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The People's Voice

The People's Voice: The Orator in American Society

Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The People's Voice
    Book Description:

    In this flavorful and perceptive study of the American orator, Barnet Baskerville makes an inquiry into American attitudes toward orators and oratory and the reflection of these attitudes in speaking practices. He examines the role of the orator in society and the kinds or qualities of oratory that were dominant in each period of American history, and he looks into the nature and importance of oratory as perceived by audiences and by speakers themselves. By examining this "public image" of the orator, the author is able to tell us much about the people who drew that image.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6203-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
    (pp. 1-6)

    The wordsoratoryandeloquenceare not frequently on the tongues of contemporary Americans. For some the terms have an amusingly archaic sound, likemethinksoreftsoons.In our time one seldom accuses a politician of oratory without humorous or derogatory intent; a public man, finding himself referred to in the newspapers as an “orator,” is probably justified in regarding the characterization as pejorative. When Senator Margaret Chase Smith spoke out courageously against abuse of congressional immunity during the McCarthy era, she began her now famous “Declaration of Conscience” with these words: “I speak as simply as possible because the...

  4. 1 THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD: The Orator as Hero
    (pp. 7-31)

    The opening chapter of most chronicles of American oratory is traditionally devoted to the orators of the American Revolution. Of this band of spokesmen against British tyranny (actual or anticipated) only a few names survive in the memory of their countrymen: Patrick Henry, certainly; James Otis, Samuel and John Adams, probably; and John Hancock — though remembered perhaps more for his signature than his eloquence. But a host of others, once-celebrated orators such as Josiah Quincy, Joseph Warren, Richard Henry Lee, William Henry Drayton, John Rutledge, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel Cooper, Jacob Duché — if recognized at all, evoke only the...

  5. 2 THE GOLDEN AGE: Oratory as Artistic Expression
    (pp. 32-87)

    We look back today upon the first half of the nineteenth century, particularly the period between 1820 and 1850, as the Golden Age of American Oratory. Great Britain’s golden age of parliamentary oratory during the reign of George III — the age of Pitt, Fox, Sheridan, and Burke — had its American counterpart during the years when Webster, Clay, Calhoun, and a group of only slightly less distinguished statesmen and orators participated in a series of historic “great debates” in the Congress of the United States. But American eloquence Was not confined to the halls of Congress; this period was characterized by...

  6. 3 THE BRAZEN AGE: Obfuscation and Diversion
    (pp. 88-114)

    The quarter-century following the Civil War was not, it is eminently safe to assert, American oratory’s finest hour, nor did the political orator enjoy anything like the same veneration he had known since revolutionary times. Politics, Daniel Webster had said at Bunker Hill in 1825, is “the master topic of the age”; politics (as Webster had conceived the subject) was most certainly not the master topic of the postwar decades.

    Changing conditions brought new national emphases and priorities, and with them new heroes. There was a continent to be developed, unlimited natural resources to be exploited, factories and railroads to...

  7. 4 THE SPEAK-OUT AGE America Finds Her Voice Again
    (pp. 115-139)

    When Edward Parker asserted that “the age of heroes is over,” he added “the age for their statues is come.” Despite a low regard for contemporary speakers during the postwar decades, the “orator” remained a revered ideal.¹ In his bookThe Golden Age of American Oratory,Parker sought to erect enduring statues to nine orators of the Congress, bar, and platform. Looking back wistfully to the days when giants strode the halls of Congress and strains of eloquence filled the air, he contrasted the heroes of that golden age with the “pygmies of the present day who . . ....

  8. 5 THE TWENTIES: Oratory Becomes Public Speaking
    (pp. 140-170)

    Americans of the 1920s prided themselves in their modernity. Among numerous outmoded customs repudiated by the new age was “oratory.” One observer, the editor of an educational journal, contrasting anachronistic “oratory” with modern “public speaking,” compared the old-fashioned oratorical style of Bourke Cockran with a cupolated dome on a Cambridge mansion, a silk hat in a Boston street, or snuff-taking at an afternoon tea.¹ Speakers and writers went out of their way to proclaim that although oratory had declined, public speaking, its modern successor, was steadily gaining ground. Senator Albert Beveridge, who at the turn of the century had made...

  9. 6 THE ROOSEVELT ERA Tumultuous Polemics
    (pp. 171-198)

    In the 1930s the combination of an economic crisis in which all Americans were deeply and tragically involved, a new medium of mass communication, and a charming, articulate speaker who made that medium his personal instrument for reaching the people brought about a dramatic renaissance of political speaking.

    The most auspicious harbinger of this renaissance was the inaugural address of the new president on March 4, 1933. On this dreary day under a leaden sky, Franklin Delano Roosevelt raised his hand on the steps before the Capitol to take the oath of office. Before him in the square stood 100,000...

  10. 7 THE CONTEMPORARY SCENE: Decline of Eloquence
    (pp. 199-235)

    At the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth and final presidential campaign, public opinion pollster Elmo Roper expressed serious doubts about the efficacy of political campaign oratory. His experience in sampling public opinion had led him to believe that the winner’s percentage of victory in an election was apt to be about the same as the percentage of preference given in polls at the beginning of the campaign. “Between the opening of the campaign and the actual voting,” said Roper, “each candidate has his minor ups and downs. But in the end you have plenty of evidence that the actual hullabaloo...

    (pp. 236-240)

    THIS inquiry into the role of the platform speaker during the two hundred years of our national development has served to illustrate the truth of Gladstone’s assertion that “his choice is to be what his age will have him, what it requires in order to be moved by him.” When audiences have delighted in ornate rhetorical flourishes and platform histrionics, there have been orators eager to oblige. When the public has followed with interest the clash of ideas in genuine congressional debate, other Great Debates have followed. When the national attention has been centered on the acquisition of material wealth,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 241-252)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 253-259)