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[Detail] Memoirs of mammoth...Thomas Ashe 1806.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing is designed to convince the reader to believe what the writer believes or to take an action urged by the writer. Among the techniques used by persuasive writers are employing strong language, supporting their positions with data, linking their positions with other things that the reader values (such as freedom or safety), appealing to the reader’s self-interest, referring to respected sources, and refuting the views of their opponents.

Read the letter written by George Nicholas of Kentucky, to a friend in Virginia.

  • What issue was Nicholas writing about? What did he want his friend to believe or do?
  • What arguments did Nicholas make about the Alien and Sedition Acts? Consider their constitutionality and the perspective of citizens of Kentucky.
  • How persuasive were the arguments Nicholas used in the response to criticism of the Kentucky Resolution?
  • What persuasive techniques did Nicholas use most effectively to make his case?

Thomas Bodley, incensed by the candidacy of Humphrey Marshall for the state legislature, drafted an appeal to the People of Kentucky accusing Marshall of fraud and conspiracy. 

You know Humphrey Marshall of old, he has always been called a rank Federalist or in other words a monarchist—he has frequently exerted himself to change the politicks of our country; it is now his object—therefore be on your guard against him and his supporters.  If they succeed and should get the ascendancy in our national council, we may expect to experience all the evils and horrors which threatened our country, and were so much dreaded in the reign of terror.

From “Report of the Select Committee,” image 8

George Nicholas, in a letter opposing the stand a member of the House of Representatives took on the Sedition Act, wrote:

I have attended particularly to your conduct from the time you first became a member of the house of representatives, and having uniformly, and on every occasion, voted with a certain party; for admitting them to be angels, as you certainly are not one, your fallible judgment could not always have been properly convinced, of the infallibility of their counsels.  The man who always votes with or against certain characters, (I care not on which side he is) cannot, in my opinion, conscienciously [sic.] discharge his duty as a representative.

From  “Correspondence between George Nicholas Esq. of Kentucky, and the Hon. Robert G. Harper,” image 26

  • What accusations did Bodley make against Humphrey Marshall? What persuasive techniques did he use in making his case?
  • What tone did Nicholas use in the summation of his letter of June 10, 1799?
  • How do these two examples of political writing compare to present-day accusations traded by politicians of opposing parties?