Logos, ethos, and pathos

Barack Obama’s Selma speech is dominated by ethos (appeal to trust and authority) and pathos (appeal to emotions), but we can also find some examples of logos (appeal to logic). Sometimes, these modes of persuasion are mixed, for example when Obama mentions the founding documents of America and the values they promote. In this case, he uses both ethos, as he appeals to these documents’ authority, and pathos, as he seeks to stir the audience’s emotions toward these va…

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Table of contents

Logos

The speaker appeals to logos when he makes logical connections between ideas or when he mentions facts that support his views.

For example, he alludes to the Civil Rights Movement to support his idea that the Selma march represented an important part of the American fight for freedom and equality: “The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.”. By using the phrase “long line of heroes”, Obama also creates ethos, as he suggests the respect he has for the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

To sup…

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Ethos

Throughout the speech, Obama appeals to trust and authority to mark the importance of the Selma march and to give weight to his appeal for a more unified society.

For example, at the beginning of his speech, he calls Congressman John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Selma march who was also present in Obama's audience, “a personal hero.” By appealing to John’s Lewis status as a hero, Obama establishes himself as a supporter of the fight for freedom and equality.

As he acknowledges the dignitaries and important figures present in the audience, Obama highlights the importance of honoring the Selma march. By using the phrase “fellow Americans” in this direct address, Obama establishes a connection with the audience and presents himself as trustworthy.

To elevate the importance of the Selma march, Obama compares it with other important moments and events in American history: “There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. (…) Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place.”;

The American instinct that led these…

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Pathos

At the beginning of the speech, Obama describes the day of the Selma march. This helps the audience identify with the anticipation, fear, and hope that the marchers must have felt.

The speaker describes the horrific violence endured by those who marched to stir the audience’s compassion and to inspire courage:

Ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

For the same purpose, Obama describes how the marchers’s reputations were attacked in an effort to discredit and discourage them: “they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse.”

To empower the members of the audience who mi…

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