Friday, August 9, 2013

Presidential Rhetoric VI: John Quincy Adams

Welcome to Part Six of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Please feel free to look at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of John Quincy Adams' inaugural address. The first presidential son of a president, John Quincy fittingly owes his considerable education, Classical and otherwise, to his father.

As a child he was instructed in history yes, but with a point of observing "treachery, perfidy, cruelty, and hypocrisy" which he "should learn to detest." Before his teens he delighted in Shakespeare, though in old age he confessed what humor he had missed as a child. Later, visiting Johnny at the Passy Academy in Paris in 1778, the father Adams would remark, "this child. . . learned more french in a day than I could learn in a Week with all my books." Years on when studying at Leyden, Johnny would receive from his father a gift of Terence in  both French and Latin, which the boy had of course learned by now de rigueur. From Leyden Johnny would write how he was "writing in Homer, the Greek grammar, and the Greek testament every day," although his father would write, outraged that the curriculum didn't include Cicero and Demosthenes, an inclusion upon which he insisted. Johnny's Harvard years, which he didn't reflect on with too much affection, rounded out his formal education, before adding to it an MA from his alma mater and joining the bar, age 23.

Let us see to what end the second presidential Adams' considerable intelligence, education, and experience met the occasion of his Inaugural Address, delivered Friday, March 4, 1825.

As usual, the speech is available via Bartleby, which we reproduce here boldface, with my comments following.

[A] IN compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and [B] sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, [C] I appear, [D] my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven [E] to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation [F] to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me [G] in the station to which I have been called.

For his opening, Adams has folded all of his introductory ideas into one sentence. He begins with two parallel prefaces in which he identifies the occasion of his inauguration as [A] coeval, and thus of equal authority, as the constitution, and [B] sanctioned by his predecessors' examples, and thus sanctioned by tradition and excellence. Adams delays his appearance in the speech until [C], which coming after his prefaces about the history of the constitution and the previous presidents, gives the effect of Adams appearing at this moment, a subtle and effective instance of style mirroring content. No sooner does he introduce himself, though, than he addresses his fellow-citizens [D], smartly associating himself with the people and continuing the image of the speaker presenting himself to the people. Adams continues with overt religious analogy by identifying his oath as sacred [E], his duties as both [F] obligatory (faithful performance) and specific (allotted), and his election as democratic. [G]

The most succinct opening yet, Adams packs a lot of detail into a very small span with his Latinate and Ciceronian phrasing.

[A] In unfolding to my countrymen the principles by which I shall be governed in the fulfillment of those duties [B] my first resort will be to that Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my ability to preserve, protect, and defend. That revered instrument enumerates the powers and prescribes the duties of the Executive Magistrate, and in its first words declares the purposes to which these and the whole action of the Government instituted by it should be invariably and sacredly devoted—to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to the people of this Union in their successive generations. 

Adams smoothly moves from the previous topic of his duties to the means of his duties: the constitution. He opens with a long subordinate clause [A] which he uses to set the stage with the president formally presenting himself to the people. Adams' explanation here is specific and striking. While we might expect a didactic tone in which the president explains himself to the people and lectures them about his ideas, Adams presents his principles as governing him, introducing to the speech and people the image of the president as servant. He then presents the Constitution as the chief source of his principles and enumerates his oath to "preserve, protect, and defend" it. Adams then elaborates on the constitution, but not before very subtly defining it as a "revered instrument." In defining it as an instrument, Adams implies its inherent power, and in calling it revered, he calls to mind both veneration for its excellence, and also revere's Latin root of vereor, to fear. Adams is in two words, then, defining government as a powerful and dangerous tool of action which must be wielded with prudence and respect. The rest of the sentence is predicated on three verbs which depict the action of the instrument, which enumerates, prescribes, and declares. Adams is moving with extreme clarity from topic to topic here, with each sentence unmistakably picking up the idea of the previous. He then concludes the thought with an actual quotation from the Constitution's preamble.

