D R A F T -- this syllabus is still under construction (last revised 17 February 2002)

SpCom 597C – Spring 2002
Tuesday and Thursday, 1:00-2:15
309 Sparks Building
Listserv: l-spcom597c

Professor Thomas W. Benson
227 Sparks Building
office hours: Tuesday & Thursday 2:15-3:00 p.m. and by appointment

The Rhetoric of the American Presidency

A graduate seminar in rhetorical history and criticism with an emphasis on audience-centered close reading of presidential speeches in historical, institutional, and generic contexts.  Students will read widely in the scholarship of presidential rhetoric and will write an extended seminar paper on a presidential speech. 

(1) Tuesday, 8 January

Introduction – the rhetoric of the presidency and the rhetorical presidency

Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address,
25 January 1988

(2) Thursday, 10 January

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. The preliminaries. Read Paul M. Angle, ed., The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, ix – 101; David Zarefsky, Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery, 1-67.

(3) Tuesday, 15 January

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Read the debates at Ottawa, Freeport, and Jonesboro in Angle, 102-231; Zarefsky, chapters 3 and 4, 68-140.

1860 presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln,
John C. Breckenridge, Stephen A. Doublas

(4) Thursday, 17 January

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Read the debates at Charleston and Galesburg in Angle, 232-321; Zarefsky, chapters 5 and 6, 141-197.

Topic for seminar paper due.

Lincoln - Douglas Debate at Galesburg

(5) Tuesday, 22 January

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Read the debates at Quincy and Alton in Angle, 322-408; Zarefsky, chapters 7 and 8, 198-246.

(6) Thursday, 24 January

The Gettysburg Address. In Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, read the address, 261, 263, and Wills’s prologue, 19-40.

(7) Tuesday, 29 January

The Gettysburg Address. Finish reading and conclude discussion of Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Abraham Lincoln in August 1863

The Gettysburg address continues as a myth in America's public memory.

The Library of Congress has two manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address.

(8) Thursday, 31 January

Research proposal due for seminar paper. Research questions, context, preliminary sketch of textual analysis, working bibliography (6-8 pages).

(9) Tuesday, 5 February

The Rhetorical Presidency. Read Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency, introduction and chapters 1-4, pages 3-116; Speech: Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man with the Muckrake,” 14 April 1906.

Teddy Roosevelt campaigning, 1900

(10) Thursday, 7 February

The Rhetorical Presidency, chapters 5-7, pages 117-204; Woodrow Wilson, War Message, 12 April 1917;  Woodrow Wilson, “The League of Nations,” Pueblo, Colorado, 25 September 1919.Ronald Reagan, the “star wars” speech, 23 March 1983. Suggested reading: Olson, Kathryn M. "Rhetoric and the American President." Review of Richard J. Ellis, editor. Speaking to the People: The Rhetorical Presidency in Historical Perspective. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. The Review of Communication 1, no. 2 (2001): 247-53.

Harry Truman campaigns, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
4 June 1948

(11) Tuesday, 12 February

Deeds Done in Words

Read Campbell and Jamieson, Deeds Done in Words, 1-5, pages 1-100; Speeches: Lyndon B. Johnson, address before a joint session of Congress, 27 November 1963; Harry S. Truman, speech on assuming the office of president, 16 April 1945; Gerald R. Ford, speech on assuming the office of president, 9 August 1974; William Jefferson Clinton, Inaugural Address.

Gerald Ford signs Nixon pardon, 8 September 1974


(12) Thursday, 14 February

Deeds Done in Words

Read Deeds Done in Words, chapters 6-11, pages 101-222; Speeches: George Washington, “Farewell Address”; Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Farewell Address,” 17 January 1961;  Woodrow Wilson, War Message, 12 April 1917; Franklin D. Roosevelt, War Message, 8 December 1941; Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fireside Chat on the War, 23 February 1942 [see also maps]; Richard M. Nixon, on departure from the White House, 9 August 1974; Richard M. Nixon, on resignation from office, 8 August 1974.

FDR, Fireside Chat, 1933

(13) Tuesday, 19 February

The Sound of Leadership

Read Rod Hart, The Sound of Leadership, introduction and chapters 1-3, pages 1-110; speeches: when and where did the president speak the month you were born?

Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, 1995


(14) Thursday, 21 February

The Sound of Leadership

Read Hart, The Sound of Leadership, chapters 4-6, pages 111-214; Speech: Richard M. Nixon, “informal remarks to a group of senior citizens from Whittier, California,” 2 October 1973.

Richard Nixon with Checkers, 1957

(15) Tuesday, 26 February

Presidential Speechwriting

Read Laura Crowell, "The Building of the 'Four Freedoms' Speech," Speech Monographs 22 (1955): 266-83; Thomas W. Benson, "FDR at Gettysburg: The New Deal and the Rhetoric of Public Memory."

To hear an excerpt from the Four Freedoms speech, click

Please read the Four Freedoms speech and bring a copy to class for discussion.

