Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense (1998)

W. Stuart Towns, Praeger Publishers, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881.

The only modern collection of speeches by southerners on the themes that have shaped the history and culture of the region, this anthology, which spans eighty years of southern history, reflects the strategies of white southern orators as they created and defended the segregated South and, later, began to chip away at that segregated fortress.  In the 19th century, southern leaders were judged largely by their oratorical skills in defending the southern way of life, as rhetoric was a foundation stone of the culture. One can read the history of the region in these speeches by politicians, ministers, and other public spokesmen.

Beginning with the debates over the admission of Missouri to the Union, many southerners took a defensive posture against those forces from outside the region which they saw threatening their culture.  The oratorical strategies of many southerners was defensive in nature, as they battled what they saw as efforts to destroy the national Constitution, eradicate slavery as the cornerstone of their society, and after the war, lived in a defeated, war-torn region.  They seem defensive and demagogic today, but these speakers developed themes and values that resonated with their constituencies and their rhetorical strategies echoed throughout the South.  The collective memory they created from the platform shaped their audiences and affected the lives of generations to follow.

Introductory comments and biographical sketches of the speakers set the historical stage for each speech.

Comments from Book Reviewers:

Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South and Public Address in the Twentieth-Century South won the “Outstanding Contribution to Communication Scholarship” Award from the American Communication Association in 2000.

Kathleen M. Torrens wrote about the first volume:

Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South is a significant addition to the canons of Southern oratory and American public address.  Stuart Towns, a southerner himself, brings a sympathetic yet academic understanding to his task of illuminating a complex culture.  The study of public discourse has been enriched by his contribution.” (The Southern Communication Journal, 65 (Summer 2000), 346.

Table of contents:

  • Chapter One:  Introduction
  • Chapter Two:  The Missouri Compromise:  The Firebell in the Night  (Speeches by William Pinkney and William Smith)
  • Chapter Three:  Nullification:  South Carolina Versus the Union  (Speeches by James Hamilton, Jr. and  John C. Calhoun)
  • Chapter Four:  Envisioning the Perfect Society:  The Defense of Slavery and the South  (Speeches by Robert A. Toombs and James Henry Hammond)
  • Chapter Five:  Disrupting the Union:  The House Divided  (Speeches by William L. Yancey,  Benjamin Morgan Palmer, and Jefferson Davis)
  • Chapter Six:  Reconstruction: The Bitterness Continues  (Speeches by Alfred Moore Waddell and Benjamin Harvey Hill)
  • Chapter Seven:  A New South Begins to Emerge:  Reconciliation and Reunion (Speeches by Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar and Henry W. Grady)
  • Chapter Eight:  The South Looks Back:  Creating the Old South and the Lost Cause  (Speeches by John Brown Gordon and Charles C. Jones, Jr.)
  • Chapter Nine:  Resolving the South’s Problem:  Defining the Segregated South (Speeches by  Zebulon B. Vance and Booker T. Washington)
  • Chapter Ten:  Precursors of Progressivism:  Nineteenth Century Advocates for a More Humane South  (Speeches by: Atticus G. Haygood and Ida Wells-Barnett)
  • Index

An excellent resource for courses in southern history and public communication and American and southern rhetorical history and criticism, as well as for the general reader interested in these topics.