Practical Argumentation
by George K. Pattee
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Assistant Professor of English and Rhetoric in The Pennsylvania State College



The author's aim has been to produce a book that is practical,— practical from the student's standpoint, and practical from the teacher's standpoint. The study of Argumentation has often been criticized for being purely academic, or for being a mere stepping- stone to the study of law. It has even been said that courses in Argumentation and Debate have been introduced into American colleges and universities for no other purpose than to give the intellectual student the opportunity, so long monopolized by his athletic classmate, to take part in intercollegiate contests. The purpose of this book is to teach Argumentation, which is not a science by itself but one of the four branches of Rhetoric, in such a way as to remove these criticisms.

Largely by his choice of illustrative material the author has endeavored to show that this subject is confined neither to the class room nor to any one profession. He has drawn his illustrations, for the most part, from contemporary and popular sources; he has had recourse to many current magazines, newspapers, books, and recent speeches, hoping to show thereby that Argumentation is a practical subject. On the other hand, he has carefully avoided taking a majority of his illustrations either from students' work or from legal practice, criminal cases especially being seldom used on the ground that although they afford the easiest examples a writer can give, they furnish the least help to the average student, who, unless he studies law, will rarely, perhaps never, have occasion to argue upon such subjects.

This book cannot justly be called the effort of a single author. It is rather an outgrowth of the work that for many years has been carried on by the English department at The Pennsylvania State College. The book has, in fact, gradually developed in the class room. Every rule that is given has been tested time and again; every step has been carefully thought out and taught for several years.

The author wishes to acknowledge especial indebtedness to Professor Fred Lewis Pattee, who both inspired the writing of the book and assisted in the work. To Professor A. Howry Espenshade are due many thanks for invaluable suggestions and advice, and for a careful reading of the greater part of the manuscript. Mr. William S. Dye is also to be thanked for valuable assistance. As a student the author studied Baker's Principles of Argumentation; as a teacher he has taught Laycock and Scales' Argumentation and Debate, Alden's The Art of Debate, and Foster's Argumentation and Debating. The debt he owes to these is beyond estimate.

STATE COLLEGE, PA. March 17, 1909


I. Preliminaries

II. The Subject

III. The Introduction—Persuasion

IV. The Introduction—Conviction

V. The Introduction—Brief-Drawing

VI. The Discussion—Conviction and Persuasion

VII. The Discussion—Brief-Drawing

VIII. Methods of Refutation

IX. Debate—Some Practical Suggestions

X. The Conclusion


A. A Written Argument and its Brief B. A List of Propositions





Argumentation is the art of presenting truth so that others will accept it and act in accordance with it. Debate is a special form of argumentation: it is oral argumentation carried on by opposing sides.

A consideration of the service which argumentation performs shows that it is one of the noblest and most useful of arts. By argumentation men overthrow error and discover truth. Courts of law, deliberative assemblies, and all bodies of people that engage in discussion recognize this fact. Argumentation threshes out a problem until the chaff has blown away, when it is easy to see just what kernels of truth remain and what action ought to be taken. Men of affairs, before entering upon any great enterprise, call in advocates of different systems, and by becoming familiar with arguments from every point of view try to discover what is best. This method of procedure presupposes a difference of opinion and belief among men, and holds that when each one tries to establish his ideas, the truth will remain, and that which is false will be swept away.

The field of argumentation includes every kind of discourse that attempts to change man's actions or opinions. Exposition is explanation when only one theory or one interpretation of the facts is possible; when views of truth or of policy conflict, and one course is expounded in opposition to another, the process becomes argumentation. This art is used not only by professional speakers, but by men of every occupation. The schoolboy pleading for a holiday, the workman seeking employment, the statesman advocating a principle of government are all engaged in some form of argumentation. Everywhere that men meet together, on the street or in the assembly hall, debate is certain to arise. Written argument is no less common. Hardly a periodical is published but contains argumentative writing. The fiery editorial that urges voters to the polls, the calm and polished essay that points out the dangers of organized labor, the scientific treatise that demonstrates the practicability of a sea-level canal on the Isthmus are attempts to change existing conditions and ideas, and thus come within the field of argumentation.

The practical benefit to be derived from the study and application of the principles of argumentation can hardly be overestimated. The man who wishes to influence the opinions and actions of others, who wishes to become a leader of men in however great or however humble a sphere, must be familiar with this art. The editor, the lawyer, the merchant, the contractor, the laborer—men in every walk of life—depend for their success upon bringing others to believe, in certain instances, as they believe. Everywhere men who can point out what is right and best, and can bring others to see it and act upon it, win the day. Another benefit to be obtained from the study of argumentation is the ability to be convinced intelligently. The good arguer is not likely to be carried away by specious arguments or fallacious reasoning. He can weigh every bit of evidence; he can test the strength and weakness of every statement; he can separate the essential from the unessential; and he can distinguish between prejudice and reason. A master of the art of argumentation can both present his case convincingly to others, and discover the truth in a matter that is presented to him.

