On Women's Right to Vote

by Susan B. Anthony

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What rhetorical devices does Susan B. Anthony use in her women's suffrage speech?

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In “On Women's Right to Vote,” Susan B. Anthony uses the rhetorical categories of logos, ethos, and pathos to appeal to her audience, as well as contrasts, repetition, parallelism, hyperbole, a rhetorical question, and a syllogism.

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In her speech “On Women's Right to Vote,” Susan B. Anthony uses several rhetorical devices. She begins by setting forth her position quite clearly. She has not committed a crime by voting in the presidential election; she has merely exercised her rights as a citizen, rights she possess...

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under the Constitution. This straightforward presentation is an appeal to logos, to the audience's logic and reason. However, it also probably contains an element of surprise for at least some members of her audience. Anthony claims herright to vote even though such was denied to women.

Anthony then quotes the Constitution and again uses logos. The document says “we, the people” not “we, the white male citizens.” This contrast is striking, and Anthony draws it out, contrasting male citizens to the whole people, the notions of giving versus securing the “blessings of liberty,” and the idea of half versus whole.

The speaker next moves on to appeal to her audience's sense of ethos. For states to deny the vote simply on the basis of a person's sex, she claims, is to withhold the blessings of liberty forever “from women and their female posterity.” This is not right. It goes directly against the constitution, and the audience should be morally appalled by such action. Women are, she claims, deprived of their right of “the consent of the governed.”

Anthony's next section uses repetition to great effect. Women, she maintains, do not live in a democracy or a republic, but rather an “odious aristocracy” and a “hateful oligarchy of sex.” She repeats the words “aristocracy” and especially “oligarchy” for added emphasis and again uses contrast to talk about different kinds of oligarchies. While they are all negative, the one at work in America is worse than them all. She appeals to both ethos and pathos as she describes this oligarchy of sex as making “father, brothers, husband, son” into “oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household.” Notice the parallelism here as well as the contrast. These families are split along male and female lines, and Anthony's language rises to rhetorical heights of hyperbole when she declares that this system “ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects” and “carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home in the nation.” This isn't, of course, literally true, but it is effective rhetoric.

Anthony ends her speech with a rhetorical question: “Are women persons?” Even her opponents, she says, would answer in the affirmative. Therefore, a simple syllogism applies. If women are persons, they are citizens. If citizens cannot be denied the right to vote, then women cannot be denied the right to vote either.

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Rhetorical devices, or literary devices, are uses of language which create literary effects. Common examples of these are metaphors, similes, hyperboles, and oxymorons.

There are many examples of rhetorical devices in Susan B. Anthony's speech, On Women's Right to Vote.

In the last sentence of the first paragraph, one can justify that personification exists. (Personification is the giving of human characteristics to non-human/non-living things.) The line is as follows: "Beyond the power of any state to deny." While literally, one can see that Anthony is speaking about the collective of people who from the state, another interpretation is that the state itself has the power. In fact, a state has no power; only the people within the state have the power. Therefore, this could be justified as being an example of personification.

Another example of a rhetorical device is seen in the following: "not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity." This could be regarded as a hyperbole. (A hyperbole is an exaggeration used for effect.) Anthony is not speaking about a half of a person. Instead, she is talking about only half of the nation is being counted--the male half.

One last rhetorical device used in the speech is amplification. (Amplification is the repetitive use of a word while adding more detail to the word for emphasis.) One can see the use of amplification in the following paragraph through Anthony's use of the word "oligarchy."

To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household - which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation.

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One of Anthony's most persuasive techniques used is that she appeals to the promises of American democracy and contrasts it with its reality.  This parallelism is highly effective in her work and in her speeches.  Anthony did not hesitate to point out that the founding of America, as a nation, was predicated upon the idea that individual voices need to be validated.  A social or political practice that excludes goes against the very grain of American History and its narrative of democratic self- rule.  This enables Anthony to establish a compelling parallelism between what is and what should be.  Anthony was wise enough to not simply dismiss America, but rather argue that the fundamental greatness of the nation and the democratic settings is one where it recognizes its mistakes and quickly seeks to rectify them.  In this notion of "forming a more perfect union," Anthony is able to present her vision of women's suffrage in a manner that is able to be seen not merely as a political response, but rather as a historical reality in the American narrative.  In utilizing this parallelism as a rhetorical device, Anthony is able to persuade the audience of the pressing need for individual rights.

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Rhetorical devices can include repetition for emphasis, repetition for effect, phrases building in effect or impact as they follow one another, asking questions without expecting a direct answer, and more.

Anthony uses repetition for emphasis and effect when she describes the type of government that women face while they are not allowed to participate in the governmental process through vote. It is "an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy...the most hateful aristocracy ever established...an oligarchy of wealth." She adds to the distasteful nature of the government with each new description.

Anthony draws her speech to a close by asking a rhetorical question. Her speech has already presented her argument that women are people. She has stated her case that the Preamble to the Constitution includes all people, which therefore means women are included in the rights listed as being given to all citizens of the United States by the Constitution. She has pointed out that one of those rights is the securing of liberty to current and future citizens. When Anthony asks, "Are women persons?", she is driving home the conclusion of her argument. Since she has already established that women are persons, they should be entitled to all the rights being given by the Constitution, including the right to liberty, which means being allowed to vote.

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