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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Deliberative Oratory

By John Quincy Adams (1767–1848)

[From Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory. 1810.]

THE PRINCIPAL feature in the style of deliberative oratory should be simplicity. Not that it disdains, but that it has seldom occasion for decoration. The speaker should be much more solicitous for the thought than for the expression. This constitutes the great difference between the diction proper for this, and that which best suits the two other kinds of oratory. Demonstrative eloquence, intended for show, delights in ostentatious ornament. The speaker is expected to have made previous preparation. His discourse is professedly studied, and all the artifices of speech are summoned to the gratification of the audience. The heart is cool for the reception, the mind is at leisure for the contemplation of polished periods, oratorical numbers, coruscations of metaphor, profound reflection, and subtle ingenuity. But deliberative discussions require little more than prudence and integrity. Even judicial oratory supposes a previous painful investigation of his subject by the speaker, and exacts an elaborate, methodical conduct of the discourse. But deliberative subjects often arise on a sudden, and allow of no premeditation. Hearers are disinclined to advice which they perceive the speaker has been dressing up in his closet. Ambitious ornament should then be excluded, rather than sought. Plain sense, clear logic, and above all ardent sensibility, these are the qualities needed by those who give, and those who take, counsel. A profusion of brilliancy betrays a speaker more full of himself than of his cause; more anxious to be admired than believed. The stars and ribbons of princely favor may glitter on the breast of the veteran hero at a birthday-ball; but, exposed to the rage of battle, they would only direct the bullet to his heart. A deliberative orator should bury himself in his subject. Like a superintending providence, he should be visible only in his mighty works. Hence that universal prejudice, both of ancient and modern times, against written deliberative discourses; a prejudice which bade defiance to all the thunders of Demosthenes. In the midst of their most enthusiastic admiration of his eloquence, his countrymen nevertheless remarked that his orations “smelt too much of the lamp.”

Let it however be observed that, upon great and important occasions, the deliberative orator may be allowed a more liberal indulgence of preparation. When the cause of ages and the fate of nations hangs upon the thread of a debate, the orator may fairly consider himself as addressing, not only his immediate hearers, but the world at large, and all future times. Then it is, that, looking beyond the moment in which he speaks, and the immediate issue of the deliberation, he makes the question of an hour a question for every age and every region; takes the vote of unborn millions upon the debate of a little senate, and incorporates himself and his discourse with the general history of mankind. On such occasions and at such times, the oration naturally and properly assumes a solemnity of manner and a dignity of language, commensurate with the grandeur of the cause. Then it is, that deliberative eloquence lays aside the plain attire of her daily occupation, and assumes the port and purple of the queen of the world. Yet even then she remembers that majestic grandeur best comports with simplicity. Her crown and sceptre may blaze with the brightness of the diamond, but she must not, like the kings of the gorgeous East, be buried under a shower of barbaric pearls and gold.