Since the adoption of this social compact one of these generations has passed away. It is the work of our forefathers. [A] Administered by some of the most eminent men who contributed to its formation, [B] through a most eventful period in the annals of the world, and [C] through all the vicissitudes of peace and war incidental to the condition of associated man, [D] it has not disappointed the hopes and aspirations of those illustrious benefactors of their age and nation. [E] It has promoted the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all; [F] it has to an extent far beyond the ordinary lot of humanity secured the freedom and happiness of this people. [G] We now receive it as a precious inheritance from those to whom we are indebted for its establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left us and by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of their labors to transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding generation.

Adams now introduces the idea of the social compact, but he does not introduce it in vague, Rousseauian terms. To Adams, the Constitution is the social compact. We are growing to see that Adams is introducing many ideas not in lengthy discourse, but simply by using precise definitions.

He now sets a definitive time frame by referring to the passing of the Founding generation, who made the Constitution. The short periodic length here, "It is the work of our forefathers," give it more impact, and Adams opens the next sentence with the verb, which subtly pulls the forefathers into the sentence as its subject, softening the passivity of the verb and allowing him to describe them again, but differently, as "the most eminent men." Very slick. Having led with the verb, administered, Adams now detours through two parallel, subordinate clauses, [B] and [C] which by the mild anaphora of through, paint a picture of the forefathers navigating through history. The subject is still the constitution, though, and it resumes in [D], triumphant. It has benefited not just anyone, though, but Adams says the Constitution fulfilled the hopes of the "benefactors of their age and nation," referring to the Founders not only as having endowed the nation, but also has having endowed it with what they used to lead it. In the outer sections of this sentence, [A] and [D], Adams has interwoven the ideas of the Founders and the/their Constitution, while inside painting a picture of their journey.

Again demonstrating Adams' attention to continuity, he begins the next sentence [E] as he began the last clause of the previous sentence, [D], with it has. The repetition not only creates continuity for the ear, though, but also for the logic, for the action moves through more perfected action. Adams then adds another it has [F] for another mild anaphora. In these clauses of [E] and [F] Adams presents the achievements of the Constitution as fact, a standard tack for inaugurals. More worthy of note is his choice of terminology that subtly references the founding documents. He uses welfare to remind us of the Constitution and freedom and happiness to recall in our minds the Declaration of Independence. This is on the one hand useful as a simple reminder, but in the context of defining the Constitution's success, defining that success as fulfilling the goals which the founding documents actually prescribed establishes the Constitution as successful by legitimate, authoritative, and shared standards.

Adams concludes the paragraph by finally moving to the present time and people with "we" and moves the Constitution from subject to received object. In referring to the Constitution as an inheritance and his generation as "indebted," Adams picks up and reinforces the previous idea of the Founders as "benefactors." He then begins a climax, emphasizing again the idea of inheritance by describing the present generation as doubly bound, first by the Founders' example, and second by their successes. Bound to what? Bound to transmit what they received to another generation. Adams has thus woven through three generations of Americans the common thread of preserving the Constitution. This is a marvelous, model paragraph of rhetoric which presents with clarity the argument of upholding the Constitution as an unfolding, shared American history.

[A] In the compass of thirty-six years since this great national covenant was instituted a body of laws enacted under its authority and in conformity with its provisions has unfolded its powers and carried into practical operation its effective energies. Subordinate departments have distributed the executive functions in their various relations to foreign affairs, to the revenue and expenditures, and to the military force of the Union by land and sea. A coordinate department of the judiciary has expounded the Constitution and the laws, settling in harmonious coincidence with the legislative will numerous weighty questions of construction which the imperfection of human language had rendered unavoidable. The year of jubilee since the first formation of our Union has just elapsed; that of the declaration of our independence is at hand. The consummation of both was effected by this Constitution.

In another deft transition, Adams moves from the previous paragraph's characterization of the time since the founding to a new topic, a legal history of that same period. Adams further smooths the transition by means of the word compass which on the one hand simply refers to the period of time and on the other, hearkens back to the previous paragraph's theme of the Founders leading America.