Argumentation can hardly be considered as a distinct art standing by itself; it is rather a composite of several arts, deriving its fundamentals from them, and depending upon them for its existence. In the first place, since argumentation is spoken or written discourse, it belongs to rhetoric, and the rules which govern composition apply to it as strongly as to any other kind of expression. In fact, perhaps rhetorical principles should be observed in argumentation more rigidly than elsewhere, for in the case of narration, description, or exposition, the reader or hearer, in an endeavor to derive pleasure or profit, is seeking the author, while in argumentation it is the author who is trying to force his ideas upon the audience. Hence an argument must contain nothing crude or repulsive, but must be attractive in every detail. In the second place, any composition that attempts to alter beliefs must deal with reasons, and the science of reasoning is logic. There is no need for the student of argumentation to make an exhaustive study of this science, for the good arguer is not obliged to know all the different ways the mind may work; he must, however, know how it should work in order to produce trustworthy results, and to the extent of teaching correct reasoning, argumentation includes logic. In the third place, a study of the emotions belongs to argumentation. According to the definition, argumentation aims both at presenting truth and compelling action. As action depends to a great extent upon man's emotions, the way to arouse his feelings and passions is a fundamental principle of this art. Argumentation, then, which is commonly classified as the fourth division of rhetoric, consists of two fundamental elements. The part that is based upon logic and depends for its effectiveness upon pure reasoning is called conviction; the part that consists of an emotional appeal to the people addressed is called persuasion. If the only purpose of argumentation were to demonstrate the truth or falsity of a hypothesis, conviction alone would be sufficient. But its purpose is greater than this: it aims both (1) to convince men that certain ideas are true, and also (2) to persuade them to act in accordance with the truth presented. Neither conviction nor persuasion can with safety be omitted. An appeal to the intellect alone may demonstrate principles that cannot be refuted; it may prove beyond a doubt that certain theories are logical and right, and ought to be accepted. But this sort of argument is likely to leave the person addressed cold and unmoved and unwilling to give up his former ideas and practices. A purely intellectual discourse upon the evils resulting from a high tariff would scarcely cause a life-long protectionist to change his politics. If, however, some emotion such as duty, public spirit, or patriotism were aroused, the desired action might result. Again it frequently happens that before the arguer can make any appeal to the logical faculties of those he wishes to influence, he will first have to use persuasion in order to gain their attention and to arouse their interest either in himself or in his subject. On the other hand, persuasion alone is undoubtedly of even less value than conviction alone. A purely persuasive argument can never be trusted to produce lasting effects. As soon as the emotions have cooled, if no reasonable conviction remains to guide future thought and action, the plea that at first seemed so powerful is likely to be forgotten. The preacher whose sermons are all persuasion may, for a time, have many converts, but it will take something besides emotional ecstasy to keep them "in good and regular standing."

The proportion of conviction and persuasion to be used in any argumentative effort depends entirely upon the attending circumstances. If the readers or hearers possess a high degree of intelligence and education, conviction should predominate; for it is a generally accepted fact that the higher man rises in the scale of civilization, the less he is moved by emotion. A lawyer's argument before a judge contains little except reasoning; before a jury persuasion plays an important part. In the next place, the arguer must consider the attitude of those whom he would move. If they are favorably disposed, he may devote most of his time to reasoning; if they are hostile, he must use more persuasion. Also the correct proportion varies to some extent according to the amount of action desired. In an intercollegiate debate where little or no action is expected to result, persuasion may almost be neglected; but the political speech or editorial that urges men to follow its instructions usually contains at least as much persuasion as conviction.

The aspirant for distinction in argumentation should study and acquire certain characteristics common to all good arguers. First of all, he should strive to gain the ability to analyze. No satisfactory discussion can ever take place until the contestants have picked the question to pieces and discovered just exactly what it means. The man who does not analyze his subject is likely to seize upon ideas that are merely connected with it, and fail to find just what is involved by the question as a whole. The man skillful in argumentation, however, considers each word of the proposition in the light of its definition, and only after much thought and study decides that he has found the real meaning of the question. But the work of analysis does not end here; every bit of proof connected with the case must be analyzed that its value and its relation to the matter in hand may be determined. Many an argument is filled with what its author thought was proof, but what, upon close inspection, turns out to be mere assertion or fallacious reasoning. This error is surpassed only by the fault of bringing in as proof that which has no direct bearing at all upon the question at issue. Furthermore, the arguer must analyze not only his own side of the discussion but also the work of his opponent, so that with a full knowledge of what is strong and what is weak he may make his attack to the best advantage. Next to the ability to analyze, the most important qualification for an arguer to possess is the faculty of clearly presenting his case. New ideas, new truths are seldom readily accepted, and it is never safe to assume that the hearer or the reader of an argument will laboriously work his way through a mass of obscure reasoning. Absolute clearness of expression is essential. The method of arriving at a conclusion should be so plain that no one can avoid seeing what is proved and how it is proved. Lincoln's great success as a debater was due largely to his clearness of presentation. In the third place, the person who would control his fellow men must assume qualities of leadership. Remembering that men can be led, but seldom be driven, he must show his audience how he himself has reached certain conclusions, and then by leading them along the same paths of reasoning, bring them to the desired destination. If exhortation, counsel, and encouragement are required, they must be at his command. Moreover, a leader who wishes to attract followers must be earnest and enthusiastic. The least touch of insincerity or indifference will ruin all. To analyze ideas, to present them clearly, and as a leader to enforce them enthusiastically and sincerely are necessary qualities for every arguer.

