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Persuasion & useful adjunct to argument.
Argument, if understood to mean merely the process of convincing, seldom occurs by itself; it is usually com
bined with PERSUASION, which includes all
those processes that make the persons addressed willing to be convinced or ready to carry conviction into action. Unlike argument, persuasion is addressed not so much to the intellect as to the feelings.
To substitute an appeal to the feelings for argument is, of course, never justifiable. “It is dishonest to try to convert excited feeling into evidence of facts which would justify it. To say, “There must be a God because I love him,' is just like saying, 'That man must be a rogue because I hate him,' which many people do say, but not wisely.”1 Equally dishonest is the argumentum ad hominem ; ? for this is neither more nor less than an attempt to make an appeal to prejudice or passion seem like proof. In no case is persuasion an equivalent for argument.
The following passages from the report of the arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States in the recent income-tax cases (1895) are persuasive rather than convincing:
“ In conclusion, Mr. Carter said the law had been enacted by the representatives of the people, acting in their legitimate and uncontrollable sphere as the taxing power of the government, elected by a great popular majority, and that the expression of an
1 Sir James Fitzjames Stephen : Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. chap. vii.
2 See page 347
opinion by that means could always be accepted and considered as final. A triumphant majority, he said, firm in the possession of a view which they believed to be just and right, would find a way to the accomplishment of their purpose, if need be, over the ruins of constitutions and of courts. It was the wise thing not to provoke such a contest.
“ Mr. Carter spoke two hours and a half and was followed by Mr. Choate. Mr. Choate, in opening, said :
6. It never would have occurred to me to present [as] either an opening or a closing argument to this great and learned court, that if, in their wisdom, they found it necessary to protect a suitor who sought here to invoke the protection of the constitution which was created for us all, possibly the popular wrath might sweep the court away. It is the first time I ever heard that argument presented to this court or any other, and I trust it will be the last.
“• I thought until to-day that there was a constitution of the United States, and that the business of the executive arm was to uphold that constitution. I thought that this court was created for the purpose of maintaining the constitution as against unlawful conduct on the part of Congress. It is news to me that Congress is the sole judge of the measure of the powers confided to it by the constitution, and it is also news to me that that great fundamental principle that underlies the constitution, namely, the equality of all men before the law, has ceased to exist. '"1
Though not an equivalent for argument, persuasion is a useful adjunct to it. Cold logic alone may convince the persons addressed, but it will not take firm hold of them unless they already feel a vital interest in the subject. It is the “instilment of conviction”? (to quote Matthew Arnolds definition of persuasion) that makes conviction hold. Conviction alone, moreover, does not influence the will. To win assent to a general proposition is one thing; to secure adhesion to a doctrine that has a personal application and requires exertion is another and a far more
1 As reported in the Boston Daily Advertiser, March 13, 1895.
2 Matthew Arnold: Essays in Cșiticism; The Literary Influence of Academies
difficult thing. Most difficult of all is the task of persuading a man against his original convictions. Such a triumph was achieved by Whitefield over Benjamin Franklin :
“ The sight of their miserable situation (that of the children in Georgia] inspir’d,” says Franklin, “the benevolent heart of Mr. Whitefield with the idea of building an Orphan House there, in which they might be supported and educated. Returning northward, he preach'd up this charity and made large collections, for his eloquence had a wonderful power over the hearts and purses of his hearers of which I myself was an instance.
“ I did not disapprove of the design but as Georgia was then destitute of materials and workmen and it was proposed to send them from Philadelphia at a great expense, I thought it would have been better to have built the house here and brought the children to it. This I advis’d; but he was resolute in his first project, rejected my counsel and I therefore refus’d to contribute. I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften and concluded to give the coppers.
Another stroke of his oratory made me asham’d of that and determin’d me to give the silver ; and he finish'd so admirably that I empti’d my pocket wholly into the collector's dish, gold and all.” 1
Sometimes the work of persuasion is done by means of an exordium which insures a favorable reception for what Persuasion in is to come, or of a peroration which carries exordiums and perorations. home the conclusion. It is in exordiums and perorations that a young writer often fails: he does not know how to get at his subject or how to get away from it. He should beware of putting in a word of introduction that is not necessary to prepare the way for his argument, and of adding a word at the end that is not necessary to
1 Benjamin Franklin: Works, vol. i.; Autobiography. Edited by John Bigelow.
I had in my
enforce his conclusion. “Is he never going to begin ?" “Will he never have done?” are questions equally fatal.
The passage with which Webster opened the White murder case is a model exordium :
“I am little accustomed, gentlemen, to the part which I am now attempting to perform. Hardly more than once or twice has it happened to me to be concerned on the side of the government in any criminal prosecution whatever; and never, until the present occasion, in any case affecting life.
“ But I very much regret that it should have been thought necessary to suggest to you that I am brought here to hurry you against the law and beyond the evidence.' I hope I have too much regard for justice, and too much respect for my own character, to attempt either; and were I to make such attempt, I am sure that in this court nothing can be carried against the law, and that gentlemen, intelligent and just as you are, are not, by any power, to be hurried beyond the evidence. Though I could well have wished to shun this occasion, I have not felt at liberty to withhold my professional assistance, when it is supposed that I may be in some degree useful in investigating and discovering the truth respecting this most extraordinary murder. It has seemed to be a duty incumbent on me, as on every other citizen, to do my best and my utmost to bring to light the perpetrators of this crime. Against the prisoner at the bar, as an individual, I cannot have the slightest prejudice. I would not do him the smallest injury or injustice. But I do not affect to be indifferent to the discovery and the punishment of this deep guilt. I cheerfully share in the opprobrium, how great soever it may be, which is cast on those who feel and manifest an anxious concern that all who had a part in planning, or a hand in executing, this deed of midnight assassination, may be brought to answer for their enormous crime at the bar of public justice.” 1
The well-known passage with which Burke ended his speech in the impeachment of Warren Hastings — a passage which, it is said, was written sixteen times - is a
1 Daniel Webster: Legal Arguments; The Murder of Captain Joseph White, April 6, 1830.
model peroration. So is the conclusion of the “Reflec tions on the Revolution in France”:
“I wish my countrymen rather to recommend to our neighbours the example of the British constitution, than to take models from them for the improvement of our own. In the former they have got an invaluable treasure. They are not, I think, without some causes of apprehension and complaint; but these they do not owe to their constitution, but to their own conduct. I think our happy situation owing to our constitution; but owing to the whole of it, and not to any part singly; owing in a great measure to what we have left standing in our several reviews and reformations, as well as to what we have altered or superadded. Our people will find employment enough for a truly patriotic, free, and independent spirit, in guarding what they possess from violation. I would not exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I would make the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the building. A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral rather than a complexional timidity, were among the ruling principles of our forefathers in their most decided conduct. Not being illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong impression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He that had made thena thus fallible rewarded them for having in their conduct attended to their nature. Let us imitate their caution, if we wish to deserve their fortune, or to retain their bequests. Let us add, if we please — but let us preserve what they have left; and, standing on the firm ground of the British constitution, let us be satisfied to admire rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flights the aëronauts of France.
“I have told you candidly my sentiments. I think they are not likely to alter yours. I do not know that they ought. You are young; you cannot guide, but must follow the fortune of your country. But hereafter they may be of some use to you, in some future form which your commonwealth may take. In the present it can hardly remain; but before its final settlement it may be obliged to pass, as one of our poets says, “through great varieties