In sentence [A], Adams sandwiches the subject between two clauses, the preceding setting the stage in time, and the subsequent describing the subject. He then concludes with the main action. The argument presented here is that of a body of just laws consistent with the Constitution, carrying the inherent power of the constitution to practical effect. Adams continues with two parallel statements about what laws have been carried into operation, but wisely keeps these sentences simple and does not degenerate into excessive subordination and description, which would invariably seem like legalese and lecture. He follows up these descriptions of progress with the observations about the recent and impending jubilees, both to the Constitution.

Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to twelve. A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended from sea to sea. New States have been admitted to the Union in numbers nearly equal to those of the first Confederation. Treaties of peace, amity, and commerce have been concluded with the principal dominions of the earth. The people of other nations, inhabitants of regions acquired not by conquest, but by compact, have been united with us in the participation of our rights and duties, of our burdens and blessings. The forest has fallen by the ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by the tillage of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean. The dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the invention of our artists. Liberty and law have marched hand in hand. All the purposes of human association have been accomplished as effectively as under any other government on the globe, and at a cost little exceeding in a whole generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year.

After the slow depiction of the founding era, Adams accelerates the pace and amplifies the sense of bounty with a whole paragraph of short, simple sentences listing the progress. With hyperbole, Adams concludes the list with the twin American virtues of excellence ("the purposes of human association have been accomplished") and frugality, "at a cost little exceeding in a whole generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year."

Such is the unexaggerated picture of our condition under a Constitution founded upon the republican principle of equal rights. To admit that this picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition of men upon earth. From evil—physical, moral, and political—it is not our claim to be exempt. We have suffered sometimes by the visitation of Heaven through disease; often by the wrongs and injustice of other nations, even to the extremities of war; and, lastly, by dissensions among ourselves—dissensions perhaps inseparable from the enjoyment of freedom, but which have more than once appeared to threaten the dissolution of the Union, and with it the overthrow of all the enjoyments of our present lot and all our earthly hopes of the future. The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded upon differences of speculation in the theory of republican government; upon conflicting views of policy in our relations with foreign nations; upon jealousies of partial and sectional interests, aggravated by prejudices and prepossessions which strangers to each other are ever apt to entertain.

Adams doubles down on his hyperbole by explicitly calling his description of the successes unexaggerated. Those successes he readily attributes not to the vague idea of general equality, but the republican virtue of equal rights. In a brilliant rhetorical move, Adams strengthens his preceding hyperbole by acknowledging imperfections in American life. He attributes these, however, not to flaws in the American way but to the vicissitudes of human nature, life, and perhaps liberty itself. Adams is clearly no utopian, painting a picture where bad things can befall good people and where one cannot guard against everything. He continues by listing the causes of dissent, none of which are outlandish. Adams lists them not for the purpose of antagonizing or aggravating relations, but rather diminishing the expectation that one expect perfect harmony. It is reasonable, Adams suggests, that men disagree about political philosophy and administration, and understandable that men who are strangers might be suspicious of one another. He portrays himself here not as a healer or savior faced with extraordinary circumstances, but as a leader of equanimity faced with life's traditional trials.

It is a source of gratification and of encouragement to me to observe that the great result of this experiment upon the theory of human rights has at the close of that generation by which it was formed been crowned with success equal to the most sanguine expectations of its founders. Union, justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty—all have been promoted by the Government under which we have lived. 

Adams moves straightaway into less negative territory, beginning with the bright image of a font of "gratification and encouragement" that is the American success. Again, Adams portrays the success of the American experiment as the meeting the expectations not of the present, but the founding generation. It is they who, to Adams, set the standard. He continues again recapitulating the fact of American success and invoking the language of the founding documents.

Standing at this point of time, looking back to that generation which has gone by and forward to that which is advancing, we may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in cheering hope. From the experience of the past we derive instructive lessons for the future. Of the two great political parties which have divided the opinions and feelings of our country, the candid and the just will now admit that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity, ardent patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and administration of this Government, and that both have required a liberal indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error. The revolutionary wars of Europe, commencing precisely at the moment when the Government of the United States first went into operation under this Constitution, excited a collision of sentiments and of sympathies which kindled all the passions and imbittered the conflict of parties till the nation was involved in war and the Union was shaken to its center. This time of trial embraced a period of five and twenty years, during which the policy of the Union in its relations with Europe constituted the principal basis of our political divisions and the most arduous part of the action of our Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the wars of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was uprooted. From that time no difference of principle, connected either with the theory of government or with our intercourse with foreign nations, has existed or been called forth in force sufficient to sustain a continued combination of parties or to give more than wholesome animation to public sentiment or legislative debate.

