Theodore Dwight Weld's use of the judicial motif in American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/9306t337r

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  • This thesis examines the rhetoric of Theodore Dwight Weld's American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses. Published anonymously in 1839, Weld's publication became the longest antislavery tract in American history. It left its mark on the abolitionist movement itself and future antislavery literary works most notably Uncle Tom's Cabin. Despite its historical and rhetorical importance, Weld's text has been subjected to little critical exploration. This being the case, it is the goal of this study to find the dominant means of persuasion that Weld used to argue to antebellum northern audiences that slavery is evil and should be abolished. Weld accomplishes this goal by using a judicial motif throughout his tract. In his text, Weld acts as prosecutor and asks his readers to act as jurors in judging the legitimacy of slavery in the United States. In doing so, Weld relies on evidence in the form of testimony and newspaper advertisements to prove his arguments. I utilize the Hermagorian system of stasis to shed light on Weld's use of the judicial motif. This system points to four main questions, which represent the main stands of argument between a prosecutor and defense. The four main questions are the stases of conjecture, definition, quality, and objection. Under the stasis of conjecture I show that Weld demonstrates that slavery results when individuals are motivated by absolute arbitrary power. Under the stasis of definition I argue that the South offered the justifications of "necessary evil" and "positive good" in linking their way of life to the institution of slavery. Weld rejects these justifications and establishes his own account of slavery to be a thirst for absolute power over others. In the third stasis of quality I show that Weld argues that human nature is against slavery and therefore, should be abolished. In the last stasis of objection I show that Weld answers the question of whether abolitionists are justified in condemning slavery. Using The Hermagorian system of stasis shows that although each one is applicable to an analysis of Weld's tract, the stases of quality and objection are the most fruitful in establishing the effectiveness of Weld's rhetoric. By combining both emotion and logic for his jurors, Weld accomplishes his role as prosecutor in the case. Once his jurors act in accordance to the judicial motif as members of humanity and see the slaves in the same light, they are forced to bring back a just verdict of guilty because slavery is against the very essence of humanity itself.
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