A debater should possess additional attainments. He ought to be a ready thinker. The disputant who depends entirely upon a set speech is greatly handicapped. Since it is impossible to tell beforehand just what arguments an opponent will use and what line of attack he will pursue, the man who cannot mass his forces to meet the requirements of the minute is at great disadvantage. Of course all facts and ideas must be mastered beforehand, but unless one is to be the first speaker, he can most effectually determine during the progress of the debate just what arguments are preferable and what their arrangement should be. A debater must also have some ability as a speaker. He need not be graceful or especially fluent, though these accomplishments are of service, but he must be forceful. Not only his words, but also his manner must reveal the earnestness and enthusiasm he feels. His argument, clear, irrefutable, and to the point, should go forth in simple, burning words that enter into the hearts and understanding of his hearers.



The subject of an argument must always be a complete statement. The reason for this requirement lies in the fact that an argument can occur only when men have conflicting opinions about a certain thought, and try to prove the truth or falsity of this definite idea. Since a term—a word, phrase, or other combination of words not a complete sentence—suggests many ideas, but never stands for one particular idea, it is absurd as a subject to be argued. A debatable subject is always a proposition, a statement in which something is affirmed or denied. It would be impossible to uphold or attack the mere term, "government railroad supervision," for this expression carries with it no specific thought. It may suggest that government railroad supervision has been inadequate in the past; or that government supervision is at present unnecessary; or that the government is about to assume stricter supervision. The term affords no common ground on which the contestants would have to meet. If, however, some exact idea were expressed in such a statement as, "Further government railroad supervision is necessary for the best interests of the United States," an argument might well follow.

Although the subject of an argument must be a complete thought, it does not follow that this proposition is always explicitly stated or formulated in words. The same distinction between subject and title that exists in other kinds of writing is found also in argumentation; the subject is a statement of the matter about which the controversy centers; the title is the name by which the composition is known. Sometimes the subject serves as the title, and sometimes the subject is left to be discovered in the body of the work. The title of the speech delivered by Webster in the Senate, January 26, 1830, is "Webster's Reply to Hayne"; the subject, in the form of a resolution, is found close to the opening sentences:—

Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to inquire and report the quantity of public lands remaining unsold within each State and Territory, and whether it be expedient to limit for a certain period the sales of the public lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered for sale, and are now subject to entry at the minimum price. And, also, whether the office of Surveyor- General, and some of the land offices, may not be abolished without detriment to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt measures to hasten the sales and extend more rapidly the surveys of the public lands.

The thirteen resolutions offered by Burke form the subject of the argument known by the title, "Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America." A recent issue of The Outlook contained an article entitled "Russian Despotism"; careful reading disclosed that the subject was this, "The Present Government of Russia has no Right to Exist." In legislative proceedings the subject of argument is found in the form of a bill, or a motion, or a resolution; in law courts it is embodied in statements called "pleadings," which "set forth with certainty and with truth the matters of fact or of law, the truth or falsity of which must be decided to decide the case." [Footnote: Laycock and Scales' Argumentation and Debate, page 14.] In college debate it is customary to frame the subject in the form of a resolution, and to use this resolution as the title. The generally accepted form is as follows:

Resolved, That the United States army should be permanently enlarged.

Notice the use of italics, of punctuation marks, and of capital letters.

In all kinds of argumentation, whether the proposition to be discussed is clearly expressed or not, the arguer must keep his subject constantly in mind, that his efforts may all be directed toward a definite end in view—to convince and persuade his audience. In debate the speaker should plainly state the subject, and constantly hold it up to the attention of the audience. This procedure renders it impossible for an opponent to ignore the question and evade the real issue.

Only those who are debating for practice experience any difficulty in obtaining a subject. In the business world men argue because they are confronted with some perplexing problem, because some issue arises that demands discussion; but the student, generally speaking, chooses his own topic. Therefore a few suggestions in regard to the choice of a subject and the wording of a proposition are likely to be of considerable service to him.

The student should first select some general, popular topic of the day in which he is interested. He should, for several reasons, not the least of which is that he will thus gain considerable information that may be of value to him outside the class room, select a popular topic rather than one that has been worn out or that is comparatively unknown. He should, moreover, choose an interesting topic, for then his work will be more agreeable and consequently of a higher order. Of this general idea he must decide upon some specific phase which readily lends itself to discussion. Then he has to express this specific idea in the form of a proposition. As it is not always an easy matter to state a proposition with precision and fairness, he must take this last step very cautiously. One must always exercise great care in choosing words that denote the exact meaning he wishes to convey. Many writers and speakers have found themselves in false positions just because, upon examination, it was found that their subjects did not express the precise meaning that was intended.

Moreover, in phrasing the proposition, the debater should so state the subject that the affirmative side, the side that opens the discussion, is the one to advocate a change in existing conditions or belief. This method obviously corresponds to the way in which business is conducted in practical affairs. No one has reason to defend an established condition until it is first attacked. The law presumes a man to be innocent until he is proved guilty, and therefore it is the prosecution, the side to affirm guilt, that opens the case. The question about government ownership of railroads should be so worded that the affirmative side will advocate the new system, and the negative will uphold the old. It should be stated thus: "Resolved, That all railroads in the United States should be owned and operated by the Federal government." This obligation of adducing evidence and reasoning to support one side of a proposition before an answer from the other side can be demanded, is called burden of proof. The "burden" always rests upon the side that advocates a change, and the proposition should be so worded that the affirmative will have to undertake this duty.

