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1: American Speeches: Political Oratory from the Revolution to the Civil War (Library of America) Hardcover – October 5, 2006
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Nobody knows more about the history of American political speeches than Ted Widmer. In this terrific two-volume set, he's compiled famous speeches that readers will recognize and relish and also has unearthed some lesser-known gems. American Speeches gives a comprehensive view of the arguments, passions, and philosophies that have shaped America -- from the time of our Founding Fathers to the present. These speeches are part of our national heritage, just as much as our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They should be studied and celebrated! -- President Bill Clinton
About the Author
Ted Widmer, editor, is the Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and the author of Martin Van Buren in The American Presidents Series and of Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City. He was director of speechwriting at the National Security Council and a senior advisor to President Clinton from 1997 to 2001.
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James Otis - a British Attorney who was to "argue for" enactment of the "Writs of Assistance" for England, interpretated them to be the perfect tools of oppression of the colonies - for, once in place, it provided unlimited "search power" to the British Gov. (The Writs of Assistance providing total power of search and seizure, with no "specific subject matter" needed for the searches, and no "expiration date" once issued. In an abrupt about-face, Otis launched an oration "against the writs" rather than "for them" that would jump-start the American Revolution from within that very courtroom. Thus, in a pointed reference to the King, the phrase "A Man's Home is his Castle" was coined. (page 541 in "The Adams Jefferson Letters" , John Adams remarked: 'Samuel Adams contribution to the Revolution is beyond all calculations; I know of but one Superior to him and that was James Otis'. "
Red Jacket - the keen intellectual prowess of the then-primitive American Indian comes across from that early day speech in a way that leaves little doubt to the reader about the absolute knowledge that the Chief possessed regarding his people's fate trying to "live in peace with his white brothers." He is diplomatic, genteel in this words; but he is suspicious; he also knows his suspicions are useless against a foe that has his people outdistanced in technologies and of warfare. One of the most poignant sentences of his writings deal with the Great Spirit, within whom he has placed such faith:
"The Great Spirit has turned on us and now smiles on others". Little wonder that he could not understand that for what it was.
Elizabeth Stanton - Women's rights - she makes points most of us have long forgotten as the tide began to turn for women's equality, but re-reading this amazing woman's eloquence is something perhaps everyone should do again to experience first-hand what real struggle against a real foe - ingrained repression - was all about in the beginning when there was no real suppport from anyone, and to come forward meant going toe to toe with establshment, family, government, everyone. Imagine the courage needed to do so, imagine the fear, the apprehension in doing so. But perhaps in reality, there was no fear - perhaps these people feared nothing, no one. It would appear so, from their words.
Frederick Douglass - slavery - the great blot on American Independence. After reading this and trying to imagine sitting in the audience, it is impossible to believe that it would not serve as an immediate catalyst for change, given the high level of genius this man had with words and emotion. When he gets to the point in quoting from the Constitution - "we hold these Truths to be Self-Evident"....
Daniel Webster - his writings were very much out of the ordinary. One of the best orators in this book, in my view, I had heard his name frequently but do not remember reading any of his speeches.
This important book, in my view after having turned it's pages, is a "must read" - an inspiring read - for anyone wanting to delve into the minds of the people who "gave it all for us" - who stood up against wrongdoing and superstition against an unforgiving society no matter what the personal cost. By their perseverence against the odds, we have a better society as a whole in America today, one that could not be without them. What a wonderful literary experience - reading these magnificent words from the mouths of free-thinking people "who had nothing to lose" but "everything close to them" for the betterment of their posterity. Most of us have read but few of them in their speech form, even though the "coined phrases" live a life of their own throughout our own lives as they are used again and again, unconsciously to aid and assist in supporting ideas of our own today. What a breed apart these iconoclastic individuals were.
A lift of the glass to all of them, hand over the heart.
This is a fabulous resource to read these important speeches in their complete form (and some of them are astonishingly long (how many hours would it have taken to deliver them?) and most of them you will have known through excerpts and quotations. It is very different to read the entire speech and see the power of the rhetorical construction that these trained orators (for the most part) were able to achieve. Of course, for the great exception and contrast in this volume is the amazing and powerful speech by Sojourner Truth from 1851. There are also speeches by Frederick Douglass, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Washington, Hancock, Hamilton, and dozens of others.
It is quite fascinating to follow the trajectory of the speeches from the Revolution leading up to the Civil War. The hardening of positions, the increasing stridency of the rhetoric, and the verbal animosity are frighteningly similar to aspects of our present political scene (if ours is not quite as eloquent, principled (for good or ill), or thoughtful). The volume presents speeches from the several positions held prior to the Civil War and it is quite important to see what people thought and said before the cataclysm. They are certainly different than the positions anyone held after the war. And nowadays we have simplified these ideas into bumper stickers of non-understanding.
So, get this book and take a slow journey of reading, meditation, and learning from these important statements from our history.
The back contains biographical notes about each of the speakers and notes on the text.
The first volume contains 45 dramatic speeches delivered by 23 Americans. Topics that concerned the public when they were written and delivered. Terrific set!!