The American Rhetoric

Category: Speech Analysis

Analysis of the Speech-Woodrow Wilson-War Message (April 1917)

This speech was delivered in April 1917 at the height of the World War 1. With the status of the country at the time, the apprehensive president of the United States Woodrow Wilson prepared to request the unprepared and the unmotivated country to declare war against Germany. The United States had made all attempts possible to maintain peace and honor for their country. However, the president was at last forced to make a choice between the peace and honor. As he sat to compose his congressional address to propose for war, he was much overwhelmed by the uncertainty of his decision.

Through rhetoric analysis of the president's point of argument and style of presentation to the congress, we get a better understanding of his purpose of convincing the congress on the need for peace. He pointed out that the country's belligerency in the last stage of war would have indefinitely shortened the war and offers the country an opportunity to organize for European peace and the rest of the world. This speech was done to sway the Americans opinion of non-isolationism and warn the Germany's government that the United States could ultimately wield their sword to deny them victory. He compelled the German to relinquish the submarine attacks and consider negotiation for peace as a way of calming his own uncertainty on such a decision.

The importance of Wilson's speech at the prevailing mindset of the American public had a direct impact on successive antagonistic events in Europe that rapidly affected the US. Due to numerous insults by the German and British governments the ability of the United States maintaining its neutrality became basically unviable. Therefore, in this speech, Wilson was forced to shift the foreign policies of America to take an international outlook which most of the Americans congress refused to follow.

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Throughout his speech Wilson variously appealed to freedom of the people, humanity and mankind. He requested the American to conform to the highest expectations of mankind. He justified the United States' entry into the war was for the overall dominion that free people would bring peace and safety which will free the world at last. His passion to make the world safe for democracy was based on an individual's natural rights.

The main points of Wilson's war message to the congress were that the American neutrality was no longer possible and beneficial to the country. The United States was the only nation left to make the world safe for democracy through the call of the League of Nations. He emphasized that the US had no quarrel with the people of the Germans, but only with the German government, therefore, there was no worry to the Germans in US.

The audience to whom the speech was presented was varied. The speech was made before the congress that formed the main audience but the message was meant for all the American people and the Allies as well as the foreigners who lived in American territories. The main objective of the speech was to present his moral and ethical dilemma urging the congress to choose the right path to calm the war. The main line that captures the audience attention is when the speaker says that the precautions taken were haphazard and meager enough to prove the distressing instances of cruelty and unmanly business in which the war was conducted. In this instance, the president wanted to put the ball on the congress to decide whether to save the world or suffer together in it.

The effectiveness of this speech is the timing it was presented. The message brought forward to the congress enabled the world to understand the stance of the American government to the war and the intended measures taken to forge peace negotiations. Despite being anxious on the issue of shifting the country's foreign policies, Wilson expressed his points in a fearless tone that enabled the congress understand the reality of the matter. The warm supportive voice in his tone indicated the presence of a transformative leadership that generated satisfaction, cooperation and commitment to opposing members of the congress.