(16) Thursday, 28 February

Presidential Speechwriting

Read Thomas W. Benson, Writing JFK: Speechwriting, Speechmaking, and the Press in the Kennedy Administration (2002)

John F. Kennedy, press conference, State Department Auditorium
November 20, 1962

To hear President Kennedy's speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors

March 4 – 8

Spring Break – no classes


(17) Tuesday, 12 March


conferences on seminar papers

(18) Thursday, 14 March

The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights

Read Garth Pauley, The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights, chapters 1-3, pages 1-104; speech: Dwight Eisenhower, civil rights, 24 September 1957.

Ike and Mamie on inauguration day

Little Rock Central High School, 25 September 1957

Class will discuss this on the listserv


(19) Tuesday, 19 March

The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights

The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights

Read Pauley, The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights, chapter 4, pages 105-158; speech: John F. Kennedy, civil rights, 11 June 1963.

John F. Kennedy, 11 June 1963

Read Pauley, The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights, chapters 5-6, pages 159-220; speech: Lyndon B. Johnson, “We Shall Overcome,” 15 March 1965.

Selma, Alabama, 7 March 1965

Lyndon Johnson signs voting rights bill, August 1965


(20) Thursday, 21 March

First draft of seminar paper due – no assigned readings, but do come to class to begin the peer editing process.



(21) Tuesday, 26 March

Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency

Read Medhurst, Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency, introduction and chapters 1 and 2, pages xi-xxv and 3-30; speeches: George Bush, first state of the union address, 1990; William Clinton, address to the Congress on health care, 22 September 1993; George Washington, Inaugural Address; Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address.

Jimmy Carter, inaugural address, January 1977


(22) Thursday, 28 March

Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency

Read Medhurst, chapters 3-6, pages 31-121; speeches: Richard Nixon, "The Silent Majority," 3 November 1969; Richard Nixon, resignation speech.

Nixon's farewell


(23) Tuesday, 2 April

Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency

Read Medhurst, chapters 7-10, and afterword, pages 122-226; speeches: Ronald Reagan on Iran-Contra, 4 March 1987; George Bush on the Gulf War, 8 November 1990.

President George Bush at Thanksgiving dinner,
Saudi Arabia, 22 November 1990


(24) Thursday, 4 April

Discussion of seminar papers

Catherine Langford, "Expanding the Boundaries of the Rhetorical Presidency: The Johnson Treatment as Constituting a Private Rhetorical Space within a Public Institution." Respondents: Dzikowski, Gibson, Kahl.

Sandy French, "Presidential Communication in the Information Age: Virtual Democracy in the Clinton White House." Respondents: Dzikowski, Stahl, Worley.

(25) Tuesday, 9 April

Discussion of seminar papers

David Dzikowski, "The Rhetorical Timing of Herbert C. Hoover." Respondents: Gibson, Langford, Stahl.

Elise Kahl, "Roosevelt's Conception of Loyal Citizenship on the Homefront: An Analysis of Presidential Discourse during World War II." Respondents: Alston, Freishtat, French.

(26) Thursday, 11 April

Discussion of seminar papers

Roger Stahl. "The Proper Study of Mankind is Man: The Clash of Frontier and Privacy in Clinton's Genome Rhetoric." Respondents: Gibson, Langford, Worley.

Ricky Freishtat, "Lyndon Johnson's Rhetorical Construction of Public Morality and Voting Rights in America." Respondents: Alston, Kahl, Worley.


Friday, 12 April Trip to Gettysburg National Historic Park

(27) Tuesday, 16 April

Discussion of seminar papers

Katie Gibson, "War, Politics, and Citizenship: The Exclusion of the "Feminine" in President George W. Bush's September 18th Speech to Congress." Respondents: Freishtat, French, Langford.


(28) Thursday, 18 April

Discussion of seminar papers

Monika Alston, "Speaking Out against the Power of the Press: The Rhetoric of President Andrew Jackson against Anti-Slavery Literature." Respondents: Freishtat, French, Kahl.


(29) Tuesday, 23 April

Discussion of seminar papers

Sarah Worley. Truman and the Bomb. Respondents: Alston, Dzikowski, Stahl.


(30) Thursday, 25 April

Eastern Communication Association, New York – no class meeting.


Monday, 29 April

First day of final examinations – seminar paper due.



Seminar Paper

Seminar Paper
: You are asked to prepare a major, article-length seminar paper--a rhetorical analysis of a single presidential speech.  Subject the message to a close textual analysis, situated in whatever contexts (theoretical, situational, historical, institutional, generic) seem appropriate to support interpretive work.  A central feature of the seminar will be the sequential preparation of the paper, followed by shared editorial consultation and thorough rewriting.  The product will, it is hoped, be a manuscript that might be thought of as an "expanded" journal article, which, with some judicious cutting, could be submitted for publication review to a journal.  The manuscript will be "expanded" in the sense that it will probably contain a more extended review of context and earlier scholarship, and perhaps more detailed description, than some editors would have space for in a journal. 

