Rhetorical devices in Johnson's State of the Union address

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Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson faced a major challenge in preserving peace while establishing his independent government. As a result, it was clear that his State of the Union speech would have a major effect on the fate of his presidency after he took over a country in turmoil. In the White House, he also had a slew of stalled bills from his predecessor, as well as a slew of Kennedy-era advisors. His impressive political abilities, embrace of an evocative issue and diligent lobbying efforts in the seven weeks between the Dallas tragedy and the annual message to Congress set the stage for a dramatic opening of his legacy. His topic on the "Unconditional War on Poverty" was intriguing and interesting to all the parties involved. This paper shall focus on the rhetoric devices of imagery, pathos, and repetition that the president utilized to make his speech a success.

The greatest aspect of Johnson's speech is his use of imagery to capture the attention of his audience. Metaphors represent abstract ideas or thoughts using symbols or objects. The object or the action used gives a different meaning depending on the context of use and the audience. It gives a meaning that is more significant and deeper. For instance, Johnson speaks about, "Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes" (Johnson line 23). He appeals to the American promise rather than personal ambitions. He addresses the bureaucracy of politics and uses the previous congressional session to challenge the sitting Congress. This imagery of competition is important to qualify because these politicians have run for election so, in his reference to competition, he appeals to instinct. As a result, the audience is not only entertained by the lyrical poignancy, but the president also gets to pass a deeper message in the fiscal prudence.

The speech also utilizes pathos, emotion-arousing words, and tone. The president also appeals to the pathos and emotions of the audience through his tone and selection of words. The president promised that "I pledge a progressive administration which is efficient, and honest and frugal" (11). Efficiency, honesty, and frugality are the critical attributes that people can expect from their government. He further states that "Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy -- not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right" (9). The speech uses impressive emotional persuasion because of the approach the president used to pass his message. For example, he could have dictated that it was his Constitutional duty to ensure the country prospers through any means possible. The use of ethos in his speech portrays the presidents believes. The appeal to the American promise generated greater interest from all the audience and established his presidential legacy.

The other device is the use of repetition questions. In his speech the president continually repeats certain questions; this has an effect on the audience as it makes them ponder what the answer is. "How many white children are uneducated? How many white individuals have lived in poverty? Johnson uses these questions to make America realize what a divided country there are and what they should do to unite it. The use rhetorical questions make Congress realize that they have the power to change the current state of things. The president persuades them into enacting legislation that would ensure equality for all Americans whether black or white, wealthy or poor.


In conclusion, Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union address utilized numerous rhetorical devices that made it successful in a period when the country was faced with uncertainty. He employed the elements of imagery, use of pathos, emotion-arousing words, and rhetorical questions to create an appeal to his audience to support his cause. The imagery allowed him to create a poetic address that kept his audience entertained while passing deeper messages. His strong tone, use of repetition and the appeal to pathos and emotions were aimed at generating support from the Congress and the ordinary Americans. In his speech, he managed to demonstrate how divided the people were and the many afflictions the citizens faced.


Johnson, B. Lyndon. “State of the Union.” YouTube. 1964. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fv9aim1QJzM&t=1229s

August 09, 2021


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