Saturday, May 20, 2017

Booknotes: A War of Words

New Arrival:

A War of Words: The Rhetorical Leadership of Jefferson Davis by R. Jarrod Atchison (Univ of Ala Pr, 2017).

In terms of their rallying their people to a common cause and eliciting support for government policies (especially the most controversial measures), the rhetorical powers of President Davis are typically deemed to have paled in comparison to those used by President Lincoln during the Civil War. R. Jarrod Atchison’s A War of Words is the first in-depth analysis of the leadership effectiveness of Davis's public speaking. The study "uses concepts from rhetorical theory and public address to help answer a question that has intrigued scholars from a variety of disciplines since the collapse of the Confederacy: what role, if any, did Davis play in the collapse of Confederate nationalism?"

Instead of focusing on the consequences to the Confederate nation of Davis's military decision-making, the book argues that "Jefferson Davis’s rhetorical leadership should have been responsible for articulating a vision for the nation—including the core tenets of its identity, the values the nation should hold dear, the principles it should never compromise, and the goals it should set for its future." Expressing the idea that "being a great orator is not synonymous with successful rhetorical leadership," the author "posits that Davis’s initial successes constrained his rhetorical options later in the war. A War of Words concludes that, in the end, Davis’s rhetorical leadership was a failure because he was unable to articulate a coherent Confederate identity in light of the sacrifices endured by the populace in order to sustain the war effort."

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