UNION OF WORDS: A History of Presidential Eloquence by Wayne Fields

UNION OF WORDS: A History of Presidential Eloquence

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An engrossing history of the American presidency and its practitioners, from Washington to Clinton, as told in their own words. US presidents have a number of opportunities to address the public. From announcing their candidacy to accepting their party's nomination, inauguration, State of the Union addresses, declarations of war, and farewell addresses, presidents and hopefuls are granted the country's ear, for good or ill. Professor of American literature and novelist Fields (Washington Univ.; The Past Leads a Life of its Own, 1992, etc.) refocuses our attention on these speeches, not merely the memorable instances of eloquence--""Four-score and seven years ago"" or ""Ask not what your country can do for you""--but the largely forgotten oratory that can be even more telling about the character of our commanders-in-chief as well as about the changing character of their office. For example, Franklin Roosevelt was the first candidate to accept his party's nomination in front of the convention that had selected him; before that, nominees used to wait demurely for a committee to inform them of the convention's decision. By this seemingly simple act, FDR announced himself a man of action and an agent of change, creating an image that landed him three times in the Oval Office. Later, staunch anti-New Dealer Ronald Reagan would pull a similar stunt--showing up at the convention before it adjourned the evening of his nomination--to demonstrate his own desire for change. Washington's amity and piety, Lincoln's King James Bible brand of rhetoric, Teddy Roosevelt's hearty enthusiasm, Harry Trnman's plain speaking and scrappy courage, and Richard Nixon's schoolmarmish early speeches are all covered as well. Excellent political, social, and intellectual history--and eloquently presented, as befits its subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1996
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Free Press