Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > The Capital and the Bay

[Detail] Illustration of the shield of Virginia, from the eighteenth century

Public Speaking

In "Letter III" of "The Letters of the British Spy," prominent Virginia attorney William Wirt reflects humorously on oratory in the colonies, specifically in Virginia. He opens with the following condemnation:

In the national and state legislatures, as well as at the various bars in the United States, I have heard great volubility, much good sense, and some random touches of the pathetic; but in the same bodies, I have heard a far greater proportin of puerile rant, or tedious and disgusting inanity. Three remarks are true as to almost all their orators.

First, They have not a sufficient fund of general knowledge.

Secondly, They have not the habit of close and solid thinking.

Thirdly, They do not aspire at original ornaments.

(Page 132 and 133, "Letter III" of "The Letters of the British Spy")

Read Wirt's letter, making a list of strengths and weaknesses of orations according to Wirt. Then search The Capital and the Bay for examples of speeches (using speech, remarks, and lecture as keywords will produce a number of examples) to which you can apply Wirt's standards. Wirt's standards could also be applied to speeches delivered by contemporary speakers.