutionaries used rhetoric as a weapon in their campaign to spread liberty and freedom.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, universities in both Europe and America began devoting entire departments to the study of rhetoric. One of the most influential books on rhetoric that came out during this time was Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres. Published in 1783, Blair’s book remained a standard text on rhetoric at universities across Europe and America for over a hundred years.

The proliferation of mass media in the 20th century caused another shift in the study of rhetoric. Images in photography, film, and TV have become powerful tools of persuasion. In response, rhetoricians have expanded their repertoire to include not only mastery of the written and spoken word, but a grasp of the visual arts as well.

Alright, that does it for this edition of Classical Rhetoric 101. Join us next time as we explore the Three Persuasive Appeals in rhetoric.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

Classical Rhetoric 101: An Introduction

cicero drawing painting speaking in senate giving speech

As many of you know, I read a lot of biographies on the lives of great men from history. The part of a man’s life I enjoy learning about the most is their education. What books did they read as young men that influenced them later on in life? Where did they travel? What classes did they take while at university? I’ll take notes on these things and try to incorporate their favorite books into my reading list or pick-up an audio course at the library that correlates to a subject they studied.

One thing I’ve noticed about my manly heroes is they all took courses in rhetoric at some point during their education. Intrigued by this commonality, I decided to look into why this was so. The answer was simple: rhetoric was an essential part of a liberal education from the days of Aristotle all the way up to the early 20th century.  A well-educated man was expected to write and speak effectively and persuasively and students devoted several years to studying how to do so.

But in the early part of the 20th century, a shift in education occurred. Degrees which prepared students for specific careers replaced a classical, liberal arts education. Today’s college students get just a semester of rhetoric training in their Freshman English Composition classes, and these courses often barely skim the subject.

Which is quite unfortunate.

Our economy and society in the West in general are becoming increasingly knowledge and information based; the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively is more essential to success than ever before. Yet we’re spending less and less time teaching our young people the very subject that will help them navigate this new world.

If you’re like many men today, you didn’t spend much time learning about the art of rhetoric growing up. So today we’re beginning a series called Classical Rhetoric 101. Designed to offer the essential basics on the subject, the series will help you bone up on this manly art. We will begin by laying out an argument for why you should be interested in studying rhetoric in the first place.

What Is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is simply the art of persuasion through effective speaking and writing.

For many in our modern world, the word “rhetoric” has a pejorative meaning. They see rhetoric as the manipulation of truth or associate it with an overly fastidious concern with how things are said over what is said. But from ancient times up through the early 20th century, men believed learning the art of rhetoric was a noble pursuit and considered it an essential element of a well-rounded education. They saw rhetoric as a vital tool to teach truth more effectively and as a weapon to protect themselves from those who argued unfairly and for nefarious purposes.

Why Study Rhetoric?

Magnifies your influence as a man. Every day you have dozens of interactions where you need to influence people – from the memo you write at work to the conversation with your kid on picking up after himself at home. Your ability to persuade others through language is key to your influence as an employee, friend, father, and citizen. Studying rhetoric will equip you with the linguistic tools to make you more persuasive in your dealings with others and thus expand your circle of influence.

Makes you a better citizen. Here in the US, we just had our midterm elections where many states voted for government officials and Congressional seats. Leading up to the election we were bombarded with campaign ads on TV and radio, opinion pieces in newspapers and on blogs, and a 24/7 stream of talking pundits on television. With so many different voices being blasted at voters, it was easy to get confused as to what was fact and what was “spin.”

Politicians and special interests groups pay experts in the art of rhetoric hundreds of thousands of dollars to help craft political messages and advertisements to persuade voters to cast their ballot for their side. If you want to be a well-informed voter and citizen, you must be fully cognizant of the tactics and techniques being used on you. Such knowledge empowers you to discern truth from B.S.

And as a citizen you have a right to voice your opinion on issues. Do so effectively by studying up on your rhetoric first.

Protects you from intellectual despotism. I had a classics professor that said, “Advertising is the tool of the despot.” That idea really stuck with me. Since ancient times, powerful men have used propaganda to maintain control over their subjects. According to my professor, advertising is just a benign name for propaganda. Both rely on emotional appeals to change our ideas and feelings about a cause, position, or product.

When we allow ourselves to be easily swayed by advertising, whether political or commercial, we give another person control over our minds. Studying rhetoric puts up a defensive shield around your brain (no tin foil necessary!), allowing you to see through the smoke and mirrors, filter out external messages and follow your own inner compass.

Makes you a savvy consumer. A mature man creates more than he consumes. Unfortunately, today’s man has to battle an onslaught of advertisements that tell him a man is defined by what he owns. Corporations spend billions of dollars on advertising to get you to buy their products. While Madison Avenue applies advances made in psychology and neurobiology to their ad campaigns, many of the persuasive techniques used by ad agencies have been around since the days of Aristotle. A knowledge of rhetoric guards a man’s mind and his pocketbook.

Empowers you for rigorous and constructive debate (and grants insight on what constitutes one). A man should know how to discuss and debate with vigor, intelligence, and civility. Sadly, many men today never learned this essential and awesomely manly skill. Just visit any blog or internet forum and you’ll see how debate and discussion has devolved into petty name calling and reductio ad Hitlerums. Learning the basics of rhetoric will give you the tools you need to take part in more constructive discussions on the web and in your daily life.

