Rhetoric is a public speaking game. Rhetoric is how people in positions of power win you over and get you to see things from their perspective and support them. Rhetoric is how politicians make you vote for them. Rhetoric is how movements and revolutions are started. Rhetoric is how I raised your curiosity so that you read the examples of famous speeches below:

3 Examples of Rhetoric in Speeches

Rhetoric in a Dream

“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King Jr., and that dream became the dream of millions.

Dr. King, a passionate orator, made use of several rhetorical techniques to communicate the messages of equality, justice and peace during the violent civil rights era.

  • Anaphora is a rhetorical device consisting of the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive phrases or sentences.

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

  • Metaphors are also spread throughout the speech—sometimes short ones, such as “quicksands” and “solid rock,” and others extended, creating a complex image, such as the one in which the US is likened to a bank, the citizens to creditors, and their rights to checks:

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check…It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ ”

  • Allusion helps Dr. King to further the idea that Americans share a common national ancestry, represented by Abraham Lincoln:

“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”

  • Hyperbole is blended with metaphors:

“I have a dream that every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight…”

  • Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Dr. King weaved these rhetorical appeals throughout his “I Have a Dream” speech. He was a Baptist minister whose ethos was based on faith. He appealed to his audience’s nationalist sense of pride in America by reminding them of the principles their nation fought for and igniting passion within his audience for the cherished dream of equality. He also knew when to focus on one persuasive topic, the rights of African Americans. He was an exceptional orator, and his words contributed to change in the world.

Rhetoric in War

Winston Churchill’s speeches on war are considered among the most inspirational speeches to date.

  • Anaphora: “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
  • Alliteration, the repetition of the same consonant at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words:

“I see also the dull, drilled, docile, brutish masses of the Hun soldiery plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts.”

“We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will.”

  • Antistrophe, the repetition of words at the end of successive phrases.

“…the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace…”

  • Antithesis, the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases:

“The government cannot make up their mind or they cannot get the prime minister to make up his mind. So they go out in a strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

“If we are together, nothing is impossible, if we are divided all will fail.”

  • Antimetabole, the repetition of words in successive clauses, but with their order transposed:

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

  • Assonance, similarity in the sounds between internal vowels in neighboring words:

“The odious apparatus of Nazi rule.”

  • Cacophony, the use of harsh phrasing, is done for effect:

“That hideous apparatus of aggression which gashed Holland into ruin and slavery…”

  • Catachresis is a highly unusual or outlandish comparison:

“If we fail, the whole world, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister by the lights of perverted science.”

  • Epizeuxis, emphatic repetition:

“…this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.”

  • Hypophora involves asking a question and immediately answering it:

“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”

  • Litotes is a deliberate understatement for dramatic effect:

“Business carried on as usual during alterations on the map of Europe.”

  • Metaphor is used to compare two notions that may often not be alike by stating that one is the other:

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

  • Metonymy is the use of a single term or image to represent a wider concept:

“We welcome Russia to her rightful place…we welcome her flag upon the sea.”

  • Paronomasia involves the use of similar-sounding words or phrases:

“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

  • Simile is a comparison between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common:

“(General de Gaulle) … had a face like a llama surprised in the bath.”

  • Tricolon is the use of words, phrases and examples in threes:

“Never in the history of human endeavor has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

The speech itself mainly was an update for the parliament on how the warfront proceeded regarding the aspects of England’s armed forces, but it became a powerful speech to inspire people throughout the ages.

Rhetoric in Inauguration

Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech contained a plethora of rhetorical devices as well.

      • Syntheton is a rhetorical device that involves joining two words with a conjunction for emphasis. Obama used it extensively at the sentence level: “effort and determination,” “passion and dedication,” “security and dignity,” “hazards and misfortune,” “initiative and enterprise,” “fascism or communism,” “muskets and militia,” and so on.
      • Anaphora, the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or sentences, was also used repetitively: “Together, we”; “We, the people”; “Our journey is not complete until”; ending with “You and I, as citizens.”
      • Climax consists of arranging words, clauses or sentences in the order of increasing importance, weight or emphasis, in this case, linking past and present in the same sentence: “It will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.” That climax is given extra strength through the repetition “years” and by referencing the US Constitution, which opens with the phrase “We, the people.”
      • The tricolon “the poor, the sick, the marginalized” and the one in “our generation’s task to make these words, these rights, these values —of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—real” invoke the Declaration of Independence.
      • Allusion to Martin Luther King is made by Obama when he mentions hearing “a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
      • Alliteration, the recurrence of initial consonant sounds, can be found in the line about “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall […] all those men and women, sung and unsung,” where antithesis can also be observed.
      • Antithesis establishes a clear, contrasting relationship between two ideas by joining them together, such as in “these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
      • Ethos, Pathos, Logos

In order to establish his good moral character, Obama addressed the audience with formality, without using any unfair discursive tactic, and by aligning himself with the Founding Fathers and Martin Luther King. Throughout the speech, historical analogy was utilized to logically support the arguments in which Obama stated that every citizen was created equal as they learned from their forefathers. To appeal to the audience emotionally, he evoked nationalism among Americans and referred to the historic social movements of women’s rights, racial justice and gay rights. By doing so, Obama gained the sympathy of the people who were oppressed.


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