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Abraham Lincoln As a Rhetorical Genius

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In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln surprised his audience by not giving a speech regarding politics, but instead using harsh and then encouraging diction and biblical allusions to inspire Americans and show them that they need to continue to work for peace.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln surprised his audience by not giving a speech regarding politics, but instead using harsh and then encouraging diction and biblical allusions to inspire Americans and show them that they need to continue to work for peace.

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One rhetorical strategy Lincoln uses is comparisons. Lincoln intentionally compares Confederate hopes and accomplishments to those of the Union. He mainly chooses to word his comparisons in the past tense. For example, when Abraham says, “Neither anticipated… the conflict itself should cease.” His words all end in past tense: “anticipated”, “looked”, “read”, “invoked” etc… each and very verb in the past tense. President Lincoln used those words because they confirmed his work, he had ended the Civil War, and in doing so, he made Americans whole again. The comparison also serves to show the differences of the two governments to portray one as the tyrant and the other as the “good guy”. This comparison also appeals to ethos, to show what has been accomplished; pathos to appeal to the basic emotions of patriotism, anger, and hope; and lastly logos: the appeal to the “better side”. All of these are placed to reflect Lincoln’s purpose – to show that we are again whole. President Lincoln used disparaging diction using different metaphors, similes to bring about a saddened tone and a juxtaposition using alliteration and asyndetons of the two sides of the war in order to tell people of the Union that although this war is bloody, they must preserve and see it to it’s end. In his speech not only he appeals to the values of the people, but also to their emotions. War is an emotionally taxing occurrence ravaging through the lives and homes of all who are in this path. Lincoln describes The Civil War with many similes, like saying “as cold as ice”, “as bloody as the rose”, it really was the bloodiest conflict in American history. Everyone lost something or someone. Abraham imagined that his audience would not want to be labelled as a sinner or offend God thus evoking the emotions of all the American people contemplating their offences against god. He used a lot of diacopes, which made his speeches even more stronger and created even a stronger imagery: “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Lincoln knew what he was on about and he knew that his words would remind people of the pain they felt from the death of loved ones. Another tool Abraham employed to make these powerful ideas sound appealing is poetic elements. Because his ideas carried a lot of weight, they certainly weren’t what the people wanted to hear. In the final words of his speech, Lincoln pours upon the people. Some of his most famous words, “with malice towards none with charity for all,” he once again didn’t blame one side only.

In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln demonstrated at this second inauguration that he is a rhetorical genius. No American expected this speech in 1865. Lincoln used rhetorical devices multiple times such as repetition - “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration… Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease,”, alliteration – “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest,” very often rhyming – “Fondly do hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” and some allusions to the Bible.

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Abraham Lincoln As a Rhetorical Genius. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/abraham-lincoln-as-a-rhetorical-genius/
“Abraham Lincoln As a Rhetorical Genius.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/abraham-lincoln-as-a-rhetorical-genius/
Abraham Lincoln As a Rhetorical Genius. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/abraham-lincoln-as-a-rhetorical-genius/> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
Abraham Lincoln As a Rhetorical Genius [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/abraham-lincoln-as-a-rhetorical-genius/
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