Continuing the sense of retrospect, Adams once again turns back to look at history. Here, the connection to the previous thought is that of equanimity and prudence. As his predecessors have done in their inaugurals, Adams portrays dissent within America as the result of foreign affairs and complexities which inflamed the people. When those foreign influences ceased, American life returned to its natural, peaceful state.

 Our political creed is, without a dissenting voice that can be heard, [Athat the will of the people is the source and the happiness of the people the end of all legitimate government upon earth; [Bthat the best security for the beneficence and the best guaranty against the abuse of power consists in the freedom, the purity, and the frequency of popular elections; [Cthat the General Government of the Union and the separate governments of the States are all sovereignties of limited powers, fellow-servants of the same masters, uncontrolled within their respective spheres, uncontrollable by encroachments upon each other; [Dthat the firmest security of peace is the preparation during peace of the defenses of war; [Ethat a rigorous economy and accountability of public expenditures should guard against the aggravation and alleviate when possible the burden of taxation; [Fthat the military should be kept in strict subordination to the civil power; [Gthat the freedom of the press and of religious opinion should be inviolate; [Hthat the policy of our country is peace and the ark of our salvation union are articles of faith upon which we are all now agreed. 

Recalling his father's inaugural speech, Adams in a long anaphora lists eight policy points, all specific and unqualified.

[A] If there have been those who doubted whether a confederated representative democracy were a government competent to the wise and orderly management of the common concerns of a mighty nation, [then] those doubts have been dispelled; [B] if there have been projects of partial confederacies to be erected upon the ruins of the Union, [thenthey have been scattered to the winds; [Cif there have been dangerous attachments to one foreign nation and antipathies against another, [thenthey have been extinguished. 

Adams now pushes this anaphora to a climax by maintaining the device, but shifting the repeated word. The effect is that of a next, increased level of importance. While the previous anaphora and list enumerated the excellences of republican policy, this one addresses in three bold swipes common, ancient even, criticisms of republican government. Each statement is structured as a potential followed by a consequent, and in each case the potential is the criticism and the consequent the contrasting result in American history. The effect of this structure is an undeniable, climaxing sense of American success. Note also Adams' continued, highly specific terminology: confederated representative democracy.

Ten years of peace, at home and abroad, have assuaged the animosities of political contention and blended into harmony the most discordant elements of public opinion. There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as countrymen and friends, and of yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which in times of contention for principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge of party communion.

Again, Adams portrays the natural peaceful American political landscape free of foreign intrusion. In saying that peace assuaged animosities, in particular, he argues that peace begets peace. There remains one need, though, but it is as much a virtue as a deed: camaraderie. This is not some bland, bald exhortation to fellowship, rather Adams structures the deed around three activities, expressed gerundially. There is a need: 1) of discarding rancor, 2) of embracing as countrymen, and 3) of yielding to virtue. Lest Adams' plea seem cheap, consider how specific and thoughtful is that third item. He is encouraging Americans to "yield to virtue," and not to partisanship, urging Americans to recognize the good as the good and not bestow praise upon people just for their facile party affiliation with you. Adams has worked moral philosophy into political philosophy, and rhetorically, has used the pronouncement as a climax and cap to the preceding skepticisms of republicanism and expectations of acrimony in the nation.

