Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Words matter. America was founded with a five-word mission statement: "All men are created equal." The nation's most successful politicians have understood the power of words. Theodore Roosevelt claimed the nation's chief executive could lay out his agenda from the "bully pulpit," while Franklin Delano Roosevelt calmed the public's fears throughout his term in office during regular fireside chats. Similarly, John F. Kennedy challenged the nation with his rhetoric to look beyond "what your country can do for you" and ask instead "what you can do for your country," while Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 propelled him onto the national stage. Abraham Lincoln not only understood the power of words, but he knew how to use them to his advantage. Words were the secret to his success; indeed, they continue to serve his legacy well. While scholarly studies of Lincoln's rhetoric have steadily increased over the last fifteen years, the historiography remains consumed with his presidency. However, by beginning the story of Lincoln's eloquence in the White House, scholars have neglected his painfully revealing personal and literary evolution. Despite the thousands of books written about the sixteenth president, there has never been a full-length study devoted to his poetry. His intensely autobiographical poetry remains one of the last great untapped reservoirs for scholars. Not only does Lincoln's poetry reveal that he was engaged in a lifelong struggle to come to terms with loss, but his private poetry also found its way into his public speeches. In the process, he helped a nation find meaning in the confusion and tragedy of civil war.
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