Additionally, having a firm understanding of rhetoric will help prevent you from getting sucked into flame wars. You’ll be able to spot when a troll is using logical fallacies or unsound arguments. Instead of wasting your time fruitlessly and frustratingly engaging one, you can go do more important things in your life.

Where We’re Going from Here

Over the next few months I’ll be publishing articles that will hopefully give you a nice introduction to the basic principles of classical rhetoric. In our Classical Rhetoric 101 Course, we’ll be covering:

  • A Brief History of Rhetoric
  • The Three Means of Persuasion
  • The Three Genres of Rhetoric
  • The Five Canons of Rhetoric
  • The Virtues of Style
  • A Brief Summary of Rhetorical Figures
  • Logical Fallacies

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

The 35 Greatest Speeches in History

theodore roosevelt giving speech passionate campaigning

If a man wishes to become a great orator, he must first become a student of the great orators who have come before him. He must immerse himself in their texts, listening for the turns of phrases and textual symmetries, the pauses and crescendos, the metaphors and melodies that have enabled the greatest speeches to stand the test of time.

There was not currently a resource on the web to my liking that offered the man who wished to study the greatest orations of all time-from ancient to modern-not only a list of the speeches but a link to the text and a paragraph outlining the context in which the speech was given. So we decided to create one ourselves. The Art of Manliness thus proudly presents the “35 Greatest Speeches in World History,” the finest library of speeches available on the web.

These famous speeches lifted hearts in dark times, gave hope in despair, refined the characters of men, inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honored the dead, and changed the course of history. It is my desire that this library will become a lasting resource not only to those who wish to become great orators, but to all men who wisely seek out the great mentors of history as guides on the path to virtuous manhood.

I know that readers of blogs are often more likely to skim than to read in-depth. But I challenge you, gentlemen, to attempt a program of study in which you read the entirety of one of these great speeches each and every day. I found the process of compiling and reading these speeches to be enormously inspiring and edifying, and I feel confident that you will find them equally so.

How did we compile this list?

Great oratory has three components: style, substance, and impact.

Style: A great speech must be masterfully constructed. The best orators are masters of both the written and spoken word, and use words to create texts that are beautiful to both hear and read.

Substance: A speech may be flowery and charismatically presented, and yet lack any true substance at all. Great oratory must center on a worthy theme; it must appeal to and inspire the audience’s finest values and ideals.

Impact: Great oratory always seeks to persuade the audience of some fact or idea. The very best speeches change hearts and minds and seem as revelatory several decades or centuries removed as when they were first given.

And now for the speeches.

Theodore Roosevelt, “Duties of American Citizenship”

January 26, 1883; Buffalo, New York

young theordore roosevelt mutton chops assemblyman


Given while serving as a New York assemblyman, TR’s address on the “Duties of American Citizenship” delved into both the theoretical reasons why every man should be involved in politics and the practical means of serving in that capacity. Roosevelt chided those who excused themselves from politics because they were too busy; it was every man’s duty to devote some time to maintaining good government.

Worthy Excerpt:

Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man’s being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude military virtues which alone can assure a country’s position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the great virile virtues.

But this is aside from my subject, for what I wish to talk of is the attitude of the American citizen in civic life. It ought to be axiomatic in this country that every man must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty in the Political life of the community. No man has a right to shirk his political duties under whatever plea of pleasure or business; and while such shirking may be pardoned in those of small cleans it is entirely unpardonable in those among whom it is most common–in the people whose circumstances give them freedom in the struggle for life. In so far as the community grows to think rightly, it will likewise grow to regard the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men in business, or of our young men who are bent on enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if only they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties, Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age. The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.

Read full text of speech here.

Winston Churchill, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”

June 4, 1940; House of Commons, London

winston churchill giving speech we shall fight on beaches

Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, was interestingly enough, like Demosthenes and other great orators before him, born with a speech impediment which he worked on until it no longer hindered him. One would never guess this from hearing Churchill’s strong and reassuring voice, a voice that would buoy up Britain during some of her darkest hours.

During the Battle of France, Allied Forces became cut off from troops south of the German penetration and perilously trapped at the Dunkirk bridgehead. On May 26, a wholesale evacuation of these troops, dubbed “Operation Dynamo,” began. The evacuation was an amazing effort-the RAF kept the Luftwaffe at bay while thousands of ships, from military destroyers to small fishing boats, were used to ferry 338,000 French and British troops to safety, far more than anyone had thought possible. On June 4, Churchill spoke before the House of Commons, giving a report which celebrated the “miraculous deliverance” at Dunkirk, while also seeking to temper a too rosy of view of what was on the whole a “colossal military disaster.”

Worthy Excerpt

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Read full text of speech here.

Lou Gehrig, “Farewell to Baseball Address”

July 4, 1939; Yankee Stadium

lou gehrig farewell speech yankee stadium luckiest man

It seemed as if the luminous career of Lou Gehrig would go on forever. The Yankee’s first baseman and prodigious slugger was nicknamed the Iron Horse for his durability and commitment to the game. Sadly, his record for suiting up for 2,130 consecutive games came to an end when at age 36, Gehrig was stricken with the crippling disease that now bears his name. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held a ceremony to honor their teammate and friend. They retired Gehrig’s number, spoke of his greatness, and presented him with various gifts, plaques, and trophies. When Gehrig finally addressed the crowd, he did not use the opportunity to wallow in pity. Instead, he spoke of the things he was grateful for and what a lucky guy he was.

