Rhetorical devices

Allusion and direct references

In his “We Shall Overcome” speech, Lyndon B. Johnson makes several allusions and direct references meant to make his message more powerful. For example, Johnson alludes to the American Civil War when he talks about the “battleground of violence”. Moreover, he makes references to the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Appomattox, each of which he considers “a turning point in man's unending search for freedom”. 

Johnson also makes a Biblical reference in the following example: “For with a country as with a person, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ ”. Here, Johnson refers to Matthew 16:26, a Biblical verse that he uses to show that Americans must treat achieving racial equality as their first priority. 

In the following example, Johnson makes references to the US Declaration of Independence, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a speech by Patrick Henry: 

The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: ‘All men are created equal,’ ‘government by consent of the governed,’ ‘give me liberty or give me death.’ Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories.

In this example, the references are meant to show how Americans “have fought and died for two centuries” for freedom. Moreover, the references illustrate Johnson’s idea that the incident in Selma, Alabama, is also connected to America’s fight for freedom. 

Lastly, Johnson makes references to a protest song that had become the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the US: “These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They're our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too – poverty, disease, and ignorance: we shall overcome”. In this example, the expression “we shall overcome”...

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