Thursday, May 08, 2014
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Native Lincolnite publishes article on Lincoln's political rhetoric

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[May 08, 2014]  SPRINGFIELD, MO - The lead article in the recently published issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (JALA) is an 11,000-word composition by D. Leigh Henson, professor emeritus of English at Missouri State University. The title of the article is ďClassical Rhetoric as a Lens for Reading the Key Speeches of Lincolnís Political Rise, 1852Ė1856.Ē JALA ďis the only journal devoted exclusively to Lincoln scholarship.Ē JALA, published twice a year by the University of Illinois Press, selects only a few article submissions, and articles published have been revised by their authors according to critiques provided by several anonymous scholars. Henson, a native of Lincoln, Illinois, attended Lincoln College and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in English at Illinois State University.

Hensonís article discusses communicative elements in several of Lincolnís speeches just before, during, and after he began his celebrated, second political career in 1854. Lincoln returned to politics after his undistinguished one term in Congress ended in 1849, so that he could oppose efforts to expand slavery into new territories and the free states. Lincolnís return to politics involved him in helping to establish the Illinois Republican Party in 1856. His party leadership in turn led to the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, then to his 1860 presidential election.

The communicative elements Henson discusses in Lincolnís speeches derive from classical rhetoricóthe work of Greek and Roman writers who established the field of study dealing with the theory, practice, and instruction of discourse. Henson explains that familiarity with classical rhetoric enables readers to gain a better understanding of how Lincoln adapted the content, organization, and style of his speeches to suit his political purposes and audiences. Some of Lincolnís key speeches of this period refute Senator Stephen A. Douglasís position that local governments in new territories should decide whether to allow slavery. Lincoln argued that slavery is a national, not a local, problem. Lincoln found the solution to slavery grounded in the principle of the Declaration of Independence that ďall men are created equal.Ē Lincoln insisted that slavery should be confined to Southern states, where the Constitution allowed it and where it would eventually die out. Lincolnís political rhetoric benefited from his lawyerly ability to expose contradictions and fallacies in his adversariesí positions.

This article pays special attention to Lincolnís strategies of organizing his arguments. Henson explains that Lincolnís two-hour, 1854 Peoria address is a textbook example of how to organize a political speech according to classical rhetoric. Lincolnís subsequent speeches of this period demonstrate flexible use of classical organization to suit his message and audience. These speeches were the first indication of Lincolnís growing communicative power that enabled him to advance to the White House. His presidential writing eventually distinguished him as a statesman and world-renowned man of letters.

This article also explores sources of classical rhetoric that may have influenced Lincolnís communicative knowledge and skill during his life-long efforts of self-education. Those sources include textbooks and anthologies he read in his youth and the speeches he later studied of Senator Daniel Webster, whose formal education included the study of classical rhetoric. Henson also notes that todayís students continue to study rhetoric as an academic field to help them analyze, evaluate, and create written and spoken discourse, including communication on the job. He maintains that this study benefits from the use of writing models with traits derived from classical rhetoric.

Henson is a fourth-generation link in a chain of historians and Lincoln buffs from Logan County, Illinois, who passed their interest in Abraham Lincoln to the next generation. As a student at Jefferson School in the early 1950s, Henson heard stories of the Lincoln legend told by E.H. Lukenbill, county superintendent of public instruction. Hensonís interest in Abraham Lincoln further stems from a course he took as a freshman at Lincoln College in 1960Ė61. That course on Lincolnís life and times was taught by the renowned historian James T. Hickey. For many years Hickey was the curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Illinois State Historical Library, now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Hickey was a protťgť of Judge Lawrence B. Stringer, author of the encyclopedic History of Logan County, Illinois, 1911. It features a chapter on Abraham Lincolnís legal and political activity in central Illinois that has been cited by major Lincoln biographers. Stringer drew upon the friendship and reminiscence of Robert B. Latham, one of the three founding fathers of Lincoln, Illinois (1853)óthe first namesake town. Abraham Lincoln was the attorney for the townís founders, and the town was founded before he became famous. Latham was also a founder of Lincoln University, now Lincoln College. Latham was a personal and political friend of Abraham Lincoln and a Union colonel in the Civil War. Stringer was the first major benefactor of the newly relocated and enhanced Lincoln Heritage Museum of Lincoln College.

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The Lincolnian seed that Lukenbill and Hickey planted in Hensonís education lay dormant for forty years. It did not germinate until after he had completed his formal education at Illinois State University, had taught high school English for thirty years in Pekin, Illinois, and was well into his fourteen-year career of teaching technical communication at Missouri State University. In 2004 the Illinois State Historical Society gave a Superior Achievement Award to Hensonís community history website of Lincoln, Illinois. In 2008Ė09 he was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of that town. He researched and wrote the play script for the 2008 re-enactment of the 1858 Republican rally in Lincoln the day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate. Lincoln delivered a stump speech at the rally, but no copy of it has been found. Hensonís play script features a ďreasonable facsimileĒ of that speech and rally, including give-and-take with the audience. The re-enactment was accomplished through collaboration with Paul Beaver, professor emeritus of history at Lincoln College; Ron Keller, director of the Lincoln Heritage Museum; and Wanda Lee Rohlfs, civic leader.

In 2008 Henson proposed erecting a statue of Abraham Lincoln the 1858 Senate candidate and a corresponding historical marker, both to be installed on the lawn of the Logan County Courthouse, where the 1858 rally took place. Presently a local committee is raising funds for those purposes. In 2012 Hensonís book titled The Town Lincoln Warned: The Living Namesake History of Lincoln, Illinois, received a Superior Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society. In 2013 he proposed several additional statues of Lincoln in Lincoln to expand its namesake heritage, strengthen civic pride, and increase heritage tourism. Also in 2013 the Lincoln Elementary School District #27 honored Henson as one of four distinguished alumni. Henson continues to research Lincolnís political rhetoric.

Henson is an elected member of the Society of Midland Authors. He is also a member of the Illinois Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress. He shares information about his Abraham Lincoln research, Illinois history, historic preservation, and heritage tourism on social media at Facebook and LinkedIn. His LinkedIn site has links to his various online publications: Access the JALA website at JALA publishes its articles online six months after they appear in print. Access an overview and pictorial supplement to Hensonís article about Lincolnís rhetoric at

[Text received; D. LEIGH HENSON, Ph.D.]

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