The Speech

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them for even one day?

Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert – also the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow – to have spent the next nine years with that wonderful little fellow Miller Huggins – then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology – the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy!

Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something! When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter, that’s something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it’s a blessing! When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break – but I have an awful lot to live for!

Demosthenes, “The Third Philippic”

342 B.C.; Athens, Greece

demosthenes marble bust ancient greek

Demosthenes, master statesman and orator, loved his city-state of Athens. He cherished its way of life and abundant freedoms. And he believed in standing strong against anyone who might attempt to infringe on these privileges. This passion, unfortunately, was seldom shared by his fellow Athenians. While Philip the II of Macedon made bolder and bolder incursions into the Greek peninsula, the Athenian people seemed stuck in an apathetic stupor. For years, Demosthenes employed his powerful oratorical skills in attempts to awaken his fellow citizens from sleep to the realization of the imminent danger Philip posed. When Philip advanced on Thrace, the Athenians called an assembly to debate whether or not to finally heed the great orator’s advice. Demosthenes was sick of his brethren taking liberty and the Athenian way of life for granted and he boldly called upon them to rise up and take action. After his rousing speech, the assembly all cried out, “To arms! To arms!”

Worthy Excerpt:

It is this fate, I solemnly assure you, that I dread for you, when the time comes that you make your reckoning, and realize that there is no longer anything that can be done. May you never find yourselves, men of Athens, in such a position! Yet in any case, it were better to die ten thousand deaths, than to do anything out of servility towards Philip [or to sacrifice any of those who speak for your good]. A noble recompense did the people in Oreus receive, for entrusting themselves to Philip’s friends, and thrusting Euphraeus aside! And a noble recompense the democracy of Eretria, for driving away your envoys, and surrendering to Cleitarchus! They are slaves, scourged and butchered! A noble clemency did he show to the Olynthians, who elected Lasthenes to command the cavalry, and banished Apollonides! It is folly, and it is cowardice, to cherish hopes like these, to give way to evil counsels, to refuse to do anything that you should do, to listen to the advocates of the enemy’s cause, and to fancy that you dwell in so great a city that, whatever happens, you will not suffer any harm.

Read full text of speech here.

Chief Joseph, “Surrender Speech”

October 5, 1877; Montana Territory

chief joseph nez perce portrait native american

In 1877, the military announced that the Chief Joseph and his tribe of Nez Perce had to move onto a reservation in Idaho or face retribution. Desiring to avoid violence, Chief Joseph advocated peace and cooperation. But fellow tribesmen dissented and killed four white men. Knowing a swift backlash was coming, Joseph and his people began to make their way to Canada, hoping to find amnesty there. The tribe traveled 1700 miles, fighting the pursuing US army along the way. In dire conditions, and after a five day battle, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles on Oct. 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana Territory, a mere 40 miles from the Canadian border. The Chief knew he was the last of a dying breed, and the moment of surrender was heartbreaking.

The Speech

Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

John F. Kennedy, “Inauguration Address”

January 20, 1961; Washington, D.C.

john f kennedy inauguration speech 1961 washington dc


Young, handsome, with a glamorous family in tow, John F. Kennedy embodied the fresh optimism that had marked the post-war decade. On January 20, 1961, Kennedy took the oath of office as the 35th President of the United States. The youngest president in United States history, he was the first man born in the 20th century to hold that office. Listening to his inaugural address, the nation felt that a new era and a “new frontier” were being ushered in.

Worthy Excerpt:

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation on the Challenger”

January 28, 1986; Washington, D.C.

ronald reagan address to nation on challenger explosion 1986

On January 28, 1986, millions of Americans, many of them schoolchildren watching from their classroom desks, tuned in to see 7 Americans, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37 year old schoolteacher and the first ever “civilian astronaut,” lift off in the space shuttle Challenger. Just 73 seconds later, the shuttle was consumed in a fireball. All seven aboard perished. These were the first deaths of American astronauts while in flight, and the nation was shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy. Just a few hours after the disaster, President Ronald Reagan took to the radio and airwaves, honoring these “pioneers” and offering comfort and assurance to a rattled people.

Worthy Excerpt:

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them……

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

“Speech of Alexander the Great”

326 B.C.; Hydaspes River, India

alexander the great engraving color young alexander

In 335 B.C., Alexander the Great began his campaign to recapture former Greek cities and to expand his empire. After ten years of undefeated battles, Alexander controlled an empire that included Greece, Egypt, and what had been the massive Persian Empire.

That wasn’t enough for Xander. He decided to continue his conquest into India. But after ten years of fighting and being away from home, his men lacked the will to take part in another battle, especially against an opponent like King Porus and his army. Alexander used the talent for oration he had developed while studying under Aristotle to infuse his men with the motivation they needed to continue on, to fight and to win.

