Wendell Phillips’s speech delivered in 1861 near the beginning of the Civil War claims that African Americans should be given the right to serve in the military, for various contemporary generals were not of a European background yet brought America prominent victories that drastically influenced the course of American history. Although African Americans in the past were subjugated by the Americans on a regular basis, a few exemplary victories by African descendant generals clearly proved that African Americans should be, in fact, allowed to serve in the military as the rightful soldiers of America. Phillips uses hyperbole, understatement and metaphor to persuade the audience that the support of African American soldiers will be a contributing factor in imminent American victory.
Wendell Phillips portrays a few commendable figures of Europe that have been extolled as the greatest minds of the time through the use of hyperbole. In the beginning of the passage, he describes Napoleon as a man whom the French found “no language rich enough to paint the great captain of the nineteenth century.” Although Phillips is praising the prestige of Napoleon, he is also making a caustic comment on how the Frenchmen would do whatever it takes to shine the glory of Napoleon’s success. Like the hyperbole used in the depiction of Napoleon, another phrase similarly illustrates the success of Washington, whom the Americans consider “no marble white enough on which to carve the name of the Father of his Country.”
Through his use of hyperbole, Phillips conveys to the audience the pompous attitude each country holds in reverencing its own national hero. Because of Phillips’s use of hyperbole to exaggerate the reputation of each national hero, the audience expects to hear the same kind of appraisal for the African American hero, general Toussaint Louverture; however, in following part of the passage, Phillips describes him as a man who was degraded by the scanty traces of written pieces that clearly portrayed Briton and French belittlement and abhorrence—a strikingly contrasting illustration.
By presenting two distinct ways of depicting the national heroes, Phillips reprimands the American views towards African American success; whereas the French and American heroes earned the prestigious titles through their work, Louverture was rather degraded as a negro and a slave who was fortunate in the battles. Phillips’s use of hyperbole appeals to the audience’s logos, because the readers are compelled to believe that American’s disapproval of African American military enlistment is unreasonable, since even men like Louverture was barred from the honor he should have received simply because of his status as a negro and a slave.
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