Douglas L. Wilson
Originally published 01/18/2013
Mr. Wilson is co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College and author of "Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words." This essay is adapted from an article scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.Now that Steven Spielberg's new film, "Lincoln," has sparked extraordinary interest in Abraham Lincoln as a behind-the-scenes persuader, it may be a good time to take a look at an aspect of his most persuasive writing. In virtually all the most memorable passages of Lincoln's writings, there is a feature that plays a critical role—namely, the rhetorical use of the negative. This is not to say that Lincoln was a naysayer or negative thinker, but rather that he demonstrated an acute understanding of the power of negation in language and was unusually adept at putting that force to use.Philosopher and literary critic Kenneth Burke argues that the negative is intimately connected to our sense of morality, if not actually responsible for it. Law, ethics and religion, he contends, are all built around the "thou-shalt-nots." This is one way of accounting for the power that the negative has in language and human affairs.
- Battle Over Confederate Monuments Moves to the Cemeteries
- German WW1 U-boat found off Belgian coast
- $35 million Book of Mormon manuscript sale called the ‘biggest game-changer in Mormon history’
- 159 scholars at Harvard sign petition reprimanding the school for rejections of Chelsea Manning and Michelle Jones
- Fact Check: Steve Bannon’s Bad History
- University of Utah appoints first Mormon Studies professor
- Eric Foner discusses the manipulation of history
- Male historian tapped to lead Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas
- Decline in History Majors Continues, Departments Respond
- He’s 75 now. When he started teaching at the University of New Orleans students walked out on his class.