Worthy Excerpt:

I could not have blamed you for being the first to lose heart if I, your commander, had not shared in your exhausting marches and your perilous campaigns; it would have been natural enough if you had done all the work merely for others to reap the reward. But it is not so. You and I, gentlemen, have shared the labour and shared the danger, and the rewards are for us all. The conquered territory belongs to you; from your ranks the governors of it are chosen; already the greater part of its treasure passes into your hands, and when all Asia is overrun, then indeed I will go further than the mere satisfaction of our ambitions: the utmost hopes of riches or power which each one of you cherishes will be far surpassed, and whoever wishes to return home will be allowed to go, either with me or without me. I will make those who stay the envy of those who return.

William Wilberforce, “Abolition Speech”

May 12, 1789; House of Commons, London

william wilberfoce black and white illustration abolition speech


When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, converted to Christianity, he began to earnestly seek to reform the evils he found within himself and the world around him. One of the glaring moral issues of the day was slavery, and after reading up on the subject and meeting with anti-slavery activists, Wilberforce became convinced that God was calling him to be an abolitionist. Wilberforce decided to concentrate on ending the slave trade rather than slavery itself, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other. On May 12, 1789, Wilberforce made his first speech on the abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons. He passionately made his case for why the trade was reprehensible and needed to cease. Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the trade, but it failed, a result he would become quite familiar with in the ensuing years. Yet Wilberforce never gave up, reintroducing the bill year after year, and the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807.


Worthy Excerpt:

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House-a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause-when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;-when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;-when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage-I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.


Read full text of speech here.

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man with the Muck-rake”

April 14, 1906; Washington, D.C.

theodore roosevelt political cartoon muck raking scandal


Theodore Roosevelt was president during the Progressive Era, a time of great enthusiasm for reform in government, the economy, and society. TR himself held many progressive ideals, but he also called for moderation, not extremism. The “Man with a Muck-rake” in Pilgrim’s Progress never looked heavenward but instead constantly raked the filth at his feet. TR thus dubbed the journalists and activists of the day who were intent on exposing the corruption in society as “muckrakers.” He felt that they did a tremendous amount of good, but needed to mitigate their constant pessimism and alarmist tone. He worried that the sensationalism with which these exposes were often presented would make citizens overly cynical and too prone to throw out the baby with the bathwater.


Worthy Excerpt:

To assail the great and admitted evils of our political and industrial life with such crude and sweeping generalizations as to include decent men in the general condemnation means the searing of the public conscience. There results a general attitude either of cynical belief in and indifference to public corruption or else of a distrustful inability to discriminate between the good and the bad. Either attitude is fraught with untold damage to the country as a whole. The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well-nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. There is nothing more distressing to every good patriot, to every good American, than the hard, scoffing spirit which treats the allegation of dishonesty in a public man as a cause for laughter.

Such laughter is worse than the crackling of thorns under a pot, for it denotes not merely the vacant mind, but the heart in which high emotions have been choked before they could grow to fruition.

Read full text of speech here.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “First Inaugural Address”

March 4, 1933; Washington, D.C.

franklin delano roosevelt fdr inauguration speech 1933


Franklin Delano Roosevelt handily beat incumbent Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. The country was deep into the Great Depression, and the public felt that Hoover did not fully sympathize with their plight and was not doing enough to alleviate it. No one was quite clear on what FDR’s plan was, but as in today’s election season, “change” was enough of an idea to power a campaign. In his First Inaugural Address, Roosevelt sought to buoy up the injured psyche of the American people and present his case for why he would need broad executive powers to tackle the Depression.

Worthy Excerpt:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

Read the full text here.

Listen to the speech.

Charles de Gaulle, “The Appeal of 18 June”

June 18, 1940; London

charles de gaulle 1940 appeal of june 18

In June of 1940, it was clear that France was losing their country to the German invasion. Refusing to sign an armistice, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Marshal Philippe Petain who made clear his intention to seek an accommodation with Germany. Disgusted with this decision, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, escaped to England on June 15. De Gaulle asked for, and obtained permission from Winston Churchill to make a speech on BBC radio. De Gaulle exhorted the French to not give up hope and to continue the fight against the German occupation and the Vichy Regime.

Worthy Excerpt:

But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!

Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.

This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not over as a result of the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the mistakes, all the delays, all the suffering, do not alter the fact that there are, in the world, all the means necessary to crush our enemies one day. Vanquished today by mechanical force, in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force. The fate of the world depends on it.

Read full text of speech here.

Socrates, “Apology”

399 B.C.; Athens

socrates apology greek painting debate

Socrates is perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of the Western world. He wandered around Athens engaging in dialogues with his fellow citizens that focused on discovering the truth of all things. He taught his pupils that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”

The Athenians saw Socrates as a threat, especially to the Athenian youth. Socrates acquired quite a following among the young men of Athens. He taught these impressionable minds to question everything, even Athenian authority. Eventually, Socrates was arrested and put on trial for corrupting the youth, not believing the gods, and creating new deities.

The “Apology” is Socrates’ defense to these charges. Instead of crying and pleading for mercy, Socrates accepts his charges and attempts to persuade the jury with reason. He argued that it was his calling from the gods to seek knowledge and that it was through his questions he uncovered truth. To not fulfill his calling would be blasphemy. In the end, Socrates lost and was sentenced to death by hemlock. Socrates accepted this fate willingly and without grudge against his condemners, thus dying as a martyr for free thinking.

Worthy Excerpt:

Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me.

