Rhetorical Analysis

Learning Objectives

  • Use selected textual evidence to complete a rhetorical analysis

Step Two: Reading Rhetorically

Now that we have identified some relevant and related details, we can move on to examining the logic that both Elias Bourdinot and Andrew Jackson use in their speeches. As they employ rhetoric, or the techniques of persuasion, we should be looking for how they make their arguments and what they think is at stake. Completing a rhetorical analysis means looking closely at the words used in a passage—why they were used the way they were and what their implications are. Understanding the rhetoric means understanding the entire rhetorical situation as well, including the author, their audience, their purpose in writing, and the context of their content. During a rhetorical analysis, you also examine their style, tone, claims they make, or specific types of strengths or weaknesses within their arguments (such as types of fallacies). Often, a rhetorical analysis also includes an investigation of the types of appeals used in an argument, such as the ethos, pathos, and logos (appeals to credibility, emotion, or logic). For this exercise, we will not get into a detailed rhetorical analysis, but we still want to closely examine the two speeches and pull out the main concepts and arguments made by the authors.

Watch It

This video explains rhetorical analysis and how examining the words that a speaker uses can help us better understand their argument. In the video, Bernie Sanders makes an argument on a late-night talk show that “we” the people of the United States need to find rational solutions to our problems together, and that he (and not Donald Trump) is the right person to do that. The context—the author, subject, audience, context, genre, and medium—all come into play in considering the rhetorical strengths and purposes of the message.

You can view the transcript for “Rhetorical Analysis: Beyond ethos, pathos, and logos” here (opens in new window).

Try It

Rhetorical Analysis: What is a “Nation?”

One simple way to examine the rhetoric from the two passages is to compare how they each utilize different words. We already looked at how they differed in their use of “civilization.” Now let’s look at another key term that appears in both excerpts–the concept of a “nation.”

Elias Boudinot and Andrew Jackson Speeches

From Boudinot’s speech

From Andrew Jackson’s address:

When before did a nation of Indians step forward and ask for the means of civilization? The Cherokee authorities have adopted the measures already stated, with a sincere desire to make their nation an intelligent and a virtuous people, and with a full hope that those who have already pointed out to them the road of happiness, will now assist them to pursue it. With that assistance, what are the prospects of the Cherokees? Are they not indeed glorious, compared to that deep darkness in which the nobler qualities of their souls have slept. Yes, methinks I can view my native country, rising from the ashes of her degradation, wearing her purified and beautiful garments, and taking her seat with the nations of the earth. I can behold her sons bursting the fetters of ignorance and unshackling her from the vices of heathenism. She is at this instant, risen like the first morning sun, which grows brighter and brighter, until it reaches its fulness of glory.

She will become not a great, but a faithful ally of the United States. In times of peace she will plead the common liberties of America. In times of war her intrepid sons will sacrifice their lives in your defence. And because she will be useful to you in coming time, she asks you to assist her in her present struggles. She asks not for greatness; she seeks not wealth, she pleads only for assistance to become respectable as a nation, to enlighten and ennoble her sons, and to ornament her daughters with modesty and virtue. She pleads for this assistance, too, because on her destiny hangs that of many nations. If she completes her civilization then may we hope that all our nations will then, indeed, may true patriots be encouraged in their efforts to make this world of the West, one continuous abode of enlightened, free, and happy people.

But if the Cherokee Nation fail in her struggle, if she die away, then all hopes are blasted, and falls the fabric of Indian civilization. Their fathers were born in darkness, and have died in darkness; without your assistance so will their sons.


The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.

What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion?

The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange, and, at the expense of the United States, to send them to land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual. Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or than our children are now doing?[2]


Try It

While reading for mentions of the “nation,” we should also be attentive to synonyms such as “Republic” and the related concept of the “state,” both of which appear in Jackson’s speech to Congress.

Try It

Now that you have seen an analysis that focuses on the concept of the “nation,” and have attended to the persuasive arguments being made about that idea, let’s move on to investigate a different key term and concept found in the excerpts.


Look for places where both speakers address the concept of generations—both those of the past and those that will (perhaps) exist in the future. Start by looking for references to “sons” and “fathers” and “daughters.” This is an open-ended exercise, but you can use the spaces below to jot down your ideas.

What do the speakers say about what’s happened to ancestors in the past and about what might happen to future generations? What do Boudinot and Jackson think is at stake if their audience is persuaded to think as they do and their preferred objectives are met? What will the consequences be?

Once you’ve summarized a few of their arguments about this topic, consider how persuasive their statements might or might not be with their intended audiences. Would Boudinot get his school funding? Would Jackson get his votes? How convincing do you find each speaker’s effort to persuade?

Words and Persuasion

We can see that both speakers carefully choose their words in an effort to enhance their arguments. Jackson addresses his ideal listener as a “good man” who would agree with his understanding of the nation as one of expanding industry and “pecuniary” (i.e., monetary) advantage. Indeed, he also mentions future “prosperity” to entice his presumably profit-minded audience to see the benefits of “speedy removal.”

For Boudinot, Indigenous peoples have the ability to establish and cultivate a “nation” as Whites understand that concept; for Jackson, a “few savage hunters” have only “rude [i.e., simple and undeveloped] institutions,” and he does not suggest that these individuals could become a nation alongside the others of the world.

Both speakers suggest that something is at stake. For Boudinot, it is the opportunity to evolve and become an “enlightened” nation (enlightenment being an important philosophical idea at the time).

For Jackson, there is the promise of “pecuniary” (monetary) gain, the lessening of conflict, and a preservation of sorts for Indigenous culture, but only if it can be relocated and kept under “the protection of the Government,” an arrangement that is not quite that of a sovereign Indigenous nation. Jackson also cites the example of the Eastern tribes that were “annihilated” or “melted away,” and tries to convince his audience that his relocation policy is preferable to another such tragic episode. Here he is appealing to his listeners’ feelings of sympathy, having already tempted them with promises of financial gain and a fair bit of implicit flattery, i.e., “good men” who make rational governing decisions.

