The third week of Political Studies is devoted to the theme of rhetoric.

In our first seminar, our study of oratory will be guided by Aristotle’s foundational Art of Rhetoric and his classification of the three kinds and modes of rhetoric. Fellows will analyze classic examples of rhetoric and contemporary political speeches, with a view toward understanding the relationship between political rhetoric and emotions, and how these connections can be both useful and dangerous, especially for democracies.

Our second seminar will delve into the American essence through reflection on Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and writings. Lincoln is often credited with having saved or re-founded the American Union by giving it a “new birth of freedom.” He is also often recognized as the creator of a new form of public speech. Through readings of his most celebrated speeches, students will seek to understand Lincoln’s statecraft in conjunction with his literary craft.

Image: Lithograph, 1905, Library of Congress

Diana Schaub on Lincon's Gettysburg Address


Robert C. Bartlett

Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. His principal area of research is classical political philosophy, with particular attention to the thinkers of ancient Hellas, including Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle. He is the co-translator of a new edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Diana Schaub

Diana J. Schaub is Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Maryland and a member of the Hoover Institution’s task force on The Virtues of a Free Society. From 2004 to 2009 she was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book 1, Chs. 1–3
  • Socrates’s Account of Rhetoric in Plato’s Gorgias (463a–c, 464b–466a)

Epideictic Rhetoric

Judicial Rhetoric

Deliberative Rhetoric



  1. What is Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric?
  2. What is the gist of Aristotle’s critique of the “technical writers” who dealt with rhetoric before him?
  3. Can you think of recent examples of deliberative rhetoric?


On Pathos

  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.1–2 (on anger) & 2.8 (on pity)
  • Cleon on the Fate of the Mytileneans (Thucydides, 3.36–49)

On Ethos

On Logos



  1. How does Cleon’s speech to his fellow Athenians exemplify the use of pathos as a mode of persuasion? How well does it do so?
  2. As between Nixon and Obama, who in your judgment more effectively portrayed his own character in a favorable light?


Rhetoric & Style

  • Rhetoric, 3.1–2
  • Mark Twain, “Die Schrecken der Deutsche Sprache” [“The Horrors of the German Language”] (November 21, 1897)
  • General George S. Patton, “Speech to the Third Army” (June 5, 1944)
  • Woody Allen, “My Address to Graduates” (August 10, 1979)

Rhetoric in Times of Crisis & Doubt



  1. How well does the style of Patton’s speech reflect its purpose and content?
  2. As between JFK, Carter, and Clinton, who in your estimation dealt with the crisis facing him most effectively?




  1. Evaluate the arguments, and the manner of presenting of the arguments, of any of the anti-suffrage speakers.
  2. Who makes the better argument: Power or Sommers—and why?


Lincoln and the Constitution, What So Proudly We Hail





  1. What is your impression of the 23-year-old Lincoln? What is the nature of his “peculiar ambition”? Why is education “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in”? What is his attitude toward change in laws? Is he a conservative or a progressive?
  2. According to Lincoln, who has the harder task — the revolutionary generation or the current generation? What are the direct and indirect consequences of mob rule, and how are they related to “the perpetuation of our political institutions”? Does Lincoln’s solution — a political religion of reverence for the laws — allow for the possibility of civil disobedience, or is disobedience always uncivil? What is the link between mob law and the threat posed by those who belong to “the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle”? Is Lincoln such an individual? What does Lincoln mean by “passion” and “reason”? What is “reverence”?
  3. What sort of reformers does Lincoln praise and what sort does he criticize? If you were to apply what Lincoln says about the temperance movement to the abolition movement, what lessons would you draw? What does this speech reveal about Lincoln’s understanding of human nature?




  1. What is Lincoln’s view of slavery? Is he a bigot? In thinking about these questions, pay close attention to two passages in which Lincoln speaks of the role played by universal feelings in political life.
  2. What does this speech reveal about the relation between public opinion and statesmanship?
  3. What are the “lullaby” arguments offered on behalf of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and how does Lincoln dispense with them? What about “the one great argument” (Stephen Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty)? What are the elements of Lincoln’s critique of Douglas?
  4. Given what Lincoln said about reverence for the Constitution and the law, is he contradicting his own principles in criticizing the Dred Scott decision? What is his view of judicial precedent?  What is Lincoln’s interpretation of the Declaration of Independence? Why is there so much talk of racial amalgamation in this speech?
  5. Why can’t the nation remain “permanently half slave and half free”? Wouldn’t the restoration of the Missouri Compromise (which Lincoln desires) leave the nation a house divided? According to Lincoln, what will be the end result of adopting a policy of quarantine (preventing slavery from spreading into the territories)? Why? What result will follow from the alternative policy of allowing slavery to spread?




  1. How does Lincoln establish that the Framers agreed with the Republican rather than the Democratic view of the powers of the federal government respecting slavery in the territories?
  2. What is Lincoln’s message to the Southerners? Are the Republicans a sectional party? Are they conservative, as Lincoln claims?
  3. What is Lincoln’s message to the Republicans?




  1. What is meant by the “new birth of freedom”? Does it refer to the emancipated slaves? If so, what is Lincoln’s vision of their place within the polity? How does the new birth of freedom relate to the argument of the Lyceum Address about the requirements for the perpetuation of our republic? (You might think too about the ballots and bullets passage of the Special Message to Congress.)
  2. What interpretation of the Civil War does Lincoln present and why? What is Lincoln’s theology? What is the role of charity in political life?

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