George Washington, “Resignation Speech”

December 23, 1784; Annapolis, Maryland

george washington resignation speech painting 1784

As the Revolutionary War drew to a close, there was much speculation that George Washington, then Major General and Commander-in-Chief, would follow in the footsteps of former world leaders by making a grab for supreme power. Some even wished he would do so, hoping he would become the king of a new nation. Yet Washington knew that such a move would wither the fragile beginnings of the new republic. Looking to the Roman general Cincinnatus an exemplar, Washington rejected the temptations of power and resigned his position as Commander-in-Chief. Choosing the right is almost never easy, and as Washington read his speech in front of the Continental Congress, the great statesman trembled so much that he had to hold the parchment with two hands to keep it steady. “The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. His voice faltered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations.” When finished, Washington bolted from the door of the Annapolis State House, mounted his horse, and galloped away into the sunset.

Worthy Excerpt:

While I repeat my obligations

to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.


Read the full text here.

Mahatma Gandhi, “Quit India”

August 8, 1942; India

mahatma gandhi portrait smiling gandhi photo

While the battle for freedom and democracy raged across the world, the people of India were engaged in their own fight for liberty. For almost a century, India had been under the direct rule of the British crown, and many Indians had had enough. Mahatma Gandhi and the National Indian Congress pushed for a completely non-violent movement aimed at forcing Britain to “Quit India.” Gandhi, pioneer of the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, called for their use on August 8, 1942 with the passing of the Quit India Resolution demanding complete independence from British rule.

Worthy Excerpt:

I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle’s French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.

Read full text of speech here.

Winston Churchill, “Their Finest Hour”


June 18, 1940; House of Commons, London

winston churchill head shot great speeches wwii

On May 10, 1940, the Germans began their invasion of France. On June 14 Paris fell. In a matter of days, France would surrender and England would stand as Europe’s lone bulwark against the twin evils of Fascism and Nazism. At this critical moment, Churchill gave his third and final speech during the Battle of France, once again imparting words meant to bring hope in this dark hour.

Worthy Excerpt:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

William Faulkner, “Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech”

December 10, 1950; Stockholm, Sweden

william faulkner nobel prize acceptance speech 1950

A true master of the written word, William Faulkner did not often make public his gift for the spoken variety. So there was some interest as to what he would say when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his “powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel.” The year was 1950, the Soviet Union had tapped the potential of the atomic bomb, and the atmosphere in the the United States crackled with the fear of them using it. Faulkner challenged poets, authors, and all mankind to think beyond the questions of “When will I be blown up?” and instead continue to “create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.”

Worthy Excerpt:

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Read full text of speech here.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Farewell Address”

January 17, 1961; Washington, D.C.

dwight d eisenhower farewell address 1961

The 1950’s were a time of ever increasing military spending, as the United States sought to fight communism abroad and prevent it at home. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office, more than half of the federal budget was allocated for defense purposes. Eisenhower, former General of the Army, was certainly not opposed to the use of military power to keep the peace. Still, he saw fit to use his “Farewell Address” to warn the nation of the dangers posed by the “military-industrial complex,” referring to the relationship between the armed forces, the government, and the suppliers of war materials. Eisenhower was wary of the large role defense spending played in the economy, and understood the political and corporate corruption that could result if the public was not vigilant in checking it.

Worthy Excerpt:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The First Oration Against Catiline”

63 BC; Rome

cicero speech first oration against cataline 63 bc


Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline to his friends) was a very jealous man. Having once run against Cicero for the position of consul and lost, he became determined to win the next election by any devious method necessary. Plan A was to bribe people to vote for him, and when that didn’t work, he decided to go for bust and simply knock Cicero off on election day. This plan was ferreted out by the ever vigilant Cicero, the election was postponed, and the Senate established marital law. When the election finally was held, the murderer-cum-candidate was surprisingly trounced at the polls. Now it was time for Catiline’s Plan C: raise an army of co-conspirators, create insurrection throughout Italy, overthrow the government, and slice and dice as many Senators as they could get their coo-ky hands on. But Cicero was again one step ahead and discovered the plan. He called the Senate together for a meeting at the Temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, an orifice only used in times of great crisis. Catiline, who seriously didn’t know when he was not welcome, decided to crash the party. With his archenemy in attendance, Cicero began his Catiline Orations, a series of speeches covering how he saved Rome from rebellion, the guilt of Catiline, and the need to whack he and his cronies.

Worthy Excerpt:

I wish, O conscript fathers, to be merciful; I wish not to appear negligent amid such danger to the state; but I do now accuse myself of remissness and culpable inactivity. A camp is pitched in Italy, at the entrance of Etruria, in hostility to the republic; the number of the enemy increases every day; and yet the general of that camp, the leader of those enemies, we see within the walls-aye, and even in the senate-planning every day some internal injury to the republic. If, O Catiline, I should now order you to be arrested, to be put to death, I should, I suppose, have to fear lest all good men should say that I had acted tardily, rather than that any one should affirm that I acted cruelly. But yet this, which ought to have been done long since, I have good reason for not doing as yet; I will put you to death, then, when there shall be not one person possible to be found so wicked, so abandoned, so like yourself, as not to allow that it has been rightly done. As long as one person exists who can dare to defend you, you shall live; but you shall live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusty guards, so that you shall not be able to stir one finger against the republic; many eyes and ears shall still observe and watch you, as they have hitherto done, tho you shall not perceive them.