Major dates for paper development (all these assignments are due, typed, double-spaced, one side of paper only, with a title page, on the dates indicated):

January 17.  Topic due, in writing.  Briefly identify the text you wish to analyze and the central critical problems or questions you wish to investigate.  What is the text? Where is it available? What, at this point, strike you as issues, questions, or problems worth investigating?  (1-2 pages)  It is strongly suggested that you talk with me before choosing a text for analysis. In any case, do not choose a text that you have written on for another class, or one that is assigned reading for this seminar.

January 31.  Research proposal.  (6-8 pages)  A description of the topic you have chosen, the central question you will address in your analysis, the significance of your study, critical procedures that seem likely to be productive, relevant theoretical and methodological considerations, description of relevant context, definitions of key terms, brief identification of the scholarly literatures most likely to contextualize your study (previous studies of your text, of similar texts, of similar questions, theoretical perspectives, descriptions of method or uses of methods similar to those you propose). By this time, you should have made at least a preliminary search of the relevant books and journal articles relating to your topic, and you should have consulted the resources of the National Archives and the presidential libraries, where possible. Include a preliminary bibliography in your proposal and, if relevant, a budget for acquiring primary archival documents.

March 21.  First draft of paper due.  A complete and finished version of the paper, suitable for formal review.  Include title page, abstract, paper, endnotes if any, and list of works cited.

March 26 - April 9.  Editorial reviews of first draft. Each student will read and respond in writing to several other student papers with suggestions for revisions. 

April 4 - April 23.  Final oral reports to class.

April 29.  Seminar paper due.

Paper Style.  You may submit your seminar paper in APA, MLA, or Chicago Manual of Style  format -- be sure to have access to the appropriate style guide and follow it from the first paper.


Grades.  All elements of your work in the seminar will be considered in formulating a final grade for the course--participation (in-class and on-line) 20%; written work (including first and final drafts of the seminar paper, progressive development of various stages of the paper, and editorial comments on peer reviewed papers) 80%.

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity.  Submission of all written work in this course is taken to imply that the work is your own unless otherwise indicated. Please be careful to document the work of others where appropriate. Under no circumstances submit for credit in this course any work that has been submitted in other courses. Be careful not to deface any library materials that you use in preparing your work for the seminar.  In selecting a text for critical analysis for your seminar paper, do not write about a text that is part of the syllabus of other courses you have taken without special permission.

Electronic Mail

Electronic Mail and Class Electronic Discussion. The primary discussions in this seminar will be conducted face-to-face, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and throughout the rest of the week on the computer. Although it is hoped that participation will be intense and ongoing, at least the following deadlines must be met: A contribution to discussion 24 hours before each class meeting, in which you offer some questions on the reading to be discussed for the session (with supporting citations, thoughts, or suggestions) for possible discussion in class or on-line. You are also invited to participate in ongoing follow-up, on-line conversations that extend some aspect of class discussion or raise an issue that did not make it into the discussion. In your contributions, please try to frame a proposition or question for discussion, relate it to some part of the readings, quote or paraphrase the relevant passage in the reading (including a page reference), and sketch a reasoned discussion-opener. In these conversations, your opinions are important, but we should also work beyond mere clash (or coincidence) of opinion to mutual enlightenment and a shared willingness to learn new ways of thinking. Send your notes for class discussion to the Listserv address l-spcom597c@lists.psu.edu If you use more than one e-mail account, I can list more than one address for you.


Angle, Paul M., ed. The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Deeds Done in Words: Presidential Rhetoric and the Genres of Governance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Hart, Roderick P. The Sound of Leadership: Presidential Communication in the Modern Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Medhurst, Martin J., ed. Beyond the Rhetorical Presidency. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1996.

Pauley, Garth E. The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights: Rhetoric on Race from Roosevelt to Nixon. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

Tulis, Jeffrey K. The Rhetorical Presidency. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Zarefsky, David. Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

A few articles will be placed on reserve or otherwise supplied to you for assigned readings; presidential speeches assigned for reading that are not otherwise available may be found in the Public Papers of the President series. It is expected, in addition, that you will pursue an active course of readings related to the topic of your own seminar paper.


A great deal of documentary and photographic material on presidential rhetoric is now available on-line. A few of the most useful links are listed below; please share your own discoveries with the rest of the seminar.

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

National Archives and Records Administration Many archival documents are available on-line; also use this link to find the presidential libraries, whose collections may be searched on-line.

The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara (you will need a password--please visit the site as early as possible in the semester and apply for your password, as this is an excellent source for presidential speeches and related documents).

The White House

The Douglass Archives of American Public Address at Northwestern University

The Speech Archive at the Program in Presidential Rhetoric, Texas A&M University

The American Memory project at the Library of Congress