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Rhetoric and Propaganda During the American Revolution

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Presentation on theme: "Rhetoric and Propaganda During the American Revolution"— Presentation transcript:

1 Rhetoric and Propaganda During the American Revolution

2 “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” - John Adams Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials (November 4, 1770)

3 Rhetoric in the Revolution
In addition to speeches, printed texts such as newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides used rhetoric (the art/skill of using language effectively and persuasively, often using exaggeration) to communicate ideas. Just as printed texts and sociable associations such as coffeehouses helped to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment, so too did they help to spread ideas about American independence from Great Britain.


5 Examples of Colonial Rhetoric
John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon Feudal Law: “Have not some generals from England treated us like servants, nay, more like slaves than like Britons? Have we not been under the most ignominious contribution, the most abject submission, the most supercilious insults, of some custom-house officers? Have we not been trifled with, brow-beaten, and trampled on, by former governors, in a manner which no king of England since James the Second has dared to indulge towards his subjects?”

6 “...Let us not suppose that all are become luxurious, effeminate, and unreasonable, on the other side the water, as many designing persons would insinuate. Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted. Let us take it for granted, that the same great spirit which once gave Cesar so warm a reception, which denounced hostilities against John till Magna Charta was signed, which severed the head of Charles the First from his body, and drove James the Second from his kingdom, the same great spirit (may heaven preserve it till the earth shall be no more) which first seated the great grandfather of his present most gracious majesty on the throne of Britain, — is still alive and active and warm in England; and that the same spirit in America, instead of provoking the inhabitants of that country, will endear us to them for ever, and secure their good-will.”

7 Slave Petition to the Governor, Council, and House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts (1774) “...we have in common with all other men a naturel right to our freedoms without Being depriv'd of them by our fellow men as we are a freeborn Pepel and have never forfeited this Blessing by aney compact or agreement whatever. But we were unjustly dragged by the cruel hand of power from our dearest frinds and sum of us stolen from the bosoms of our tender Parents and from a Populous Pleasant and plentiful country and Brought hither to be made slaves for Life in a Christian land. Thus are we deprived of every thing that hath a tendency to make life even tolerable... Our children are also taken from us by force and sent maney miles from us wear we seldom or ever see them again there to be made slaves of for Life which sumtimes is vere short by Reson of Being dragged from their mothers Breest Thus our Lives are imbittered to us on these accounts By our deplorable situation we are rendered incapable of shewing our obedience to Almighty God...”

8 Propaganda in the Revolution
Propaganda is one-sided information intended to persuade either in favor or against a position. Propaganda often takes the form of powerful, symbolic, allegorical imagery. Political cartoons and engravings were common forms of propaganda during the Revolution. Rhetoric refers to skill with words, but the same understanding of how to manipulate the thoughts and emotions of the audience is vital to creating effective propaganda as well. The two concepts go hand-in-hand.

9 Benjamin Wilson, The Repeal or Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp March 18, 1766

10 The short-term effect of the violent riots against the Stamp Act of 1765 was the repeal of the Act a year later. This image celebrates the “death” of the Stamp Act by depicting it being carried to a tomb in a child's coffin. George Grenville, the engineer of the Act, is the man carrying the coffin. Other proponents of the Act - Bute, Bedford, and Temple - follow him. The ships are labeled: “Conway,” “Rockingham,” and “Grafton” - these were the names of Parliamentary leaders who repealed the Stamp Act. The ships are leaving Britain's shores to represent the resumption of British-American trade (which was halted by the non- importation agreements). Returned stamps are piled on the dock. This satirical print was popular and widely circulated.

11 Paul Revere, A view of the obelisk erected under Liberty-tree in Boston on the rejoicings for the repeal of the Stamp Act (1766)


13 Ben Franklin, Join, or Die (1754)

14 While it was originally created for the purposes of inspiring the colonies to unite against France during the French and Indian War, (the Albany Plan of Union) during the Revolution, the allegory became emblematic of the American struggle against the British.

15 Christopher Gadsden's Don't Tread on Me Flag (1775)

16 North Carolina statesman and general Christopher Gadsden designed this famous flag early in the Revolutionary War. The phrase, “Don't Tread on Me” is a warning (or “rattle”) to the British – much like a rattlesnake will strike if trodden upon, (as the rights of the Americans were perceived to be) so too would the colonies strike back.

