CAS 500 -- Fall 2008
Monday & Wednesday, 9:45-11:00
309 Sparks Building

Professor Thomas W. Benson
227 Sparks Building
office hours: Monday & Wednesday 11-12 and by appointment

| Professor Benson's home page | email Professor Benson | ANGEL | LIAS | Penn State | CAS department |


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) Monday, August 25

Introduction the rhetoric of the presidency and the rhetorical presidency

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

(2) Wednesday, August 27


Read Stephen Browne, Jefferson’s Call for Nationhood. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.

Thomas Jefferson - for more images see the University of Virginia online collection, with a link to Library of Congress images.

Monday, September 1


Labor Day - no classes


(3) Wednesday, September 3

conclude discussion of Browne, Jefferson's Call for Nationhood.

(4) Monday, September 8

Seminar paper topic due.

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

(5) Wednesday, September 10

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.

(6) Monday, September 15

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

(7) Wednesday, September 17


The Rhetorical Presidency, chapters 5-7, pages 117-204; Woodrow Wilson, War Message, 12 April 1917.


(8) Monday, September 22


J. Michael Hogan, Woodrow Wilson's Western Tour.

Woodrow Wilson, “The League of Nations,” Pueblo, Colorado, 25 September 1919; 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.

(9) Wednesday, September 24 conclude discussion of Hogan, Woodrow Wilson's Western Tour.
(10) Monday, September 29 Research proposal due

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

(11) Wednesday, October 1

Ira Chernus, Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002).

(12) Monday, October 6

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 Presidential Leadership." Please read the Four Freedoms speech and bring a copy to class for discussion along with the articles. These documents are all in the Angel readings and resources folder.

To hear an excerpt from the Four Freedoms speech, click

FDR fireside chat

FDR, Fireside Chat, 1933

Gerald Ford signs Nixon pardon, 8 September 1974


(13) Wednesday, October 8



Speaking (as / to / through / for / against / by ) the President.

Review stories about President George W. Bush in the past week's New York Times, noting especially any descriptions of the president speaking, of others speaking to him, for him, with him, or against him. What is the range of the president's voice, how is it filtered, amplified, scripted, supported, or opposed? Consider such functions as speechwriting, spokesmen, surrogates, and so on. How, if at all, do they appear as roles in the Times and in other press, radio, Internet, or TV accounts?

(14) Monday, October 13

David Zarefsky, President Johnson's War on Poverty.

Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, 1995


(15) Wednesday, October 15

David Zarefsky, President Johnson's War on Poverty.

Richard Nixon with Checkers, 1957

(16) Monday, October 20

Read Thomas W. Benson, Writing JFK: Presidential Rhetoric and the Press in the Bay of Pigs Crisis (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2004).

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

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

(17) Wednesday, October 22

John M. Murphy, " The Language of the Liberal Consensus: John F. Kennedy, Technical Reason, and the 'New Economics' at Yale University," Quarterly Journal of Speech 90 ( 2004): 133–162. John F. Kennedy, address at Yale University, June 11, 1962.

(18) Monday, October 27


Steven R. Goldzwig, Truman's Whistle-Stop Campaign.

Harry Truman whistle stop

Harry Truman campaigns, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
4 June 1948

(19) Wednesday, October 29

The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights

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

Ike and Mamie on inauguration day

Little Rock Central High School, 25 September 1957



(20) Monday, November 3

The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights

Read Pauley, The Modern Presidency and Civil Rights, chapter 4-6, pages 105-220; ; speeches: John F. Kennedy on civil rights, June 11, 1963; Lyndon B. Johnson, “We Shall Overcome,” 15 March 1965.

John F. Kennedy, 11 June 1963

Selma, Alabama, 7 March 1965

Lyndon Johnson signs voting rights bill, August 1965


(21) Wednesday, November 5

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



(22) Monday, November 10

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


(23) Wednesday, November 12

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


(24) Monday, November 17


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.


(25) Wednesday, November 19


Presentation of seminar papers:

Bryan Blankfield

Mark Hlavacik

Monday - Friday, November 24-28


Thanksgiving Holiday -- no classes

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



(26) Monday, December 1


presentation of seminar papers:

Holly Gates

Chris Toutain


(27) Wednesday, December 3


presentation of seminar papers:

Jessica Bargar

Adam Perry

(28) Monday, December 8

presentation of seminar papers:

Elyse Merlo


(29) Wednesday, December 10


presentation of seminar papers


Monday, December 15

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 of both text and context, 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 and a bibliography, on the dates indicated):

September 8. 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? 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. Do not propose a topic for which the text is not available. (1-2 pages)

September 29. 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.

November 5 . 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.

November 5 - November 19 . Editorial reviews of first draft. Each student will read and respond in writing to several other student papers with suggestions for revisions.

November 19 - December 10 . Final oral reports to class.

December 15 . 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

On-line Class Discussion. The primary discussions in this seminar will be conducted face-to-face, on Monday and Wednesday mornings, and throughout the rest of the week on the ANGEL message boards. 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 appropriate message board in the class Angel web site.


Benson, Thomas W. Writing JFK: Presidential Rhetoric and the Press in the Bay of Pigs Crisis. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004. ISBN: 1-58544-281-X

Browne, Stephen. Jefferson’s Call for Nationhood. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003. ISBN: 1585442526

Chernus, Ira. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2002. ISBN: 1585442208

Goldzwig, Steven R. Truman's Whistle-Stop Campaign. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

Hogan, J. Michael. Woodrow Wilson's Western Tour: Rhetoric, Public Opinion, and the League of Nations. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

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. President Johnson’s War on Poverty. University of Alabama Press, 1986. ISBN: 0817302662

The New York Times -- try to follow it daily and Sunday to keep up with coverage of presidential rhetoric.

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 -- an excellent source for presidential speeches and related documents.

The Government Printing Office maintains links to the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and to the Congressional Record

The White House

The American Memory project at the Library of Congress

Penn State Library course links for CAS 500: Rhetoric of the American Presidency -- a collection of speech texts and audio files

Links to journals in rhetoric


Vanderbilt Television News Archive -- a searchable collection, excellent source for TV news coverage of presidential rhetoric.