An expert analysis of Abraham Lincoln's three most powerful speeches reveals his rhetorical genius and his thoughts on our national character.
Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, believed that our national character was defined by three key moments: the writing of the Constitution, our declaration of independence from England, and the beginning of slavery on the North American continent. His thoughts on these landmarks can be traced through three speeches: the Lyceum Address, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural. The latter two are well-known, enshrined forever on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. The former is much less familiar to most, written a quarter century before his presidency, when he was a 28 year-old Illinois state legislator.
In His Greatest Speeches, Professor Diana Schaub offers a brilliant line-by-line analysis of these timeless works, placing them in historical context and explaining the brilliance behind their rhetoric. The result is a complete vision of Lincoln’s worldview that is sure to fascinate and inspire general readers and history buffs alike. This book is a wholly original resource for considering the difficult questions of American purpose and identity, questions that are no less contentious or essential today than they were over two hundred years ago.
In this astute blend of history and textual analysis, Schaub (Erotic Liberalism), a professor of political science at Loyola University Maryland, painstakingly analyzes three of Abraham Lincoln's speeches for his thoughts on the "meaning of America" and insights into how he attempted to heal the country's partisan divides. In line-by-line breakdowns of the 1838 Lyceum Address, the 1863 Gettysburg Address, and the 1865 Second Inaugural address, Schaub reveals how each speech was pegged to a specific landmark in U.S. history (respectively, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the arrival of the first African slaves) and furthered Lincoln's larger goal of bridging the divide between America's ideals and its practices. Throughout, Schaub highlights Lincoln's deliberate word choices (he refers to "the Southern part" of the Union, rather than simply "the South" in the Second Inaugural) and defiance of rhetorical and political conventions. She notes, for instance, that the Gettysburg Address is a "war speech" that "never mentions the enemy," and that the Second Inaugural studiously and somewhat awkwardly avoids first-person singular pronouns. Schaub also draws incisive comparisons to addresses by George Washington, Daniel Webster, and Frederick Douglass, among others, and skillfully unearths biblical and literary allusions studded throughout the texts. Lincolnophiles with a literary bent will savor this rewarding deep dive.