English 90FD: The Rhetoric of Frederick Douglass

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English 90FD:

The Rhetoric of Frederick Douglass

and Abraham Lincoln
Spring 2015, Wednesdays 2-4,

Barker Center 024
John Stauffer, Professor of English, African and African American Studies,

and American Studies
stauffer@fas.harvard.edu; 617-642-7108 (cell)

Barker Center 267; office Hours: Tues. at 3; and by appt.


This course is a critical examination of the speeches and rhetoric of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who are among the greatest orators and nonfiction writers in English. We explore Douglass’ and Lincoln’s rhetorical practices, especially in relation to their politics and self-making. Along the way, we analyze the influences (Bible, literary canon at the time, American journalism, regionalism) that contributed to their oratory. And we explore the contexts of their great speeches and their legacies.

Required Texts (available at Coop or Amazon.com):

Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Foner

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Library of America)

Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Vidal (Library of America)

Lincoln, Great Speeches (Dover)

Paul Angle, ed., The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858.

Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg

Ronald White, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural

Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union
Recommended Texts (available at Coop or Amazon.com):

John Stauffer, GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and

Abraham Lincoln

James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass,

Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.
Course Packet (readings marked *): on the course website; and at Gnomon Copy, 1304 Mass. Ave. (617-491-1111); ready for pickup on 9/11/13.
Note on texts: you may also read the Lincoln texts transcribed from Roy P.

Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln:



Weekly readings (50-200pp), active class participation (20%)
10-20 minute oral presentation at the beginning of one class during the semester, in which you provide context for the readings, introduce key themes, frame questions that you would like to have discussed, and co-lead the discussion with me. You may partner with one or more students for these presentations. (15%)

Five “pithy commentaries.” In these short, 2-page double-spaced polished reflections, you might do a single “close reading,” make connections between readings, or raise a question that you would like to explore further in a paper or discussion. These pithy commentaries are invaluable for developing critical writing skills and exploring new ideas. They often lead to original essays. Feel free to be creative with these commentaries: ie., imitate or parody Douglass’s or Lincoln’s rhetoric, or create a debate between them.

You may choose which weeks to submit your six pithy commentaries, but they must pertain to the readings of that week. You cannot submit more than one pithy commentary for a given week. You may, however, submit more than five pithy commentaries for extra credit. There are no letter grades, but rather “√” (for satisfactory), “+” (for commendable), or “++” “+++” etc. (for work that is dazzling). (20%)
One 5-7 page paper (1200-2000 words), due 3/25 in class. These short papers may focus on any topic covered in class prior to 3/18. (15%)
Final paper, due on 5/8 at 5:00. Please print out a paper copy and leave it in my box outside my office door in 267 Barker Center.

Final papers may take one of two forms:
1) A creative project inspired by the writings, especially the rhetoric, of Douglass and/or Lincoln, such as a play, screenplay, short story, or contemporary speech.
2) 10-15 page essay that includes at least seven primary and secondary sources.

Paper proposals are due on 4/15. These proposals should include a description of the topic, questions you hope to answer, and key sources.


Class participation: 20%

Oral presentation: 15%

Pithy commentaries: 20%

5-7 page papers: 15%

Final Papers: 30%

Late papers and missed classes:
If an emergency arises, please let me know as soon as possible. I will grant extensions on papers without penalty as long as you contact me prior to the paper’s deadline. If you request an extension 0-24 hours prior to the deadline, I’ll grant you a one-day extension; if it is two days prior to the deadline, I’ll grant you a two-day extension; and so on, with a limit of a two-week extension under normal circumstances. This policy encourages you to plan ahead and be forthcoming with me about problems that interfere with your coursework.
If you are sick and think you may miss class, let me know in advance if at all possible and I will not penalize you for the absence. If you miss class more than once, you will need a note from your senior tutor to avoid being penalized in your class participation grade.
Without an extension, late pithy commentaries will receive a "zero" and graded papers will be penalized by one-third of a grade per day (i.e., "A-" to "B+").
Missing a class without contacting me prior to it will result in a 10% reduction of your class participation grade.
You can reach me by text and phone (617-642-7108). I receive too many emails to be able to respond to all of them within twenty-four hours, so if you want a prompt response, please text or call.

Week One (January 28): Introduction

Week Two (February 11): Fugitive Orator and Frontier Politician
*Douglass, “I have come to tell you . . . “ (1841). (2pp)

Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) (90pp)

Lincoln, “Young Men’s Lyceum Address” (1838), Great Speeches.

Lincoln “Washington Temperance Society Address” (1842), Selected

*Columbian Orator, Introduction; “Dialogue Between Master and

Slave” (2pp pdf)

*Aesop’s Fables, Selections (2 pp pdf))

Week Three (February 18): Editor and Whig

James Piltch and Josiah Corbus presenting:
Douglass, “Slavery: The Slumbering Volcano” 4/23/49, Speeches
*Lincoln, “The Rebecca Letter,” 8/27/42

Lincoln, “Presidential Question,” 7/27/48, Great Speeches
*Kenneth Cmiel, “The Democratic Idiom”

Week Four (February 19, 20): Radical Abolitionist and Republican

(This make-up class has two sections)

Thursday, February 19, 8-10pm, Barker Center 024 (same room)

John Stauffer presenting.
Friday, February 20, 2-4pm, Barker Center 024 (same room)

Matt Wardrop and Chloe Do presenting.

