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July 15th, 2007 (09:04 pm)

Rhetorical Strategies for Political Goals: Freedoms Journal

Freedoms Journal is an Abolitionist text, it is written during the time of Abolition for people who were Abolitionist by Abolitionists. Because of this, it is reflective of the disparities in strategy, ideology and practices among Abolitionists. Upon reading the first editorial, it is apparent that the editors are using very notable strategies with rhetoric to make their particular case of Abolition. This case would be that of immediate Abolition while pushing for racial uplift (111). These styles are an acknowledgement of targeted audience and various changing tones.

Good rhetorical strategy is when a writer can acknowledge that they are writing for two separate audiences. It is even better when this a piece is written that can also communicate two different messages to these two separate audiences. I find this strategy to be taken to a new level with Freedom’s Journal because it appears to be aware that its audience is four-fold. Its first and most apparent audience is free and enslaved Black people in the United States. The editorial reads that “we wish to plead our own case” and that they are people of color are compelled to write for themselves and others because “so many schemes are in action concerning our people” (111).

Its second audience is going to be Abolitionist white people. The editorial is communicating that there is disparity of understanding between Black and white Abolitionist in the United States, and this editorial seeks to address and pay heed to such disconnect. The editorial reads that as a strategy they must “boldly before an enlightened publik” (111). The editor also states that white people who are either working for or against the cause of Abolition are not totally aware of what they are saying or really do not know what they are talking about. Again: “From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented” (112). This line strikes two nerves: one that tells the Black folk when they are reading it that this is not a paper written by a condescending savior and another message is conveyed to the white abolitionist who might now become aware of the disparity between their theory and practice. The editor also makes it clear that one not necessary be in the same position as a slave in order to be in solidarity when he writes: “it is not very desirable that such should know more of our actual condition; and of our efforts and feelings” (112). This line addresses the torture of slavery, strikes a nerve in the former/current slave, and is able address a more effective strategy towards abolition. The tone of this statement is something that is intellectually based while at the same time it is stern. This stern tone is necessary when communicating the seriousness of first slavery and then the incorrect strategies that moderate and radical white Abolitionists would often subscribe.

The third audience will of course be either the undecided white person or the slave holder. It is reasonable to assume that pieces against slavery were read and critiqued by undecided people and proponents of slavery. Therefore, I think that there is a two reasons why religious tone is used in the journal. This is because it would likely appeal to the undecided camp of people and it would also serve as a rhetorical weapon against the Christian slave holder. According to African American studies scholar and Professor DoVeanna Fulton’s lecture on Colonization, Slavery and Abolition states that many people used biblical reasoning and rhetoric to justify the existence of slavery. She writes that Reverends Whitfield and Thomas Bacon “used the following text to justify slavery [such as] Leviticus…1 Corinthians [and books in] Genesis”. [1] It would make sense that the Freedom’s Journal editorial would read a lot like a sermon to counteract strategies employed by pro-slavery people who were religious. The sermon tone comes out when the editorial reads:

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us Too has the publik been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly ” (112)

More examples of religious imagery and tone are present and it is made clear that they are writing for their own and others “moral and religious improvement” (112). They are writing to people “to whom we concede all the principles of humanity and religion” and that the will “shield ourselves against the consequent evils” (112).

I would assert that its fourth audience is for the international constitutes that are struggling against slavery. This is because the struggles that the authors name such as the “recent travels of Denham and Clapperton into the interior of Africa” along with that “establishment of a republic in Hayti” along with “the advancement of liberal ideas in South America” (112). Abolition was not just a struggle in the United States- but was a global movement. These examples that the writers used are meant to make the broader connection with that movement. It would also make sense that this would serve as a rhetorical comparison when talking to people in the United States about slavery. For example, one could merely cite that other nations across the world are moving on from slavery, thus, it is about time that the United States did the same.

The abolition of slavery in the United States was not a goal that was easily won. It came with fierce resistance and violence from people that wanted to protect their monetary and political interests over the interest of humanity. There is no doubt that the writers of Freedom’s Journal were putting themselves at great risk to get the idea of abolition out to the public. The general will today about slavery is that it was an abomination against all that is natural, just, and right. Therefore, it is important to look at other systems that use the economical and political rhetoric that people use to put systems and laws over the imperative of human rights. A close study in the rhetoric of groups and journals can easily engage people into critical thinking while also engendering others to make sound, just, and sustainable solutions that are based in love of humanity- not just rooted in sustaining an economy.

Works Cited:

1) Cornish, Russworm. "Freedoms Journal: First Editorial." The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition. Ed. Timothy Partick McCarthy and John McMillian. New York, NY: The New Press, 2003.

2) Fulton, DoVeanna. "Colonization, Slavery and Abolition." Arizona State University. Online-BlackBoard ENG 353 Summer 2, Tempe, AZ.

[1] Fulton, DoVeanna. "Colonization, Slavery and Abolition." Arizona State University. Online-BlackBoard ENG 353 Summer 2, Tempe, AZ.


Posted by: winewiskeywomen (winewiskeywomen)
Posted at: July 17th, 2007 10:34 pm (UTC)

i like the phrase "a condescending savior".

Posted by: catherine_marr (catherine_marr)
Posted at: August 7th, 2007 04:33 am (UTC)

me too, its been working my way into conversation lately when I am describing why I am tired of democrats.

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