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Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Johnson . Erin Kerr, Shaney Soderquist and Alex Weisner. “The Circle of Our Felicities”: Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address and the Rhetoric of Nationhood. Stephen Howard Browne. Rhetorical Contexts. Democracy and Persuasion are interlocked

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thomas jefferson and andrew johnson

Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Johnson

Erin Kerr, Shaney Soderquist and Alex Weisner


“The Circle of Our Felicities”: Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address and the Rhetoric of Nationhood

Stephen Howard Browne

rhetorical contexts
Rhetorical Contexts
  • Democracy and Persuasion are interlocked
  • Unprecedented expansion of the spaces of political action
  • Jefferson’s inaugural (like his politics) = both forward-looking and indebted to certain rhetorical traditions
  • Used rhetoric to rededicate common values and mutual commitment to each other’s fortunes
three conventions of public discourse
Three Conventions of Public Discourse

1.) Religious

2.) Civic

3.) Political

Shaped the 1st Inaugural Address, its reception, and its legacy.

religious contexts
Religious Contexts
  • Adamant not to have religious convictions impose or intrude into the affairs of state
  • Defined Americans: Religious (often, definitively) without uniformity of faith; Singular;
  • The “American Mind”
  • America as a chosen people
    • John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill”
civic commemoration
Civic Commemoration
  • Bring history to the national present
  • Jefferson faced an audience well-positioned to recognize the Inaugural for what it was and what it hoped to accomplish.
  • Precedents of “Political Theater”:
    • Local in delivery and source
    • Reaching out to the nation as a whole
    • About political life, but not overly partisan
  • Disseminate the experience of citizenship
political debate
Political Debate
  • Paradoxical performance
  • Appeal to “American” principles, rather than party principles
  • Jefferson was the one to realize the potential inherent to the inaugural form
jeffersonian style
Jeffersonian Style
  • Transcribed his consummate optimism into the American spirit
  • Form + Content = Singular, lasting image of the man
  • Compared to “well-drawn portraits, which regard and follow us with their eyes in whatever direction we move.”
  • First-person pronoun usage – Strategic
  • Symmetry in politics and rhetoric
  • Propriety and Simplicity
t he first inaugural s achievements
The First Inaugural’s Achievements
  • Presented a partisan tract and a political treatise, without announcing itself as either
  • Precedent: Encourage, reduce uncertainty, urge to continue on the path towards a prosperous future
  • Summon fellow republicans to a better version of themselves
  • 1808 William Cullen Bryant identified Jefferson as “Napoleon’s slave”
  • Napoleon had an enormous impact on Jefferson’s presidency
  • Jefferson’s main goal was to turn the superpowers of France and Britain against each other
  • Triangular relationship
territory strategy
Territory Strategy
  • Spain – Louisiana
  • Britain—found a rough path across America
  • France—conspiring with the Spanish for control of the Mississippi
foreign affairs
Foreign Affairs
  • War was not the answer in dealing with France
  • Jefferson faced the Federalist motto of “Political connections with none” as he entered office
  • “Just a difference of opinion, not of principal”
  • Was this a genuine promotion of partisanship?
  • Was he trying to pursue his Republican objectives?
treaty of entaglement
Treaty of Entaglement
  • Louisiana cession
  • Jefferson tried to avoid talking about Louisiana
  • “Another year has come around, and finds us still blessed with peace and friendship abroad”
french american agreement
French-American Agreement
  • Persuasion/intimidation of Napoleon
  • British ships blocked key ports, nullifying trade acts
  • Napoleon succeeds
  • Jefferson succeeds


Rumors of an affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Widespread interest in the possibility of an affair between Jefferson and his slave in the 20th century

Winthrop Jordan’s White over black: American Attitudes toward the Negro 1550-1812 was the first story to discuss the affair