Read full text of speech here.

Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate”

June 12, 1987; Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

ronald reagan speech 1987 berlin wall brandenburg gate


Since the end of World War II, Germany had been a divided country, the West free and democratic, the East under authoritarian communist control. When President Reagan took office, he was committed not only to uniting that country, but to bringing down the entire “Evil Empire.” While the importance of Reagan’s role in successfully doing so is endlessly debated, it beyond dispute that he exerted some influence in bringing the Cold War to an end. There is no more memorable and symbolic moment of this influence then when Reagan stood at the Berlin wall, the most visible symbol of the “Iron Curtain,” and challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”

Worthy Excerpt:

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!


Read full text of speech here.

Listen to speech.

Pericles, “Funeral Oration”

431 BC; Athens

pericles funeral oration 431 bc marble bust

Pericles, master statesman, orator, and general, was truly, as Thuciydies dubbed him, “the first citizen of Athens.” Pericles was a product of the Sophists and had been personally tutored by the great philosopher Anaxagoras. His study with the Sophists made Pericles a highly persuasive orator. Through his speeches, he galvanized Athenians to undertake an enormous public works project that created hundreds of temples, including the Pantheon.

Pericles’ gift of oration was put to the test during the epic battles of the Peloponnesian War, a civil war between Athens and Sparta. His speeches inspired Athenians to fight to become the number one power in Greece. In February of 431 B.C., Athens had their annual public funeral to honor all those who died in war. Pericles was asked to give the traditional funeral oration. Rather than focus his speech on enumerating the conquests of Athens’ fallen heroes, Pericles instead used his funeral oration to laud the glory of Athens itself and inspire the living to make sure the soldiers had not died in vain.

Over 2,000 years later, Pericles’ funeral oration inspired Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Like Pericles, Lincoln was a leader during a time of civil war. Like Pericles, Lincoln focused on exhorting the living to live their lives in a way that would make the sacrifice of fallen warriors worthwhile.

Worthy Excerpt:

So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue. And not contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defense of your country, though these would furnish a valuable text to a speaker even before an audience so alive to them as the present, you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valor, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.

Read the full text here.

General Douglas MacArthur, “Farewell Address to Congress”

April 19, 1951, Washington; D.C.

general douglas macarthur saluting troops

During the Korean War, General MacArthur and President Truman clashed over the threat posed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and their incursion into Korea. MacArthur continually pressed Truman for permission to bomb bases in Manchuria, believing the war needed to be extended in area and scope. Truman refused the General’s requests, arguing that directly drawing China into the war would arouse the Soviet Union to action. MacArthur continued to press his case, and Truman, accusing the General of insubordination, made the decision to relieve MacArthur of his command. After serving for 52 years and in three wars, the General’s military career was over. MacArthur returned to the United States and gave this farewell address to Congress.

Worthy Excerpt:

I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on theplain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”

And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.

Good Bye.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

Theodore Roosevelt, “Strength and Decency”

theodore roosvelt portrait with eyeglasses


Roosevelt was an advocate of having many children and making sure the next generation would continue to uphold the great virtues of civilization. He was always concerned that young men not be coddled or cowardly, and grow up to live rugged, strenuous, and thoroughly manly lives. But he also strongly believed that being ruggedly manly and being refined in mind and spirit were not incompatible and should in fact go hand and hand. In this speech, he exhorts young men to pursue virtuous manliness. Amen, brother, amen.

Worthy Excerpt:

It is peculiarly incumbent upon you who have strength to set a right example to others. I ask you to remember that you cannot retain your self-respect if you are loose and foul of tongue, that a man who is to lead a clean and honorable life must inevitably suffer if his speech likewise is not clean and honorable. Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of us in this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuine and sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and in deed. As I said at the outset, I hail the work of this society as typifying one of those forces which tend to the betterment and uplifting of our social system. Our whole effort should be toward securing a combination of the strong qualities with those qualities which we term virtues. I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to see Christianity professed only by weaklings; I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent. On the contrary, I should hope to see each man who is a member of this society, from his membership in it become all the fitter to do the rough work of the world; all the fitter to work in time of peace; and if, which may Heaven forfend, war should come, all the fitter to fight in time of war. I desire to see in this country the decent men strong and the strong men decent, and until we get that combination in pretty good shape we are not going to be by any means as successful as we should be. There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to “see life,” meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remain unseen!

Read full text of speech here.

Abraham Lincoln, “2nd Inaugural Address”

March 4, 1865; Washington, D.C.

abraham lincoln 2nd inauguration address 1865 photo

The Union’s victory was but a month away as Abraham Lincoln began his second term as president of a bitterly ruptured United States. Like the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln keeps this speech only as long as needful. While there are those who still debate whether the Civil War was truly fought over slavery or not, Lincoln certainly believed so. To him, slavery was a great national sin, and the blood shed during the war was the atoning sacrifice for that evil.

He does not relish the prospect of coming victory; instead, he appeals to his countrymen to remember that the war was truly fought between brothers. When the war was over and the Confederacy forced to return to the Union, Lincoln was prepared to treat the South with relative leniency. He did not believe secession was truly possible, and thus the South had never truly left the Union. Reconstruction would not mean vengeance, but the return home of a terribly errant son.