One more principle must be observed: nothing in the wording of the subject should give one side any advantage over the other. Argument can exist only when reasonable men have a difference of opinion. If the wording of the proposition removes this difference, no discussion can ensue. For instance, the word "undesirable," if allowed to stand in the following proposition, precludes any debate: "Resolved, That all colleges should abolish the undesirable game of football."

From the preceding suggestions it is seen that the subject of an argument is a definite, restricted thought derived from some general idea. Whether expressed or not, the subject must be a proposition, not a term. In debate the proposition is usually framed in the form of a resolution. This resolution must always be so worded that the burden of proof will rest upon the affirmative side. Nothing in the wording of the proposition should give either side any advantage over the other. These principles have to do with the manner of expression; subjects will next be considered with respect to the ideas they contain.

A common and convenient method of classification divides propositions into two groups: propositions of policy, and propositions of fact. The first class consists of those propositions that aim to prove the truth of a theory, that indicate a preference for a certain policy, for a certain method of action. The second class comprises those propositions that affirm or deny the occurrence of an event, or the existence of a fact. Propositions of policy usually, though not always, contain the word should or ought; propositions of fact usually contain some form of the word to be. The following illustrations will make the distinction plainer:—


The United States should adopt a system of bounties and subsidies for the protection of the American merchant marine.

State laws prohibiting secular employment on Sunday should be repealed.

A city furnishes a more desirable location for a college than the country.

The aggressions of England in Africa are justifiable.


Homer wrote the Iliad.

Nero was guilty of burning Rome.

Mary, Queen of Scots, murdered her husband.

The most convenient method of studying propositions to see what subjects are desirable for student debates is to consider first those propositions that should be avoided.

1. PROPOSITIONS WITH ONLY ONE SIDE. As argumentation presupposes a difference of opinion about a certain subject, evidently it is impossible to argue upon a subject on which all are agreed. Sometimes such propositions as, "Resolved, That Napoleon was a great soldier," and "Resolved, That railroads should take every precaution to protect the lives of their passengers," are found on the programs of literary societies and debating clubs. In such cases mere comment, not debate, can follow. Only subjects on which reasonable men actually disagree are suitable for argument.

2. AMBIGUOUS PROPOSITIONS. If a proposition is capable of several interpretations, those who choose it as a subject for an argument are liable not to agree on what it means, and one side will debate in accordance with one interpretation, and the other side in accordance with a totally different interpretation. Thus the opponents will never meet in conflict except when they explain their subject. For example, in a certain debate on the question, "Resolved, That colleges should abolish all athletic sports," the affirmative held that only interclass and intercollegiate games were involved; while the negative maintained that the term "athletic sports" included all forms of athletic games participated in by college men. Manifestly the debate hinged largely on the definition of this term; but as there was no authority to settle just what was meant, the debate was a failure. It is usually desirable, and frequently necessary, to explain what the subject means, for unless it has some meaning which both sides are bound to accept, the argument becomes a mere controversy over the definition of words. Another ambiguous proposition would be, "Republican government in the United States is preferable to any other." The word "republican" is open to two legitimate definitions, and since the context does not explain which meaning is intended, a debater is at liberty to accept either definition that he wishes. A few alterations easily turn this proposition into a debatable subject, "Government by the Republican party in the United States is preferable to any other."

3. TOO GENERAL PROPOSITIONS. It is never wise for a writer or a speaker to choose a subject which is so general or so abstract that he cannot handle it with some degree of completeness and facility. Not only will such work be difficult and distasteful to him, but it will be equally distasteful and uninteresting to his audience. No student can write good themes on such subjects as, "War," "The Power of the Press," "Race Prejudice"; nor can he argue well on propositions like, "Resolved, That wars are justifiable"; "Resolved, That the pen is mightier than the sword"; or "Resolved, That race prejudice is justifiable." These are entirely beyond his scope. But he can handle restricted propositions that have to do with one phase of some concrete, tangible event or idea. "Resolved, That Japan was justified in waging war against Russia"; "Resolved, That Bacon wrote the plays commonly attributed to Shakespeare"; "Resolved, That the segregation of Japanese school children in San Francisco is for the best interests of all concerned," are subjects that can be argued with success.

4. COMBINED PROPOSITIONS. It sometimes happens that several heterogeneous ideas, each of which by itself would form an excellent subject for argument, are embodied in a single proposition. The difficulty of arguing on this kind of subject is apparent. It is none too easy to establish one idea satisfactorily; but when several ideas must be upheld and defended, the work is enormous and sometimes open to the charge of inconsistency. Moreover, the principle of Unity demands that a composition be about a single topic. The proposition, "Resolved, That Aaron Burr was guilty of murder and should have been put to death," involves two debatable subjects, each of which is of sufficient importance to stand in a proposition by itself: "Was Burr guilty of murder?" and "Should a murderer be punished by death?" The error of combining in a compound sentence several distinct subjects for debate is generally detected with ease; but when the error of combination exists in a simple sentence, it is not always so obvious. In the case of the subject, "Resolved, That foreign immigrants have been unjustly treated by the United States," there are, as the same privileges have not been granted all immigrants, several debatable questions. One who attempts to argue on this subject must take into consideration the treatment that has been accorded the Chinese, the English, the Germans, the Italians, the paupers, the well-to-do, and others. In one case the laws may be palpably unfair, and in another case, all that can be desired.