Modes of Persuasion

A rhetorical analysis typically involves examining the modes of persuasion that the author uses.

Word web with persuasion in the middle, then Ethos (trust, authority), logos (logic, reasoning), and pathos (emotion, beliefs) connected to it.

Figure 1. Common modes of persuasion include appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos – an appeal to ethical considerations, or credibility. Is the author credible and knowledgeable? Are the actions or understandings that they are calling for ethical?
  • Pathos – an appeal to emotions. Is the author trying to evoke strong feelings for or against something?
  • Logos – an appeal to rational, logical understanding. Is the author using facts and “hard” research to present a case? Is the argument coherent and cohesive?

In these passages, both authors make strong appeals using these modes of persuasion. For example, Boudinot relies on logos when he says, “And because she will be useful to you in coming time, she asks you to assist her in her present struggles.”  Jackson likewise relies on logic when he says, “The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process.” He is emphasizing that what’s being done isn’t actually all that bad, and that the government has things under control (also a bit of ethos as he encourages others to accept the authority of the government).

Jackson mostly relies on pathos, however, as he works to draw out strong emotional feelings and use emotional words, like when he asks, “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages…?” Boudinot also relies on pathos in his passage when he poetically says things like, “Yes, methinks I can view my native country, rising from the ashes of her degradation, wearing her purified and beautiful garments, and taking her seat with the nations of the earth…”

Knowing the Audience

When thinking about how the speaker is trying to make a convincing case, bear in mind who the audience is and what the speaker is asking for. The relationship between speaker and audience is an important aspect of the rhetorical context. Boudinot is raising money for a school that would “civilize” Indigenous people, and is urging that his largely White audience see Native people as already working toward this assimilationist goal.

Jackson is arguing to Congress that they should accept his rationale for removal as well as his view of the prospects for Indigenous people. He’s looking for political support. Knowing the audiences, the goals, and the alleged stakes will help you locate relevant arguments in the two texts. Typically, a speaker employing rhetoric is trying to get the audience to accept his way of thinking and to act in accordance with his priorities. We can see why political debates are so often used as examples of a rhetorical situation, given that support for or rejection of specific policies and enforceable laws is necessarily a process of careful negotiation.

Try It

Now that you’ve carefully read both documents and compared their perspectives on what constitutes a nation, let’s consider the intended audiences for their message, and what they hoped to achieve.

The Value of Rhetorical Appeals

Note that these two excerpts give us a snapshot of some of the most contentious issues of the day, and that both are touching on some of the ideas that were in play in the larger national conversation. For example, the philosophical influence of the Enlightenment, whose principles informed the creation of the United States, is also evident here. That is, both speakers are addressing the question of rational self-government and of how we should understand the sources of legitimate political authority. They are also both referring to the possibilities inherent to westward expansion, an undertaking that will be profoundly complicated by the issue of slavery’s parallel expansion and by that of the Indian Removal policy.

We can see that this particular type of primary document, one that makes an argument and takes a position on a policy or preferred outcome, provides historians with access to the crucial debates of the past, and gives us an opportunity to think through the persuasive appeals that ultimately prevailed.


For this activity, we will look at one other excerpt related to Indian Removal.

This passage was written by Cherokee Chief John Ross in a protest to Congress, 1836. Some keywords are highlighted and defined to help understand the text. As you read it, consider Ross’ rhetoric—how does he construct his argument, and what makes it convincing?

Vocabulary Text
scrupulous (adj): thorough and extremely attentive to details

stipulations (n): conditions that are specified as part of an agreement

despoiled (v): stolen from

savage (adj): outdated term meaning uncivilized

purport (v): to claim to be something, usually falsely

aver (v): to state or assert to be the case

sanction (n): official approval

acquiesce (v): to accept
The United States solemnly guaranteed to [the Cherokee] nation all their land not ceded, and pledged the faith of the government, that “all white people who have intruded, or may hereafter intrude on the lands reserved for the Cherokees, shall be removed by the United States . . . ” The Cherokees were happy and prosperous under a scrupulous observance of treaty stipulations by the government of the United States, and from the fostering hand extended over them, they made rapid advances in civilization, morals, and in the arts and sciences. Little did they anticipate, that when taught to think and feel as the American citizen, and to have with him a common interest, they were to be despoiled by their guardian, to become strangers and wanderers in the land of their fathers, forced to return to the savage life, and to seek a new home in the wilds of the far west, and that without their consent. An instrument purporting to be a treaty with the Cherokee people, has recently been made public by the President of the United States, that will have such an operation if carried into effect. This instrument, the delegation aver before the civilized world, and in the presence of Almighty God, is fraudulent, false upon its face, made by unauthorized individuals, without the sanction, and against the wishes of the great body of the Cherokee people. Upwards of fifteen thousand of those people have protested against it, solemnly declaring they will never acquiesce.

How does Ross appeal to pathos and logos? This is an open-ended exercise, but you can use the space below to jot down your ideas.


rhetoric: the art of persuasion, or the techniques and focused appeals that a speaker or writer thinks will be effective in reaching an audience

  1. Boudinot, E. (2012). From An Address to the Whites. Delivered in the First Presbyterian Church [of Philadelphia] on the 26th of May, 1826. The Georgia Review, 66(3), 443-448. Retrieved September 7, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23268193
  2. President Jackson's Message to Congress "On Indian Removal", December 6, 1830; Records of the United States Senate, 1789‐1990; Record Group 46; Records of the United States Senate, 1789‐1990; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)