Rhetorical Strategies in Persuasive Writing of Edwards and Jefferson


Persuasion is a powerful tool in communication, and it can be achieved through various rhetorical techniques and writing styles. This essay conducts a comparative analysis of two influential texts: Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and Thomas Jefferson's "The Declaration of Independence." These two texts exemplify distinct approaches to persuasion, showcasing the diverse ways in which persuasive writing can captivate and influence an audience. By examining the rhetorical elements such as tone, diction, syntax, imagery, rhetorical structure, and figurative language in these texts, we can gain valuable insights into the art of persuasion.

While both Edwards and Jefferson aimed to persuade their audiences, they did so with different purposes, tones, and strategies.

Jonathan Edwards' Persuasive Techniques

Jonathan Edwards' purpose in delivering his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," was to convert non-believers in his congregation by using fear and religious fervor. He sought to emphasize the dire consequences of sin and the wrath of God as a means to elicit a profound emotional response from his audience.

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Edwards' tone is characterized by its harshness, severity, and the urgency of his message. His choice of diction is meant to invoke fear and anxiety, and he employs vivid and terrifying imagery to paint a vivid picture of impending doom.

For instance, Edwards declares, "There is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back..." This sentence demonstrates his mastery of rhetorical techniques. The repetition of "God" and "mere pleasure" emphasizes the absolute authority of God and the fragility of human existence.

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Edwards uses this imagery to convey the idea that humanity is teetering on the brink of damnation, held only by God's restraining hand. This vivid imagery serves to intensify the fear and anxiety within his audience.

Furthermore, Edwards employs a complex syntactical structure, marked by lengthy sentences and the use of hyphens to create pauses. This deliberate structure contributes to the sermon's emotional impact. It keeps the audience engaged and amplifies the sense of impending doom. Edwards' ultimate goal is to instill fear and remorse in his congregation, leading them to seek salvation and redemption.

Thomas Jefferson's Persuasive Strategies

In contrast to Edwards' fire-and-brimstone approach, Thomas Jefferson's purpose in writing "The Declaration of Independence" was to declare America's independence from Britain and to garner support from both domestic and international audiences. Jefferson adopts a markedly different tone, characterized by calm and rational discourse. His choice of diction is measured and deliberate, reflecting the Enlightenment ideals of reason and liberty that underpin the document.

For example, Jefferson begins the Declaration with, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..." This opening sentence is a prime example of Jefferson's persuasive strategy. It begins with a reflective tone, invoking a sense of historical inevitability. The use of "necessary" underscores the gravity of the situation, framing the act of declaring independence as a rational response to unjust oppression.

Jefferson also employs parallelism in the phrase "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," emphasizing the importance of presenting a just and reasonable case to the world. His appeal to universal principles of justice and equality aligns with the Enlightenment values of his era.

The syntax of Jefferson's sentence is structured for clarity and coherence. He uses a cumulative sentence, building upon the initial clause to elaborate on the reasons for declaring independence. This approach serves to engage the audience's reason and logic, making a compelling argument for the necessity of independence. Jefferson's strategy is to persuade through reason and principled argumentation rather than through emotional manipulation.

Common Elements and Purpose

While Edwards and Jefferson employ different persuasive techniques and tones, they share a common purpose: to persuade their respective audiences. Both writers aim to capture the attention and commitment of their listeners, albeit for different ends.

In terms of similarities, both texts use religious references and appeal to God to support their arguments. Edwards invokes God's wrath and divine authority to strike fear into the hearts of his congregation, while Jefferson references "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" to ground the American cause in universal principles. Both authors recognize the power of religious imagery and references to resonate with their audiences.

Furthermore, both Edwards and Jefferson exhibit a strong sense of passion and conviction in their writing. They are dedicated to their causes and convey their messages with sincerity and fervor. This passion is a common thread that runs through their persuasive efforts.


In conclusion, persuasive writing takes various forms and employs diverse rhetorical strategies to achieve its goals. Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Jefferson offer contrasting examples of persuasion through their respective texts, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and "The Declaration of Independence." Edwards utilizes fear, religious fervor, and emotional manipulation to convert his congregation, while Jefferson employs reason, rational discourse, and Enlightenment principles to declare independence.

Both authors effectively capture the attention and commitment of their audiences, highlighting the versatility of persuasive writing. While their styles and purposes differ, they serve as compelling examples of how writers can use rhetoric to influence and inspire. Understanding these distinct approaches to persuasion enhances our appreciation of the art of persuasive writing and its enduring impact on society.

Updated: Oct 26, 2023
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Rhetorical Strategies in Persuasive Writing of Edwards and Jefferson. (2016, Jul 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-god-and-the-declaration-of-independence-essay

Rhetorical Strategies in Persuasive Writing of Edwards and Jefferson essay
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