When two ideas, however, are very closely related and are dependent upon each other for interpretation and support, they may and sometimes should be combined in the same proposition. For example, "Education should be compulsory to the age of sixteen," involves two main issues: "Education should be compulsory," and "The age of sixteen is the proper limit." But in this case the one who advocates compulsory education is under obligation to explain some definite system, and this explanation must include the establishing of some limit. To name this limit in the proposition renders the argument clearer to an audience and fairer to an opponent. For similar reasons, the proposition, "The Federal government should own and operate the railroads in the United States," cannot be condemned on the ground that it is a proposition with more than one main issue.

Propositions, then, adapted to class room argument, are those which give rise to a conflict of opinion; which contain a definite and unmistakable thought; which are specific and sufficiently restricted to admit of thorough treatment; and which contain a single idea.

Furthermore, the student will do well to select subjects that are as nearly as possible like the problems which statesmen, educators, professional and business men meet in practical life. He should try to remove his argument as far as he can from the realm of pure academic exercise, and endeavor to gain some insight into the issues that are now confronting the makers of modern civilization. The student who takes this work seriously is sure to gain information, form opinions, and acquire habits of thought that will be of great practical value to him when he takes his place as a man among men.


A. Narrow each of the following terms into good, debatable propositions:—

Election of Senators; Chinese exclusion; woman suffrage; temperance; compulsory manual training; the honor system; compulsory education; vivisection; reciprocity; an enlarged army; the educational voting test; strikes; bounties and subsidies; capital punishment; Hamlet's insanity; municipal government; permanent copyright; athletics; civil service; military training; Panama canal; jury system; foreign acquisitions; Monroe Doctrine; forest reserves; protective tariff.

B. Criticise the following propositions:—

1. The existence and attributes of the Supreme Being can be proved without the aid of divine revelation.

2. More money is spent for luxuries than for necessities.

3. The growth of large fortunes should be checked by a graduated income tax and an inheritance tax.

4. The Monroe Doctrine should receive the support of every American.

5. Hard work is the secret of success.

6. Law is a better profession than medicine.

7. College football should be abolished and lacrosse adopted in its place.

8. Newspapers exert a powerful influence on modern politics.

9. The United States postal system should be under the control of the Federal government.

10. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

11. Immigration is detrimental to the United States.

12. President ——'s foreign policy should be upheld.

13. Canada should not be annexed to the United States.

14. The cruel banishment of the Acadians was unjust.

15. Beauty has practical uses.

16. The democratic policy of government would be for the best interests of the Philippines.

17. Dickens' novels, which are superior to Scott's, effected reforms.

18. An unconstitutional income tax should not be levied.

19. A majority vote of a jury should not convict or acquit.

20. Edison is a great inventor.



Every complete argument consists of three parts: introduction, discussion, and conclusion. Each of these divisions has definite and specific duties to perform. The work of the introduction is threefold: (1) to conciliate the audience; (2) to explain the subject; and (3) to outline the discussion. As the conciliation of the audience is accomplished by an appeal to the emotions rather than to the reason, it is properly classified under persuasion. Explaining the proposition and outlining the discussion are of an expository nature and will be discussed under the head of conviction.

As has been stated in a previous chapter, the amount of persuasion to be used in any piece of argumentative work depends entirely upon the attending circumstances. The subject, audience, author, occasion, and purpose of the effort must be taken into consideration. But whether the amount used be great or small, practically every argument should begin with conciliation. The conciliation of the audience—the word audience is used throughout this book to designate both hearers and readers—consists of gaining the good will of those to be convinced, of arousing their interest, and of rendering them open to conviction. No argument can be expected to attain any considerable degree of success so long as anything about its author, or anything in the subject itself, is peculiarly disagreeable to the people it is designed to affect. If the ill will remains too great, it is not likely that the argument will ever reach those for whom it is intended, much less produce the desired result. In addressing Southern sympathizers at Liverpool, during the Civil War, Beecher had to fight even for a hearing. The speech of an unpopular Senator frequently empties the Senate chamber. Men of one political belief often refuse to read the publications of the opposite party. Obviously, the first duty of the introduction is to gain the approval of the audience. In the next place, interest must be aroused. Active dislike is less frequently encountered than indifference. How many times sermons, lectures, books have failed in their object just because no one took any interest in them! There was no opposition, no hostility; every one wished the cause well; and yet the effort failed to meet with any attention or response. The argument did not arouse interest—and interest is a prime cause of attention and of action. In the third place, the conciliatory part of the introduction should induce the audience to assume an unbiased, judicial attitude, ready to decide the question according to the strength of the proof. This result is not always easy of attainment. Longstanding beliefs, prejudice, stubbornness must be overcome, and a desire for the truth substituted for everything else. All this is frequently difficult, but unless an arguer can gain the good will of the people addressed, arouse their interest, and render them willing to be convinced, no amount of reasoning is likely to produce much effect.

Now the question arises, How is it possible to conciliate the audience? To this query there is no answer that will positively guarantee success. The arguer must always study his audience and suit his discourse to the occasion. What means success in one instance may bring failure in another. The secret of the whole matter is adaptability. Humor, gravity, pathos, even defiance may at times be used to advantage. It is not always possible, however, for the orator or writer to know beforehand just the kind of people he is to address. In this case it is usually best for him to follow out a few well established principles that most arguers have found to be of benefit.

