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Chapter XXIV. Influencing By Persuasion

She hath prosperous art When she will play with reason and discourse, And well she can persuade.

- Shakespeare, Measure for Measure,

Him we call an artist who shall play on an assembly of men as a master on the keys of a piano, - who seeing the people furious, shall soften and compose them, shall draw them, when he will, to laughter and to tears. Bring him to his audience, and, be they who they may, - coarse or refined, pleased or displeased, sulky or savage, with their opinions in the keeping of a confessor or with their opinions in their bank safes, - he will have them pleased and humored as he chooses; and they shall carry and execute what he bids them.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay on Eloquence.

More good and more ill have been effected by persuasion than by any other form of speech. It is an attempt to influence by means of appeal to some particular interest held important by the hearer. Its motive may be high or low fair or unfair, honest or dishonest, calm or passionate, and hence its scope is unparalleled in public speaking.

This "instilment of conviction," to use Matthew Arnold's expression, is naturally a complex process in that it usually includes argumentation and often employs suggestion, as the next chapter will illustrate. In fact, there is little public speaking worthy of the name that is not in some part persuasive, for men rarely speak solely to alter men's opinions - the ulterior purpose is almost always action.

The nature of persuasion is not solely intellectual, but is largely emotional. It uses every principle of public speaking, and every "form of discourse," to use a rhetorician's expression, but argument supplemented by special appeal is its peculiar quality. This we may best see by examining

The Methods Of Persuasion

High-minded speakers often seek to move their hearers to action by an appeal to their highest motives, such as love of liberty. Senator Hoar, in pleading for action on the Philippine question, used this method:

What has been the practical statesmanship which comes from your ideals and your sentimentalities? You have wasted nearly six hundred millions of treasure. You have sacrificed nearly ten thousand American lives - the flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of the people you desire to benefit. You have established recon-centration camps. Your generals are coming home from their harvest bringing sheaves with them, in the shape of other thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind. You make the American flag in the eyes of a numerous people the emblem of sacrilege in Christian churches, and of the burning of human dwellings, and of the horror of the water torture. Your practical statesmanship which disdains to take George Washington and Abraham Lincoln or the soldiers of the Revolution or of the Civil War as models, has looked in some cases to Spain for your example. I believe - nay, I know - that in general our officers and soldiers are humane. But in some cases they have carried on your warfare with a mixture of American ingenuity and Castilian cruelty.

Your practical statesmanship has succeeded in converting a people who three years ago were ready to kiss the hem of the garment of the American and to welcome him as a liberator, who thronged after your men, when they landed on those islands, with benediction and gratitude, into sullen and irreconciliable enemies, possessed of a hatred which centuries cannot eradicate.

Mr. President, this is the eternal law of human nature. You may struggle against it, you may try to escape it, you may persuade yourself that your intentions are benevolent, that your yoke will be easy and your burden will be light, but it will assert itself again. Government without the consent of the governed - authority which heaven never gave - can only be supported by means which heaven never can sanction.

The American people have got this one question to answer. They may answer it now; they can take ten years, or twenty years, or a generation, or a century to think of it. But it will not down. They must answer it in the end: Can you lawfully buy with money, or get by brute force of arms, the right to hold in subjugation an unwilling people, and to impose on them such constitution as you, and not they, think best for them?

Senator Hoar then went on to make another sort of appeal - the appeal to fact and experience:

We have answered this question a good many times in the past. The fathers answered it in 1776, and founded the Republic upon their answer, which has been the corner-stone. John Quincy Adams and James Monroe answered it again in the Monroe Doctrine, which John Quincy Adams declared was only the doctrine of the consent of the governed. The Republican party answered it when it took possession of the force of government at the beginning of the most brilliant period in all legislative history. Abraham Lincoln answered it when, on that fatal journey to Washington in 1861, he announced that as the doctrine of his political creed, and declared, with prophetic vision, that he was ready to be assassinated for it if need be. You answered it again yourselves when you said that Cuba, who had no more title than the people of the Philippine Islands had to their independence, of right ought to be free and independent.

- George P. Hoar.

Appeal to the things that man holds dear is another potent form of persuasion.

Joseph Story, in his great Salem speech (1828) used this method most dramatically:

I call upon you, fathers, by the shades of your ancestors - by the dear ashes which repose in this precious soil - by all you are, and all you hope to be - resist every object of disunion, resist every encroachment upon your liberties, resist every attempt to fetter your consciences, or smother your public schools, or extinguish your system of public instruction.


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