Worthy Excerpt:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


Read full text of speech here.

Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”

March 23, 1775; Richmond, VA

patrick henry give me liberty or give me death speech

For a decade, revolutionary sentiments had been brewing in Virginia and Patrick Henry had always been in the thick of it, stirring the pot. Henry became particularly enflamed by the Stamp Act of 1764, which prompted him to give his so-called “treason speech,” spurring the Burgesses to pass the Virginia Resolves banning the act. Tensions between the colonies and the Crown continued to build, and in 1775, Massachusetts patriots began making preparations for war. Henry believed that Virginia should follow suit. At a meeting held in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Henry presented resolutions to make ready Virginia’s defenses. Seeking to persuade his fellow delegates of the urgency of his message, he gave a rousing and memorable speech, climaxing is that now famous line, “Give me liberty of give me death!”

Worthy Excerpt:

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable — and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!” — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Read full text of speech here.

Ronald Reagan, “40th Anniversary of D-Day”

June 6, 1984; Pointe du Hoc, France

ronald reagan 40th anniversary of d-day speech 1984


What the Army Rangers did on D-Day at Pointe Du Hoc is a tale every man worth his salt should be familiar with. Pointe du Hoc was a sheer 100 foot cliff located in-between Omaha and Utah beaches. Perched atop the cliff sat six casemates capable of being manned, armed, and taking out the men on the beaches. As the Germans fired upon them, the Rangers scaled the cliff using ropes and ladders, found the guns (which had been moved from the casemates) and destroyed them. Without reinforcements for two days, the Rangers alone held their position and fended off German counterattacks. These skirmishes proved deadly; only 90 of the original 225 Ranger landing force survived.

On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan gave a moving tribute to these men, many of whom were present at the occasion.

Worthy Excerpt:


These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor’…

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

John F. Kennedy, “The Decision to Go to the Moon”

May 25, 1961; Houston, TX

john f kennedy moon announcement speech 1961


On April 12, 1961, the Soviets launched the first man into space. Khrushchev used this triumph as prime evidence of communism’s superiority over decadent capitalism. Embarrassed, the United States feared it was falling behind the Soviet Union and losing the “space race.” After consulting with political and NASA officials, Kennedy decided it was time for America to boldly go where no man had gone before by putting a man on the moon. The feat would not only catapult the nation over the Soviet Union, but also allow man to more fully explore the mysteries of space. And this mission would be accomplished by the end of the 1960’s. When was the last time a president had the cajones to publicly issue a straightforward, ambitious goal and set a timeline for its success?

Worthy Excerpt:

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Read full text of speech here.

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

July 5, 1852; Rochester, NY

frederick douglass portrait photo later years goatee

Frederick Douglass, former slave, abolitionist, and engineer on the underground railroad, was a popular speaker on the anti-slavery circuit. He traveled thousands of miles each year, giving hundreds of speeches. Yet the money he earned from lecturing was not enough to become financially comfortable, and he and his family struggled. Douglass was disillusioned by the repercussions of the Fugitive Slave Act, and his abolitionist leanings grew more strident and bold. If the citizens of Rochester, New York had expected to be flattered by Douglass when they asked him to speak on the Fourth, they were soon disavowed of that idea. Douglass took the opportunity to defiantly point out the ripe hypocrisy of a nation celebrating their ideals of freedom and equality while simultaneously mired in the evil of slavery. While the speech surely made even the most liberal audience members squirm; nonetheless, the crowed let loose in “universal applause” when Douglass finished.

Worthy Excerpt:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. Youmay rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

Read full text of speech here.

General Douglas MacArthur, “Duty, Honor, Country”

May 12, 1962; West Point, New York

General Douglas MacArthur Duty, Honor, Country west point

General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army and a man who fought in three wars, knew something of “Duty, Honor, Country.” In 1962, MacArthur was in the twilight of his life and came to West Point to accept the Sylvanus Thayer Award and participate in his final cadet roll call. His address reflects upon and celebrates the brave and courageous men who came before, men he personally led, men who embodied “Duty, Honor, Country.”

There are many great speeches in this list, but I hope you will pause to read the entirety of this one. Picking an excerpt was quite difficult, as so many of the passages are inspiring. A must read for all men.

Worthy Excerpt:

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.

But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.

Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”

April 23, 1910; Paris, France

theodore roosvelt portrait full body next to giant globe

At the end of Theodore Roosevelt’s second term in office, he set out to tour Africa and Europe, hoping to allow his successor, President Taft, to step into the enormous shoes TR had left and become his own man. After a safari in Africa, he traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he was invited to speak at the historic University of Paris. Roosevelt used the opportunity to deliver a powerful address on the requirements of citizenship, the characteristics which would keep democracies like France and the United States robust and strong. This speech is famous for the “man in the arena” quote, but the entire speech is an absolute must read.

Worthy Excerpt:

Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities – all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Read full text of speech here.