MODESTY. Modesty in word and action is indispensable to one who would gain the friendship of his audience. Anything that savors of egotism at once creates a feeling of enmity. No one can endure another's consciousness of superiority even though the superiority be real. An appearance of haughtiness, self-esteem, condescension, intolerance of inferiors, or a desire for personal glory will at once raise barriers of dislike. On the other hand, modesty should never be carried so far as to become affectation; that attitude is equally despicable. Personal unobtrusiveness should exist without being conspicuous. The arguer should always take the attitude that the cause he is upholding is greater than its advocate.

In the following quotations, compare the overbearing arrogance of Burke's introduction with the simple modesty of Proctor's:—

Mr. Speaker, I rise under some embarrassment occasioned by a feeling of delicacy toward one-half of the house, and of sovereign contempt for the other half. [Footnote: Edmund Burke, House of Commons, March 22, 1775.]

Mr. President, more importance seems to be attached by others to my recent visit to Cuba than I had given it, and it has been suggested that I make a public statement of what I saw and how the situation impressed me. This I do on account of the public interest in all that concerns Cuba, and to correct some inaccuracies that have, not unnaturally, appeared in reported interviews with me. [Footnote: Redfield Proctor, United States Senate, March 17, 1898.]

FAIRNESS. Few things will assist an arguer more in securing a respectful hearing from those who do not agree with him, but whom he would convince, than the quality of fairness. The arguer should take the position of one seeking the truth regardless of what it may be. If he wishes others to look at the question from his standpoint, he will have to show that he is willing to consider the question from their point of view. Everything' in the shape of prejudice, everything which would tend to indicate that he had formed conclusions prior to his investigation, he must carefully avoid.

In this connection consider the following:—

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 so ever 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. [Footnote: Works of Daniel Webster, Vol. VI, p. 51. Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1857.]

SINCERITY. Another quality of paramount importance to the arguer is sincerity. This he must really possess if he is to be eminently successful. To feign it is almost impossible; some word or expression, some gesture or inflection of the voice, the very attitude of the insincere arguer will betray his real feelings. If he tries to arouse an emotion that he himself does not feel, his affectation will be apparent and his effort a failure. There are few things that an audience resents more than being tricked into an expression of feeling. If they even mistrust that a speaker is trying to deceive them, that he is arguing merely for personal gain or reputation and has no other interest in the case, no desire to establish the truth, they will not only withhold their confidence, but will also become prejudiced against him. It is usually inviting disaster to champion a cause in which one is not interested heart and soul. Of course in class room work the student cannot always avoid taking a false position, and the training he receives thereby is excellent, but he cannot make his persuasion of the highest type of effectiveness unless he honestly and sincerely believes what he says, and feels the emotions he would arouse.

AN APPEAL TO SOME EMOTION. One of the strongest forms of conciliation is the direct appeal to a dominant emotion. If an arguer can find some common ground on which to meet his audience, some emotion by which they may be moved, he can usually obtain a personal hold that will overcome hostility and lack of interest. In deciding what emotion to arouse, he must make as careful and thorough a study of his audience as he can. In general, the use of conviction need vary but little to produce the same results on different men; processes of pure reasoning are essentially the same the world around. But with persuasion the case is different; emotions are varied, and in each separate instance the arguer must carefully consider the ruling passions and ideals of his audience. The hopes and aspirations of a gang of ignorant miners would differ widely from the desires of an assembly of college students, or of a coterie of metropolitan capitalists. Education, wealth, social standing, politics, religion, race, nationality, every motive that is likely to have weight with the audience should be taken into consideration. Remembering that he has to choose between such diverse emotions as ambition, fear, hatred, love, patriotism, sense of duty, honor, justice, self-interest, pleasure, and revenge, the arguer must make his selection with the greatest care, and then drive home the appeal with all the force and eloquence at his command. The higher and nobler the emotion he can arouse, the greater and more permanent will be the result. If the audience is such that he can successfully arouse no higher feeling than that of self-interest or revenge, he will, of necessity, have to appeal to these motives; but whenever he can, he should appeal to the noblest sentiments of mankind.

A famous illustration of the effectiveness of this sort of conciliation is found in Wendell Phillips' oration entitled The Murder of Lovejoy. By appealing to their reverence for the past, he silenced the mob that had come to break up the meeting, and in the end he won over the house that had been packed against him.

We have met for the freest discussion of these resolutions, and the events which gave rise to them. I hope I shall be permitted to express my surprise at the sentiments of the last speaker, surprise not only at such sentiments from such a man, but at the applause they have received within these walls. A comparison has been drawn between the events of the Revolution and the tragedy at Alton. We have heard it asserted here, in Faneuil Hall, that Great Britain had a right to tax the colonies, and we have heard the mob at Alton, the drunken murderers of Lovejoy, compared to those patriot fathers who threw the tea overboard! Fellow citizens, is this Faneuil Hall doctrine?.... Sir, when I heard the gentleman lay down principles which place the murderers of Alton side by side with Otis and Hancock, with Quincy and Adams, I thought those pictured lips (pointing to the portraits in the Hall) would have broken into voice to rebuke the recreant American— the slanderer of the dead. The gentleman said that he should sink into insignificance if he dared to gainsay the principles of these resolutions. Sir, for the sentiments he has uttered, on soil consecrated by the prayers of Puritans and the blood of patriots, the earth should have yawned and swallowed him up. [Footnote: American Orations, Vol. II, page 102. G. P. Putnam's Sons.]