Douglass, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro” (1852), in Speeches.

Douglass, “The Heroic Slave” (1853), in Speeches.
*Lincoln, “Speech at Peoria, Illinois,” 10/16/54
*John Stauffer and Robert Levine, “Introduction” to Heroic Slave.

Week Five (February 25): Radical Abolitionist and Republican, 2

Gwen Thomas, Mike Luo, Chris Higginson presenting.
Douglass, “Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered” 7/12/54, in


Douglass, “The Dred Scott Decision,” 5/14/57, in Speeches
Lincoln, “Speech at Kalamazoo,” 8/27/56, in Selected Speeches

Lincoln, “Speech on Dred Scott,” 6/26/57, in Selected Speeches

Week Six (March 4): Lincoln-(Stephen) Douglas Debates (156 pp)

Anna Walsh and David Kilstein presenting.
Angle, ed., Created Equal: The Complete Lincoln-Douglas Debates:

“House Divided” pp. 1-9 (ch. 1)

“Ottawa Debate” pp. 102-37 (ch. 4)

“Galesburg Debate” pp. 285-321 (ch. 10)

“Quincy Debate” pp. 322-60 (ch. 11)
Note: You might also listen to them on “Lincoln-Douglas Debates, with

David Strathhairn and Richard Dreyfuss,” DVD.

Week Seven (March 11): Revolutionary and Presidential


Aaron Henricks and Julianna Aucoin presenting.
Douglass, “West Indian Emancipation,” 8/3/57, Selected Speeches
Lincoln, “Address at Cooper Institute,” 2/27/60, in the Appendix of

Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union.
Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union: Intro, chs. 1, 6.

Week Eight (March 18): No Class (Spring Break)

Week Nine (March 25): Abolitionist Warrior & War President, 1

Amy Zeng and Martin Carlino presenting.
Short paper due in class
Lincoln, “Farewell Address at Springfield,” 2/11/61, Great Speeches

Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” 3/4/61, Great Speeches

*Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” draft

Lincoln, “Message to Congress in Special Session,” 7/4/61 Great

Douglass, “Inaugural Address” and “Trip to Haiti,” April/May 61,

Selected Speeches

Douglass, “The War and How to End It,” 3/25/62, Selected Speeches

Week Ten (April 1): Abolitionist Warrior & War President, 2

Alyza Sebenius and Miles Hewitt presenting.
Lincoln, “Address on Colonization,” 8/14/62, Selected Speeches

Lincoln, “Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” 9/22/62, Selected


Lincoln, “Annual Message to Congress, 12/1/62,” Great Speeches

Lincoln, “Final Emancipation Proclamation, 1/1/63,” Great Speeches
Douglass, “The War and How to End It” 3/25/62, Selected Speeches

Douglass, “Slaveholders’ Rebellion,” 7/4/62, Selected Speeches

Douglass, “The President and His Speeches,” 9/62, Selected Speeches

Douglass, “A Day for Poetry and Song,” 12/28/62, Selected Speeches

Week Eleven (April 8): The Mission at Gettysburg

Kate Massinger and Camila Victoriano presenting.
Douglass, “The Mission of the War,” 1/13/64, Selected Speeches

*David Blight, Frederick Douglass’ Civil War, ch. 8
Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,” 11/19/63

Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Prologue, chs. 4-5

Week Twelve (April 15): Endings, Lincoln

Kristin Holladay and Jasmine Panton presenting.
Proposal Due
Lincoln, “Second Inaugural,” 3/4/65, Great Speeches

Ronald White, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, chs. 2,3,5,7,8
Lincoln, “Last Public Address,” 4/11/65, Great Speeches

Week Thirteen (April 22): Endings, Douglass

Chris McKenna and Claire Blumenthal presenting.
*Douglass, “Our Martyred President”

Douglass, “The Need for Continued Anti-Slavery Work,” 5/10/65,

Selected Speeches

Douglass, “The Future of the Colored Race,” 5/66, Selected Speeches

Week Fourteen (April 29): Post-War

Eileen Storey presenting.
Douglass, “Oration in Memory of Lincoln,” 4/14/76, Selected Speeches

Douglass, “John Brown Speech,” 5/30/81, Selected Speeches.

Douglass, “The Civil Rights Case,” 10/22/83, Selected Speeches

*Douglass, “Self-Made Men,” March 1893

Douglass, “The Lesson of the Hour,” 1/9/94, Selected Speeches

Final paper, in hardcopy, due on 5/8 at 5:00 in my box outside 267 Barker Center.

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