Rhetorical Analysis of Gov. George C. Wallace Inaugural Address

George C. Wallace gave his inaugural Address on January 14, 1963, to a large crowd of primarily white, racist, religious, and relatively uneducated Alabamians. His argument relied heavily on the ideas of the people in his audience and the ideas of time period which he gave his speech. Wallace effectively used the logic of religion, appeal to emotion, and his authority as a southern Christian to successfully convey his message to his audience of segregation as a necessity for the Alabamian society to thrive economically and socially.

Wallace used logic to prove his point only on the basis of the southern perception of God. For example, he claims that southern whites have the right to maintain segregation for the prosperity of their states (including Alabama) because God is giving them the “wisdom and the strength” to fight for segregation. Wallace also uses the logic that segregation was the right way to live in the eyes of the founding fathers because they institutionalized racism by allowing slavery; therefore it is the right way to live in the eyes of God because the founding fathers were highly religious and used God as an endorsement for their actions. According to this logic it is the Southerner’s spiritual responsibility to fight for segregation. He says, “southerners played a most magnificent part interacting with great divinely inspired system of freedom… and as God is our witness Southerners will save it.” This was an effective approach to logic because his audience was mostly religious and motivated by the logic of God. If he uses God’s logic to prove his message as beneficial to society his audience will be easily convinced and would rally behind him. Wallace’s use of logic was not as essential to convincing his audience as the emotional appeal, however it was important in order to show that he has “reasoning” to some extent and is not driven solely by personal motives.

Most importantly, Wallace used the appeal of emotion and common ideals to rally his audience behind the goal to maintain segregation. He uses the justification that he wants black people to be successful… but separate: “We invite the negro citizens of Alabama to work with us from his separate racial station.” As shown here, he’s acting welcoming to the group he wants to segregate from people of his own race and economic status. This makes it seem like he has the best interest for them, and therefore his ideas will be beneficial to everyone. This also may reach his black audience as inviting, and because he establishes this connection with them, they are more likely to support him. Also shown in that quote, he uses language such as ‘we’ and ‘us’ to establish a sense of community and force the audience to assume that they agree with him because they’re on his side. Another main point of emotional connection is his use of southern pride to unite his audience under his goal. Wallace often references back to ‘our grandfathers,’ like in this quote when he says, “our grandfathers bent their knee only in church and bowed to their head only to God.” Here he is talking about the difficulties Southerners experienced after the Civil War within the Reconstruction time period. By introducing this nostalgia and pride about southern confederate leaders and forefathers, he encourages the audience to continue those values in honor of their ancestors. Wallace boasts about southern perseverance to maintain segregation, and uses this with his southern audience to show them that they should continue this fight.

In addition, Wallace uses his authority as a fellow racist, white, religious, Christian to prove his point. He assumes the values of his audience and uses his own personal experiences as a southerner and a Christian to again establish southern pride; Wallace uses this to convince his audience that he can be trusted and to show them that they should rally behind him. One instance where he establishes his religious authority is when he says, “This is the heritage of my religion, of which I make full practice… for we are all the handiwork of God.” Of course, as it is his inaugural address, he uses his political authority to show his audience the power he has to carry out his message when he says, “…as governor of our State… you stand with me… and we, together, can give courageous leadership to millions of people throughout this nation who look to the south for their hope in this fight to win and preserve our freedoms and liberties.” By saying this he is promising further segregation to the people who agree with him and showing that his segregationist sentiment will spread under his influence to the people who disagree with him. Again, he refers back to southern “heroes” as the foundation of his beliefs to establish authority; the people he references, like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, are already respected amongst his audience so if he shows that his ideals are founded by theirs then he has also gained respect and trust.

Finally, the timeliness of Wallace’s argument is essential to the effectiveness of his rhetorical devices. His purpose was to argue for the continuation of racial segregation in America and by using God and southern pride as the foundations of his argument he relied heavily on the place and time of his speech. The northern states of America would have widely disagreed and felt unconvinced by his argument; most people in America, around the world, and even Alabama would also disagree with Wallace’s argument today. When Wallace gave his speech (1963), segregation and racism were still very much supported and enforced in the southern states of America. Religion was much more reliable as a source of logic, authority, and emotional appeal. The south in America at this time was much less integrated with people from around the world and around America, so it was composed mostly of racist white people, who still looked to their confederate leaders and forefathers as a source of inspiration or pride. The minorities who did live in the south at the time (immigrants and black people) were very suppressed and were intimidated not to vote or speak up in their communities/politics.

In conclusion, George C. Wallace’s inaugural address was effective for his audience in the south of the 1960’s. By using religion, southern pride, and political authority as means of appealing to emotion, reasoning, and authority, Wallace effectively assured his audience of the message to continue segregation in America, specifically in the south.

Sources:

Newman, John J., and John M. Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. 3rd ed., New York, Amsco School Publications, 2016.

Staff, History.com. “The 1960s.” History.com, A+E Networks, 2010, http://www.history.com/topics/1960s. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.

Wallace, George C., Gov. “Inaugural Address.” Alabama Governor’s inauguration, 14 Jan. 1963, Montgomery, Alabama. Address.

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