During a time of racial unrest, as well

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During the 1960’s, America was
divided over the voting rights of African
Americans, who had won their
freedom from slavery a century before but had not yet gained the right to
vote. This was a time of racial unrest, as well as a time of political unrest,
as the current president, Lyndon B. Johnson encouraged Congress to pass
the Voting Rights Act. His desire to have this act passed is
expressed through his speech,
“We Shall Overcome,” which was
delivered to Congress on March 16, 1965. In doing this, Johnson broke many boundaries that had previously been
set by his predecessors. Johnson’s goal of passing the
Voting Rights Act through his speech “We Shall Overcome”
was especially effective due to his usage of pathos and allusion.

Throughout the speech,
Johnson uses a great deal of pathos to rally more support for his cause. He often
mentions the very recent violence that occurred in Selma, Alabama, when saying, “So it
was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long-suffering men and women peacefully
protested the denial of their rights as Americans.” Johnson takes the
opportunity that arises with this particular situation to
allow for a rhetorical conversation to take place. In
this sense, he is appealing to the emotions of many American people, both Congressmen and ordinary
citizens, to encourage them to support his cause. Without mentioning this violent event that had
occurred a week prior to his delivery of the speech, there would not be much timeliness
to his argument, and it would not have been nearly as effective. Furthermore, the
timeliness used in his speech as he said, “There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma.
There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of
millions of Americans,” contributed to the pathos that he was able to
utilize throughout the speech. By purging his emotions to the American people, he was able to
encourage more support for his cause. The timeliness of his argument gave the speech a
great deal more meaning, and it heightened the emotions of
many who heard or read it.

In “We Shall Overcome,” Johnson often alludes to different
texts from American

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History. For example, he gives examples from both the
Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation, as he says, “‘All men are
created equal’-‘government by the consent of the governed,'” to support
his ideas and arguments. In doing this, he is not only backing up his
ideas, but he is also connecting the dots between different
contexts and periods of time. When he quotes a lines of the old
song, “We Shall Overcome”, when saying, “and we shall overcome,” he allows
people to understand the lines
that can be drawn from the quotes’ context both when it was written, and
when Johnson gave this speech. This is extremely important to the
interpretation of the speech’s text because it
shows the members of Congress, as well as the general public, that
Johnson feels that these texts still have relevance today and that they should still
be used when governing the country.

            Johnson’s goal of
getting the Voting Rights Act passed through his speech “We Shall Overcome” was
useful due to his usage of pathos and allusion. Johnson broke many constraints
of the time period throughout the course of his speech. He was more publicly
passionate about this civil rights issue that most of his predecessors had cared
to show. In many ways he risked losing the support of many Americans by showing
his support for an act on a topic that was very controversial at the time. HE
was very successful in presenting his arguments though, as Congress did
eventually pass this Civil Rights Act. Johnson’s breaking of contextual
constraints led the way towards a new aspect of presidency in supporting civil
rights movements and other ethical ideals, which was not by any means common
for presidents during the time period.

Categories: Emotions


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