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Rhetoric of The Declaration of Independence Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2021

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, prescribed three modes of rhetorical persuasion – ethos, pathos, and logos. An outstanding rhetoric persuasion should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, as well as a logical appeal. In the Declaration of Independence document, and Thomas Jefferson’s account, the founding fathers not only aired grievances, truths, and the denial of liberty, but they also artistically embroidered all the elements of rhetoric persuasion in their assertions. The Declaration of Independence appeals to ethics, emotions, and logic – the three fundamental elements of rhetoric.

The Declaration of Independence’s appeal to ethics is undisputable. In the opening paragraphs of the declaration, there is an ethical appeal for why the colonists needed separation from the colonizer. The first paragraph of the declaration read,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth […] decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (“The Declaration of Independence”).

In the statement above, Jefferson and the founding fathers were appealing to ethics. It was necessary and essential to have an ethical explanation for that desire to gain support for their need to be independent. The founding fathers needed to explain why they needed to separate as decent respect to the opinions of humankind. In the second paragraph, the declaration continued on the ethical appeal stating that humans bore equal and unalienable rights – “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (“The Declaration of Independence”).

These statements are moral, ethical, and legal overtones that the audience can associate themselves with. If someone were to ask, “Why is this separation necessary?” The answer would come right from the second paragraph. Jefferson and the founding fathers were more than aware that such a move as declaring independence required an ethical appeal with salient and concrete causes in place of light and transient causes, and they appealed to ethics right at the beginning of the declaration.

Other than appealing to ethics, Jefferson and the founding fathers required the audience to have an emotional attachment to the Declaration of Independence. The audience had to feel the same way as the founding fathers did. In the second paragraph of the declaration document, the drafters appealed that the people had a right to change and abolish a government that had become destructive of the equal and inalienable rights of all humankind. “Humankind is more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to the right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed” (“The Declaration of Independence”).

However, if there is “a long train of abuses and usurpations” (“The Declaration of Independence”), there was a need to reduce the adversities under absolute Despotism, as the people’s right and duty. At the beginning of paragraph 30, the drafters of the declaration called their preceding assertions oppressions. An oppressed person is not a happy person. By making the audience – the colonists – remember their suffering and how patient they had been with the colonizers, Jefferson and the drafters appealed to the audience’s emotions.

The other rhetorical appeal in the Declaration of Independence is that of logic – logos. Other than bearing ethical and emotional overtones, the declaration equally bore logical sentiments. At the end of paragraph two, The Declaration of Independence reads, “To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world” (“The Declaration of Independence”), after which follows a string of grievances against the King of England and the colonizers. The entire draft bears logical appeal and the rationale behind the call for independence. How the founding fathers interwove the causes for independence in the declaration is a representation of logic.

There is evidence of inductive reasoning showing what the colonists required – independence from England – and why that was the only resort. The declaration is also logically appealing because it is not that the colonists have not sought the colonizer’s ear for the grievances they had; they had “In every stage of these Oppressions Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms, but their repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury” (“The Declaration of Independence”). Reason would only dictate that the colonists resort to other measures such as declaring themselves independent from a tyrannical system.

A rhetorical analysis of the Declaration for Independence shows the employment of ethical (ethos), emotional (pathos), and logical (logos) appeals by the drafters. In the statement of their reasons for calling to be independent of the crown, the founding fathers elucidated an ethical appeal. In the statement of their grievances against the King of England, the drafters appealed emotionally to their audience. Lastly, the drafters of the declaration interwove logic into every argument they presented by employing inductive reasoning in the description of the relationship between the colonies and the colonizer and why they formerly needed emancipation from the latter.

Work Cited

. “ Ushistory.org, 2018. Web.

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