Specific directions for arousing the emotions are hard to give. The appeal must suit both the audience and the occasion, and until these are known, suggestions are not particularly helpful. When no better plan for conciliating an audience seems practicable, speakers and writers try to arouse interest in the discussion. There are several convenient methods for accomplishing this result.

1. IMPORTANCE OF THE SUBJECT. One of the commonest methods of arousing interest in an audience apathetic and indifferent is to impress upon them the importance and gravity of the question at issue. Matters thought to be trivial are apt to receive scant attention. This fact is so universally recognized that many writers and speakers attempt at the very outset to show that upon the correct solution of the problem at hand depend serious and far-reaching results. It is seldom enough merely to state that a subject is important; its seriousness should be made apparent. This method is very popular. Whenever one feels it necessary to open an argument with persuasion, but is at loss to know how to do so, he may well resort to this device. While it does not, perhaps, constitute the strongest possible appeal, yet it is eminently serviceable, since, if handled properly, it does arouse interest, and, moreover, it applies to many cases.

Several examples will show how this method is commonly used:—

Mr. President, the question now about to be discussed by this body is in my judgment the most important that has attracted the attention of Congress or the country since the formation of the Constitution. It affects every interest, great and small, from the slightest concern of the individual to the largest and most comprehensive interest of the nation. [Footnote: J. P. Jones, United States Senate, May 12, 1890.]

No city ever had such a problem in passenger transportation to solve, and no city of any pretensions has solved it much worse. London is not in the strict sense a town, but rather a "province of houses." The county of London, as everybody knows, is only a part of the Metropolis. The four millions and a half of residents enclosed by the legal ring-fence of the County are supplemented by two millions more who live in groups of suburbs included within the wide limits of "Greater London"; while even beyond that large tract of southeastern England, with its six millions and a half of inhabitants, are many towns and villages, populous and increasing, which are concerned with the question of Metropolitan locomotion. [Footnote: The Fortnightly Review, Jan. 1, 1902.]

2. TIMELINESS OF THE SUBJECT. To show that a subject is timely is another effective device for arousing interest. As most people wish to keep pace with the times and face the issues of the day, it is natural and forceful to introduce an argument by showing that the subject is being discussed elsewhere, or by showing how an event or sequence of events places the problem before the public. The arguer calls attention to the fact that the question does not belong to the past or to the distant future, but is of immediate interest and must be settled at once.

As the day of the Cuban Convention for the framing and adoption of a constitution approaches, the question of Cuban independence assumes greater, and still greater, proportions, and the eyes of the American people are beginning to turn anxiously toward the Pearl of the Antilles. By the time this article appears in print, delegates to the convention will have been elected, and interest in the convention itself will have become widespread. The task I have set before me is briefly to review the situation, and to discuss the probable results to be expected from a number of causes, remote as well as proximate.[Footnote: Charles Warren Currier. The Forum, October, 1900.]

The recent objection made in Germany that American prestige might suffer should there be diminution in our Berlin Embassy's social brilliancy has stirred Congress from apathy regarding American representatives abroad. Congressmen are coming to realize that brains, not money, ought to form the first passport to a candidate's favor, agreeable adjunct as the money may be. [Footnote: The Outlook, April 18, 1908, p. 844.]

3. APPEAL FOR ONE'S SELF. The safest method of stirring the emotions is to make an appeal in behalf of the subject, but occasionally a writer or speaker who is truly sincere, who is contending against unfortunate circumstances, and is not seeking personal aggrandizement, may arouse interest by making an appeal on his own behalf. He may present some personal reason why the audience should be interested and give him a respectful hearing; he calls attention not primarily to his subject, but to his connection with it, or to some circumstance in his own life. This method is hedged about with several pitfalls: it may expose one to the charge of egotism, of insincerity, or of false modesty; and it may draw the attention of the audience away from the matter in hand. To use this method successfully one should possess consummate tact and thorough knowledge of human nature.

The following opening of a speech by Abraham Lincoln at Columbus, Ohio, shows how he used this device to gain the sympathy of the audience:—

Fellow-citizens of the State of Ohio: I cannot fail to remember that I appear for the first time before an audience in this now great State,— an audience that is accustomed to hear such speakers as Corwin, and Chase, and Wade, and many other renowned men; and remembering this, I feel that it will be well for you, as for me, that you should not raise your expectations to that standard to which you would have been justified in raising them had one of these distinguished men appeared before you. You would perhaps be only preparing a disappointment for yourselves, and, as a consequence of your disappointment, mortification for me. I hope, therefore, that you will commence with very moderate expectations; and perhaps, if you will give me your attention, I shall be able to interest you in a moderate degree. [Footnote: Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. I, p. 538. Nicolay & Hay. Century Company.]

These, then, are the suggestions offered for conciliating an audience: Be modest; be fair; be sincere; and appeal to some strong emotion. To make this appeal successfully, study your audience. In case of inability to arouse any stronger feeling, appeal to the interest of the people by showing that the subject is important, or timely, or both; or show that you have some personal claim upon the audience.

