Letter Writing: Audience, Tone, and Persuasion
During his tenure as president, Lincoln received thousands of letters from well-wishers and critics. After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln received a flood of mail, most of which supported the president's declaration. On July 4, 1864, nearly two years after the announcement of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln received a letter from a Sunday school class of the Congregational Church at Paterson, New Jersey recommending a second Emancipation Proclamation:
"We were glad when we learned that you had made a Proclamation of Freedom, by which so many of these poor slaves have been restored, and so many more are yet to be restored to the rights and the liberties which the nation, in defiance of God's Law and the Declaration of Independence, had so long robbed them of. But while we were very glad, we were very sorry too. And our sorrow was because while you had struck the chains from so many, you had not freed all within your power.
And we now write you this letter to ask you, in the name of God, who made them; — in the name of Christ, who died for them; — in the name of the Declaration of Independence, which declares their right to Freedom; — in the name of Free Government, which is disgraced by Slavery; — in the name of Justice, which is violated; — in the name of Humanity, which is outraged; — in the name of those who have gone out from our own school and offered their lives in defence of the Nation; and lastly in the name of our Nation whose life is still at stake; that you will speedily make another proclamation of Freedom for all those whom your first proclamation passed by — so that all the slaves in the republic may be free men and free women: So that when we again meet to celebrate the day which is sometimes called the birthday of Liberty, we may feel that there is no mockery in the matter, and we may read the Declaration of Independence without blushing for shame."
Assume the role of one of Lincoln's secretaries and draft a response to the Sunday school class of the Paterson Congregational Church.
- What techniques did the Sunday school class use in writing their letter to drive home their message?
- How effective was the letter?
- What kind of message would you want to send the Sunday school class in response?
- Given the class's letter, what kind of tone would you use in your response? What kind of techniques would you use to bring your message across?
- Would you recommend including a review of Lincoln's official pronouncements regarding emancipation or respond on a more emotional level?
On February 1, 1865, Lincoln received a letter from Mrs. C. Greene Brayton expressing distress at rumors that Lincoln was negotiating with the Confederacy. Compare Brayton's letter to that of the Congregational Church Sunday school. How does the tone of the two letters differ? How would you advise Lincoln to respond to the Brayton letter?