The speech by Susan B. Anthony, given after her arrest for casting a vote in the presidential election, is a notable example of American oratory. In this speech, Anthony’s objective was to persuade the audience that women’s suffrage was guaranteed by the Constitution as well as that of men. To do so, Anthony combined logos, ethos, and historical parallels in a brief yet convincing address.
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Logos is, by far, the most prominent rhetorical strategy used in the speech. Essentially, the core of the author’s argument is a classical syllogism: the Constitution secures liberties for all people, women are people – therefore, women should enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution – including suffrage – as much as men. She even adopts the form of a syllogism directly when she speaks of this discrimination from a legal perspective.
Any law that contradicts the universal suffrage is unconstitutional, and restrictions on voting are in contradiction to the Constitution – therefore, such law is “a violation of the supreme law of the land” (Anthony 5). Thus, Anthony represents her thesis – that women have the right to vote and restricting it is against the spirit and letter of the Constitution – as an inevitable logical conclusion of an impartial inquiry into the matter.
Anthony’s use of ethos is not typical, but all the more impressive because of that. Closer to the end of her speech, she mentions that the only way do deny citizens’ rights to women is to deny they are persons and doubts that her opponents “will have the hardihood to say they are not” (Anthony 8). As a rule, the speaker tries to establish credibility by pointing to something that makes him or her more competent to speak on a given topic than others, be that knowledge or personal experience. However, Anthony does not opt for that – rather, she appeals to a bare minimum of credibility a sentient creature is entitled to: being considered a person. While not elevating her above the audience, this appeal to credibility is still enough for her rhetorical purpose.
To further her case and root it in the audience’s relatively recent experiences, Anthony also draws a historical parallel with the emancipation and enfranchisement of former slaves. She emphasizes that the Constitution says, “we, the people; not we, the white male citizens” (Anthony 4). This specific reference to whiteness is a clear reference to the 15th Amendment prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on color, race, or previous condition of servitude.
By linking the issue of women’s suffrage to voting rights for black citizens, Anthony claims the former is an important progressive endeavor, just like the latter. This parallel is likely an attempt to appeal to the audience’s self-perception as progressive citizens of a free country. The implicit reasoning is clear: those who decided that race is an obstacle for casting a ballot cannot, in all honesty, claim that the gender is.
As one can see, Susan B. Anthony’s 1873 speech combines logos, ethos, and historical parallels to make a case for women’s voting rights. Anthony’s appeals to logic are simple and clear syllogisms based on the Constitution itself. She claims no greater credibility that is due to any sentient being, but that is just enough for her rhetorical purpose. Finally, a historical parallel with the recent enfranchisements of citizens of all races appeals to the audience’s sense of justice and self-perception as progressive people.
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Anthony, Susan B. “On Women’s Right to Vote.” The History Place. Web.