The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative opinions or in different views of administrative policy are in their nature transitory. Those which are founded on geographical divisions, adverse interests of soil, climate, and modes of domestic life are more permanent, and therefore, perhaps, more dangerous. It is this which gives inestimable value to the character of our Government, at once federal and national. It holds out to us a perpetual admonition to preserve alike and with equal anxiety the rights of each individual State in its own government and the rights of the whole nation in that of the Union. Whatsoever is of domestic concernment, unconnected with the other members of the Union or with foreign lands, belongs exclusively to the administration of the State governments. Whatsoever directly involves the rights and interests of the federative fraternity or of foreign powers is of the resort of this General Government. The duties of both are obvious in the general principle, though sometimes perplexed with difficulties in the detail. To respect the rights of the State governments is the inviolable duty of that of the Union; the government of every State will feel its own obligation to respect and preserve the rights of the whole. The prejudices everywhere too commonly entertained against distant strangers are worn away, and the jealousies of jarring interests are allayed by the composition and functions of the great national councils annually assembled from all quarters of the Union at this place. Here the distinguished men from every section of our country, while meeting to deliberate upon the great interests of those by whom they are deputed, learn to estimate the talents and do justice to the virtues of each other. The harmony of the nation is promoted and the whole Union is knit together by the sentiments of mutual respect, the habits of social intercourse, and the ties of personal friendship formed between the representatives of its several parts in the performance of their service at this metropolis.

Adams manages another smooth transition, pivoting off the defeat of party spirit to the topic of state sovereignty. He pivots not simply by mentioning the two topics, but linking them by means of analogy: party differences are transitory, but differences predicated on geography are not because geography is permanent. Also permanent and naturally so are the states, because their existences are predicated on geography. Since these entities thus cannot be eradicated, neither can differences among them, therefore their individual rights must be preserved, "as the inviolable duty of that of the Union." This is very finely and clearly argued.

Adams continues to lay out his interpretation of federalism, which preserves state autonomy on all matters which concern only the individual state. Again, this is simply said. Again Adams takes a pragmatic turn, acknowledging that the details may present more problems than the principle might suggest. As such, he places his hopes in the national assemblies, painting a fraternal portrait of them in which the representatives gather and in "mutual respect... social intercourse... and personal friendship" "promote harmony." Through the course of the paragraph Adams has moved from the opening and "collisions [of party spirit]" to harmony, and from the many states, to fraternity in the one "metropolis" capital.

Passing from this general review of the purposes and injunctions of the Federal Constitution and their results as indicating the first traces of the path of duty in the discharge of my public trust, I turn to the Administration of my immediate predecessor as the second. It has passed away in a period of profound peace, how much to the satisfaction of our country and to the honor of our country's name is known to you all. The great features of its policy, in general concurrence with the will of the Legislature, have been to cherish peace while preparing for defensive war; to yield exact justice to other nations and maintain the rights of our own; to cherish the principles of freedom and of equal rights wherever they were proclaimed; to discharge with all possible promptitude the national debt; to reduce within the narrowest limits of efficiency the military force; to improve the organization and discipline of the Army; to provide and sustain a school of military science; to extend equal protection to all the great interests of the nation; to promote the civilization of the Indian tribes, and to proceed in the great system of internal improvements within the limits of the constitutional power of the Union. Under the pledge of these promises, made by that eminent citizen at the time of his first induction to this office, in his career of eight years the internal taxes have been repealed; sixty millions of the public debt have been discharged; provision has been made for the comfort and relief of the aged and indigent among the surviving warriors of the Revolution; the regular armed force has been reduced and its constitution revised and perfected; the accountability for the expenditure of public moneys has been made more effective; the Floridas have been peaceably acquired, and our boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean; the independence of the southern nations of this hemisphere has been recognized, and recommended by example and by counsel to the potentates of Europe; progress has been made in the defense of the country by fortifications and the increase of the Navy, toward the effectual suppression of the African traffic in slaves; in alluring the aboriginal hunters of our land to the cultivation of the soil and of the mind, in exploring the interior regions of the Union, and in preparing by scientific researches and surveys for the further application of our national resources to the internal improvement of our country.

Here we have a plain enumeration of the successes of his predecessor which reads very much like that predecessor's own inaugural address.