Public memory of Jefferson became foreign with the growing story of Hemings

two attempts to prove affair
Two Attempts to Prove Affair
  • Annette Gordon-Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
    • Social, political, and institutional biases had prevented getting to the truth
    • Argued historians had failed to apply standards consistently and fairly to the affair examination
  • Eugene A. Foster did a study comparing DNA samples from Jefferson and Hemings
    • They used a haplotype containing 19 polymorphic markers taken from decendents of Field Jefferson (uncle), The haplotype matched Eston Heming to the male-line of descendants
    • Less than 1% chance for this match, most compelling evidence presented in debate
jaques derrida and the pathos of indecision
JaquesDerrida and the “pathos of indecision”
  • Actively provokes a response because it stimulates crisis over standards and procedures
  • Gordon-Reed’s application of forensic standards was a “political intervention: and an “ethical judgment” that weighed all evidence equitable
  • Ethos of Foster and his colleagues’ genetic tests were very persuasive in the “undecidability” of the debate
  • Public view, still undecided
new stories and different voices
New Stories and Different Voices
  • The concept of Romance
  • 1995 Film- Jefferson in Paris, displays Jefferson and Hemings’ relationship as a Parisian romance
    • Portrays Sally as a teenager who develops into womanhood
    • The concept of Jefferson and a young, exotic beauty very appealing to public
    • These accounts invoke the pathos of romance, used to portray the courtly love of an idealized president
  • Barbara Chase-Riboud’s 1979 novel Sally Hemings –portraying Sally as a multidimensional character
romance continued on cbs
Romance Continued on CBS
  • CBS (2000)—Sally Hemings: An American Scandal
  • The tale conjures a sympathetic version of Jefferson struggling against the institution of slavery for the sake of love
  • Rhetorical functions of a romantic narrative portraying Hemings as a heroic figure sacrificing her freedom for that of her children
the demon in jefferson
The Demon in Jefferson
  • Steve Erickson’s 1993 novel Arc d’X
  • Motivated by a desire to bring Jefferson’s unconscious into the light of the 20thcentury, proving the demon people imagine must have lived in him somewhere
  • A Jefferson lusting after a teenager, both of whom was his slave and his late wife’s half sister whom he would enslave again by molesting her
  • Produces an unadultered encounter with Jefferson’s other: the private demon within the civic saint
  • Represents a metaphor of America
  • Suggesting that the pursuit of happiness for one political body is conducted through the sacrifice of another’s self-determination
in summary
In Summary
  • The rhetoric of public memory often comes into being as the manifestation of a desire to enlarge our frequently shallow and elliptical knowledge of the past
  • The appeal of Jefferson’s secret past becomes a desire to us in the present
  • Jefferson has acquired such a foreign quality that the way we tend to remember him is by his other: by the ghost of Sally Hemings or the ghosts of his own passions
background to article
Background to Article
  • 17th president
  • First president to be impeached
  • First president to succeed the presidency upon assassination of predecessor (Lincoln)
stephen howard browne
Stephen Howard Browne
  • Unlovable character
  • ill-suited in almost every possible way
  • Worst presidents to date
  • There are three attributes (mind, character, and speech) which set a standard to mark and evaluate presidential virtue, but all work against Johnson
march 11 1865 johnson s vice presidential inaugural address
March 11, 1865Johnson’s Vice-Presidential Inaugural Address
  • All accounts claim Johnson was drunk for speech
  • Three main traits for his speech:
    • The use of pronominal and possessive first person
    • Speaker’s insistence that he is a legitimate claimant to the office he now occupies
    • The compulsive need to invoke “the people” as the ultimate source of power the final check against party pressures
self regard and the presidential ethos
Self-Regard and the Presidential Ethos
  • Lincoln and Johnson
  • Johnson was unable to rise to his position Example of September 12th Speech
  • The speech was not just policy arguments, but strenuous protestations of innocence, appeals to his personal past, and allusions to his Christlike mission to save his country from the satanic designs of his opponents-
  • In earlier days very good at captivating large audiences
  • Able to identify with people in simple and powerful language
  • The willingness and honestly is what also mortified northerners
  • It was his way of engaging audiences and disputing his character that prompted so much criticism
february 22 1866 speech on white house balcony on washington s birthday
February 22, 1866, Speech on White House Balcony on Washington’s Birthday
  • Demonstrating distance from Lincoln in popular imagination
  • Hadn’t prepared anything, very clear focused on the profusion of self-references, the demands for respect, the appeals to the people
  • Traitors and treason in the South- those still opposed to the restoration of the states, Publicly identified and charge other senators, prominent national reformer, with treason
two main personality traits
Two main personality traits
  • Obstinate
  • Inconsistent
  • Willful to the point of abject stubbornness
  • Weak in the face of flattery
  • Intransigent when he needed to compromise, but unable to hold a promise
  • Johnson never acknowledged this, but many listeners heard it and that is what wrecked him  
  • Johnson went against his own professions and melted into the arms of the South
  • Once a plebian he had arrived in a place where he was in charge and it was satisfying to spend the bounty of power on those who had forsaken him
  • Everything melted away with his vision of becoming a Southern Gentleman
  • What is the president’s job?
  • How does Jefferson define his role as President?
  • How does he define the people’s role?
  • What does his era teach us about our era?
  • Why do we care?