Heirs of the revolution: the founding heritage in American presidential rhetoric since 1945

Thomson, Graeme M. (2014) Heirs of the revolution: the founding heritage in American presidential rhetoric since 1945. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3057347


The history of the United States’ revolutionary origins has been a persistently prevalent source of reference in the public speeches of modern American presidents. Through an examination of the character and context of allusions to this history in presidential rhetoric since 1945, this thesis presents an explanation for this ubiquity. America’s founding heritage represents a valuable – indeed, an essential – source for the purposes of presidential oratory. An analysis of the manner in which presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama have invoked and adapted specific aspects of this heritage in their public rhetoric exposes a distinctly usable past, employed in different contexts and in advancing specific messages. Chapters devoted to the references of modern presidents to the Declaration of Independence, to the Constitution, and to four of the nation’s Founding Fathers, demonstrate that distinct elements of the founding heritage can be invoked in different ways. In sum, however, they reveal that allusions to this history have served three, sometimes overlapping, purposes in modern presidential discourse. Firstly, and most commonly, this history has proved an essential source on the numerous occasions in which presidents have reflected upon and reaffirmed the enduring character of American national identity. Secondly, such is the prominence of the founding heritage in the collective memory of Americans that presidents have been able to invoke elements of this familiar history pertinent to their discussion of a diverse range of contemporary concerns. Finally, and most significantly, this rhetoric has very often been applied for more pragmatic and partisan reasons. Given the veneration of the founding heritage in American culture and the acceptance that the democratic ideals then established remain essential to the purpose and direction of the nation, this thesis argues that presidents have found political value in implying their own inheritance of the Founders’ incontestable legacy. In speeches delivered across the shifting contexts of the post-war period, presidents have explicitly aligned their policy goals with the values and vision of the nation’s first leaders, interpreting and adapting the Founders’ words in a manner supportive of their public message.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: United States, presidency, rhetoric, national identity, politics, history, presidential rhetoric, American Revolution, Founding Fathers, usable past, speechwriting, political speeches
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General)
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Newman, Professor Simon P. and Moskowitz, Dr Marina
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Graeme M. Thomson
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5103
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 May 2014 12:56
Last Modified: 19 May 2014 12:58
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5103

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