In this brief outline of the promise and performance of my immediate predecessor the line of duty for his successor is clearly delineated. To pursue to their consummation those purposes of improvement in our common condition instituted or recommended by him will embrace the whole sphere of my obligations. To the topic of internal improvement, emphatically urged by him at his inauguration, I recur with peculiar satisfaction. It is that from which I am convinced that the unborn millions of our posterity who are in future ages to people this continent will derive their most fervent gratitude to the founders of the Union; that in which the beneficent action of its Government will be most deeply felt and acknowledged. The magnificence and splendor of their public works are among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics. The roads and aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages, and have survived thousands of years after all her conquests have been swallowed up in despotism or become the spoil of barbarians. Some diversity of opinion has prevailed with regard to the powers of Congress for legislation upon objects of this nature. The most respectful deference is due to doubts originating in pure patriotism and sustained by venerated authority. But nearly twenty years have passed since the construction of the first national road was commenced. The authority for its construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands of our countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has it ever proved an injury? Repeated, liberal, and candid discussions in the Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and approximated the opinions of enlightened minds upon the question of constitutional power. I can not but hope that by the same process of friendly, patient, and persevering deliberation all constitutional objections will ultimately be removed. The extent and limitation of the powers of the General Government in relation to this transcendently important interest will be settled and acknowledged to the common satisfaction of all, and every speculative scruple will be solved by a practical public blessing.

Adams embraces his predecessor's policy and announces what will become his most notable cause, that of internal improvements. Adams again argues by way of analogy, suggesting posterity will thank their Founders for their enduring public works just as the subsequent generations have marveled at the buildings of Rome. Adams, though he could have passed over it, decides to acknowledge the constitutional challenges to federal internal improvements. He mentions it, but does not answer it. Instead, he offers seveal rationales:
  • doubts are the result of patriotism
  • improvements were made before, and unquestioned
  • the topic has been discussed
  • future discussions will remove doubt
None of these arguments are especially firm, let alone definitive, but Adams chocks the foregone success up to an expected "practical public blessing."

[A] Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of the recent election, which have resulted in affording me the opportunity [B] of addressing you at this time. You have heard the exposition of the principles [C] which will direct me in the fulfillment of the high and solemn trust [D] imposed upon me in this station. Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence. Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me to her service are all the pledges that I can give for the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake. To the guidance of the legislative councils, To the assistance of the executive and subordinate departments, To the friendly cooperation of the respective State governments, To the candid and liberal support of the people so far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever success may attend my public service; and knowing that "except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain," with fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future destinies of my country.

Adams now begins his conclusion, hearkening back to the opening with another address to his [A] fellow-citizens. He then recapitulates the honor of his opportunity [B] and the fact that his principles direct him [C] and that his oath is sacred [D]. Adams then acknowledges that he is the first president who is not so very well known and universally regarded, amplifying the new president's traditional plea for patience and indulgence. With an anaphora of the different spheres of political life, Adams points to these places to which he will turn for confirmation of his success. This is a certainly traditional sentiment, but as before, predicating his success on helping these places paints him as patriotic and utterly and only concerned with carrying out his office to the betterment of the people. Adams then adds a traditional appeal for divine blessing on himself and the nation before concluding with the personal, "my country."

Adams' speech eschews his persuasion by personal character and achieves its effect by:
  1. Putting the audience in a frame of mind, and
  2. Proving by logic
Most often, Adams utilizes these modes of persuasion at the same time, portraying what he believes should be done in the future as having happened in the past. In other instances, however, he moves logically from point to point in short, clear sentences. Both modes benefit from the seamless transitions from topic to topic, which augment the persuasiveness because the ideas seem to unfold from one another. Likewise, repetitions of key words and phrases lend continuity of style and idea. 

Adams is most successful at painting a picture for the listener, a picture which combines not only both modes of argument but both the epideictic and political turns of oratory, vividly portraying the success of the American experiment and emphasizing the threads of continuity through past, present, and future, while at the same time emphasizing threads which he argues should be policy. 

Adams' control over the clauses is superb, deftly structuring subordinate clauses and parallel words and phrases while varying them with simpler sentences and lists. The control and continuity make for a most persuasive style. In fact, Adams has so far the most consistent style and fluid presentation of ideas, a far cry from his father's fears that, as a perhaps too-well-traveled youth, his son had learned other languages better than his native English.


Hecht, Marie B. John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of an Independent Man. The Macmillan Company. New York. 1972.

McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster. New York. 2001. 

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