17 James Gillray, The American Rattle Snake (1782)

18 James Gillray was a well-known British political cartoonist
James Gillray was a well-known British political cartoonist. This image was drawn during British-American peace negotiations, and represents the American victory at Yorktown, in which American and French forces “constricted” General Cornwallis' British army; the French fleet cut off any chance of escape by sea, and the American forces boxed them in from the land. The caption reads: "Two British Armies I have thus Burgoyn'd, And room for more I've got behind." General Burgoyne led the British army through Canada in part of a failed pincer movement to isolate New England from the rest of the colonies. The colonial forces wore down his slow-moving retinue as he made various strategic blunders along the way. He famously lost to the Americans in the Battle of Saratoga, against forces partially led by Benedict Arnold. Gillray's satirical cartoon suggests the futility of British attempts to force the Americans into line.

19 Why was the rattlesnake so often used as a symbol of America?

20 Benjamin Franklin on the Rattlesnake as Symbol of America
“[T]he ancients considered the serpent as an emblem of wisdom, and in a certain attitude of endless duration... countries are sometimes represented by animals peculiar to them, it occurred to me that the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America, and may therefore have been chosen, on that account, to represent her....I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her....The Rattle- Snake is solitary, and associates with her kind only when it is necessary for their preservation. In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish. ...”

21 Anonymous American Engraving (1776)

22 The woman with the giant wig represents Britain; the Native American women represents America.
Britain: “I'll force you to Obedience, you Rebellious Slut.” America: “Liberty, Liberty forever, Mother, while I exist.” Why might women have been used to represent these two sides? Why might a Native American represent America?


24 The Great Financier, or British Economy for the Years 1763, 1764 and 1765" (colonial engraving)

25 This image shows a Native American (again representing America) buckling under a load of British rubbish, representing taxes. William Pitt and George Grenville are also depicted in the piece.

26 Paul Revere, The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Drought (1774)

27 This engraving depicts Lord North (who repealed the Townshend Acts, but kept the tax on tea) pouring tea down the throat of an Indian woman representing an ailing America. Other members of the British government are present, one holding a sword which reads, “Military Law,” and another peeking under the woman's skirt, a reference to the British violation of the colonists' rights. At the left, men representing Spain and France discuss whether or not they should aid America.

28 Henry Hawkins, Liberty Triumphant; or the Downfall of Oppression (1776)

29 This image depicts Native Americans (representing America again) aiming at Britain with bows and arrows. It was created shortly before the Declaration of Independence was issued. Far from being victims, these Indians are aiming straight for Lord North, representing British oppression in general. Near the American Indians are Tories (Loyalists).

30 Three Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

31 The Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770)
Colonial protest over the Townshend Acts escalated throughout The Massachusetts assembly was dissolved by Governor Francis Bernard in response to its vocal opposition to the Acts; this prompted further mob violence. The British sent in troops to maintain public order and protect the customs officials that were targeted. Those same officials then seized John Hancock’s ship Liberty for his continued violation of the trade acts. Hancock was a wealthy merchant and smuggler, and he had close ties to the resistance movement. The British sent in two regiments of troops to further police Boston.

32 The Americans already resented the British soldiers on their soil; this increased military presence only exacerbated the tensions. On March 5, 1770, eight colonials (including a mulatto dockworker named Crispus Attucks) harassed a group of British soldiers, throwing snowballs and taunting them. It is unclear what precisely sparked the first shot, but it does not seem that it was ordered by the commander. In any case, the other troops followed suit and five of the eight civilians (beginning with Attucks) were killed. This event was quickly mythologized and inspired a great amount of propaganda and rhetoric.

33 Image A Who: Paul Revere What: The Bloody Massacre Where: Boston When: 1770

34 Image B Who: John Bufford after William L
Image B Who: John Bufford after William L. Champey What: The Boston Massacre Where: Boston When: 1856

35 Image C Who: Alonzo Chappel What: The Boston Massacre Where: Boston When: 1868

36 Broadside of the Boston Massacre, 1770.

37 Colonial Newspaper Reporting Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775)

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