Winston Churchill, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”

May 13, 1940; House of Commons, London

winston churchill blood sweat and tears 1940

Winston Churchill’s first speech to the House of Commons as Britain’s new Prime Minister got off to an auspicious start. His welcome to that assembly was quite tepid, while outgoing PM Neville Chamberlain was enthusiastically applauded (the world did not yet know just how disastrous his appeasement policies would prove and did not trust Churchill). But Churchill’s first speech, the first of three powerful oratories he gave during the Battle of France, would prove that England was in more than capable hands. A seemingly unstoppable Hitler was advancing rapidly across Europe, and Churchill wasted no time in calling his people to arms. While TR had actually been the first to utter the phrase, “blood, sweat and tears,” it was Churchill’s use of these words that would leave an inedible and inspiring impression upon the world’s mind.

Worthy Excerpt

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation”

December 8, 1941; Washington, D.C.

franklin delano roosevelt fdr pearl harbor speech 1941

The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, shocked the United States to its core, outraging a nation that had hoped to stay out of the mounting turmoil in Asia and Europe. Overnight, the country united in desire to enter the war. The day after the attacks, FDR addressed the nation in a brief, but electrifying speech, declaring war on Japan and giving assurance that the United States would attain victory.

Be sure to listen to the audio of the speech. Imagine every American family, rattled and worried, listening around the radio to what their president would say. They knew their whole world was about to change forever. Listen to the reaction of Congress as they applaud and cheer FDR’s words. The emotion is so very real and palatable; it truly transports you back to that critical moment in time.

Worthy Excerpt:

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…..

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounding determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God.

Read the full text here.

Listen to the speech.

Jesus Christ, “The Sermon on the Mount”

33 A.D.; Jerusalem

jesus christ sermon on the mount painting


Whether one believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God or simply a wise teacher, it is impossible to deny the impact of perhaps the world’s most famous speech: The Sermon on the Mount. No speech has been more pondered, more influential, or more quoted. It introduced a prayer now familiar the world over and uttered in trenches, churches, and bedsides around the globe. It introduced a code of conduct billions of believers have adopted as their lofty, if not not always attainable, goal. While much of the sermon has roots in Jewish law, the advice given in the Beatitudes represented a dramatic and radical departure from the eye for an eye system of justice known in the ancient world. The standards of behavior outlined in the sermon have given believers and non-believers alike plenty to contemplate and discuss in the two thousand years since it was given.

Worthy Excerpt:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after
righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the
children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

See Matthew Chapter 5-7 for full text.

Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream”

August 28, 1963; Washington, D.C.

martin luther king jr i have a dream speech 1963

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is hands down one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pieces of oratory in American history. King’s charisma, skills in rhetoric, and passion, place him in a league of his own. A century after slavery ended, a century after African-Americans were promised full equality, black children were being hosed down in the streets, spat upon, bused to separate schools, turned away from restaurants, and denied treatment as full human beings. In this midst of this egregious track record, Dr. King voiced a clear, compelling message of hope, a dream that things would not always be as they were, and that a new day was coming.

Many people have seen excerpts of the speech, but a surprisingly number of adults my age I have never sat down and watched the speech in its entirety. I challenge you to do just that. It is just as electrifying and moving today as it was in 1963.

Worthy Excerpt:

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification – one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

Read full text of speech here.

Listen to the speech here.

Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address”

November 19, 1863; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

abraham lincoln portrait photo 1860s

272 words. 3 minutes long. Yet, the Gettysburg Address is unarguably one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric in American history. Dr. J Rufus Fears (one of the great modern orators) argues that the Gettysburg Address, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, form the three founding documents of American freedom. And I have to agree.

The Battle of Gettysburg left 8,000 men dead. The bodies were too numerous to bury properly and many were at first placed in shallow graves. Weeks after the battle, heads and arms were sticking up through the ground and the smell of rotting flesh was sickening.

Money was raised for a proper reburial, and it was decided that the new cemetery should be dedicated, to sweeten the air of Gettysburg, to solemnize this place of death. As was traditional, a great orator, in this case, Edward Everett, was asked to give a solemn and grand speech as a memorial to the fallen men. Lincoln was asked 2 months later, almost as a causal afterthought. He was to add a few remarks to Everett’s, a function much like the man with the ceremonial scissors who cuts the ribbon. Legends has it that Lincoln’s remarks were the product of pure inspiration, penned on the back of an envelope on the train chugging its way to the soon-to-be hallowed grounds of Gettysburg.

On the day of the dedication, Everett kept the crowd enthralled for a full two hours. Lincoln got up, gave his speech, and sat down even before the photographer had finished setting up for a picture. There was a long pause before anyone applauded, and then the applause was scattered and polite.

Not everyone immediately realized the magnificence of Lincoln’s address. But some did. In a letter to Lincoln, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

And of course, in time, we have come to fully appreciate the genius and beauty of the words spoken that day. Dr. Fears argues that Lincoln’s address did more than memorialize the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg; it accomplished nothing short of transforming the entire meaning of the Civil War. There were no details of the battle mentioned in the speech, no mentioning of soldier’s names, of Gettysburg itself, of the South nor the Union, states rights nor secession. Rather, Lincoln meant the speech to be something far larger, a discourse on the experiment testing whether government can maintain the proposition of equality. At Gettysburg, the Constitution experienced a transformation. The first birth has been tainted by slavery. The men, of both North and South, lying in the graves at Gettysburg had made an atoning sacrifice for this great evil. And the Constitution would be reborn, this time living up to its promises of freedom and equality for all.

The Speech

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.