Masaryk university faculty of education

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Lincoln versus Bush

While there are vast differences between Lincoln’s and Bush’s speeches, mainly the 140-year difference affecting basically all language features, there are also some shared commonalities. Both were facing a non-traditional enemy, in Bush’s case the terrorists, in Lincoln’s case the rebels. Both speeches were given in Congress, where Lincoln asked for a declaration of war on his own people in order to preserve the Union while Bush asked for declaration of war on terror, wherever it might be, in order to also preserve the safety of the Union. Both presidents faced attacks on American soil, in Lincoln’s case the attack on Fort Sumter, in Bush’s the attacks on the Twin towers and the Pentagon.

As depicted in chart 9.1, both presidents focused on basically opposite topics, Lincoln emphasizing justification, steps that failed and the issue, while Bush presented a plan, appealed to American values and stressed we are good. The only topic both speakers valued equally is they are bad, but seeing a correlation would be too presumptuous.

Chart 9.1

It can be suggested that the level of confidence was greater in Bush’s case, facing his enemy in current time and place. Based on the individual analyses, it is also clear, that Bush was angry but confident in his quest for peace, whereas Lincoln was confident as well but also openly disappointed.

In terms of vocabulary or syntax, there is perhaps no other pair of speeches more dissimilar than Lincoln’s and Bush’s. While no comparison of style, syntax or even content is possible, ideas might be the sole topic where both speakers could relate.



And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy -- a Government of the people, by the same people -- can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes.

The civilized world is rallying to America's side. They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror, unanswered, can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments.

And having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.

Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America

In these examples, Lincoln is facing an issue greater than the fate of the United States, this being the fate of the democratic experience. Bush, in similar terms also faces a global issue, dealing with terrorism and its possible impacts, including threatening the stability of legitimate governments.

The second excerpts are the closing lines of both presidents, offering surprisingly similar and sophisticated (in Bush’s case) messages. Consider the similarity between Lincoln’s chosen course, the rightness and purity of the goal, and Bush’s patient justice and rightness of the cause. Both speakers also use God as a governing force, speaking of going forward without fear in Lincoln’s case and confidence in victory in the case of Bush. Whether right or wrong, whether successful or not, it is confidence in their quest, and in their discourse, which brings these two men closer.

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