These directions are far from complete. Anything like an exhaustive treatment of this subject would in itself constitute a book. The advice offered here, however, should be of considerable value to one who has difficulty in getting a written argument or a debate successfully launched. The student should supplement this chapter with careful study of the work of proficient writers. If he will notice how they have gained success in this particular, and if he will imitate them, he is bound to improve his own compositions. The principal dangers to be avoided consist of going to extremes. The conciliatory part of the introduction should not be so meager that it will fail to accomplish its purpose, nor should it be so elaborate and artificial as to hamper the onward movement of the argument. The important thing is to gain the good will and the attention of the audience, and, other things being equal, the shorter the introduction the better. Further directions for the spoken argument may be found in the chapter entitled Debate.


A. Criticise the following introductory passages for persuasiveness, pointing out specifically the methods of conciliation used, and any defects that may be found:—

1. The building of the Panama Canal is a topic of interest and importance to every American. Not only do we wish to see our country build the canal successfully, but we also desire to see built the best canal that the world has ever known. There is no doubt that the canal is necessary; the great loss of time and money, the annual sacrifice of ships and lives involved in the passage around the "Horn," not to mention the expense and congestion of the railroad freight systems across the continent, plainly show the need of quicker ship communication between the two oceans.

2. I stand here to raise the last voice that ever can be heard this side the judgment seat of God in behalf of the personal honor and judicial integrity of this respondent. I fully realize the responsibilities of my position, and I shall endeavor to meet them as best I can. I also realize as deeply as any other man can how important it is not only to my client but to every American man, woman, and child that justice shall be done and true deliverance made.

3. The opening of the racing season in New York, at the Aqueduct track on Long Island, gives a fresh opportunity for observation of the conditions under which horse-racing, and more especially gambling on horse races, is carried on. The announcement of the racing managers that certain "reforms" had been inaugurated in the control of the gambling makes the opportunity of especial interest.

4. I approach the discussion of this bill and the kindred bills and amendments pending in the two Houses with unaffected diffidence. No problem is submitted to us of equal importance and difficulty. Our action will affect the value of all the property of all the people of the United States, and the wages of labor of every kind, and our trade and commerce with all the world. In the consideration of such a question we should not be controlled by previous opinions or bound by local interests, but with the light of experience and full knowledge of all the complicated facts involved, give to the subject the best judgment which imperfect human nature allows.

5. Each generation has the power to shape its own destinies; and had Washington and his fellow patriots been governed by warnings against a departure from traditions, our present form of government would never have been established, the Constitution would have been rejected by the States, and untold evils would have resulted. Madison, when arguing for the adoption of the Constitution, met arguments very like to those now being made in favor of political isolation.

6. As a race they have withered from the land. Their arrows are broken and their springs are dried up; their cabins are in the dust. Their council fire has long since gone out on the shore, and their war cry is fast dying out to the untrodden West. Slowly and sadly they climb the mountains and read their doom in the setting sun. They are shrinking before the mighty tide which is pressing them away; they must soon hear the roar of the last wave, which will settle over them forever. Ages hence the inquisitive white man, as he stands by some growing city, will ponder on the structure of their disturbed remains and wonder to what manner of person they belonged. They will live only in the songs and chronicles of their exterminators. Let these be faithful to their rude virtues as men, and pay due tribute to their unhappy fate as a people.

7. (During the Civil War England largely favored the South. To counteract this feeling Henry Ward Beecher spoke in many of the principal cities in behalf of Northern interests. In Liverpool he met an audience that was extremely hostile. The following is the introduction to his speech.) For more than twenty-five years I have been made perfectly familiar with popular assemblies in all parts of my country except the extreme South. There has not been for the whole of that time a single day of my life when it would have been safe for me to go south of Mason and Dixon's line in my own country, and all for one reason: my solemn, earnest, persistent testimony against that which I consider to be the most atrocious thing under the sun—the system of American slavery in a great free republic. (Cheers.) I have passed through that early period when right of free speech was denied me. Again and again I have attempted to address audiences that, for no other crime than that of free speech, visited me with all manner of contumelious epithets; and now since I have been in England, although I have met with greater kindness and courtesy on the part of most than I deserved, yet, on the other hand, I perceive that the Southern influence prevails to some extent in England. (Applause and uproar.) It is my old acquaintance; I understand it perfectly-(laughter)-and I have always held it to be an unfailing truth that where a man had a cause that would bear examination he was perfectly willing to have it spoken about. (Applause.) And when in Manchester I saw those huge placards, "Who is Henry Ward Beecher?" (laughter, cries of "Quite right," and applause), and when in Liverpool I was told that there were those blood-red placards, purporting to say what Henry Ward Beecher has said, and calling upon Englishmen to suppress free speech, I tell you what I thought. I thought simply this, "I am glad of it." (Laughter.) Why? Because if they had felt perfectly secure, that you are the minions of the South and the slaves of slavery, they would have been perfectly still. (Applause and uproar.) And, therefore, when I saw so much nervous apprehension that, if I were permitted to speak —(hisses and applause)—when I found they were afraid to have me speak—(hisses, laughter, and "No, no!")—when I found that they considered my speaking damaging to their cause—(applause)—when I found that they appealed from facts and reasonings to mob law— (applause and uproar)—I said, no man need tell me what the heart and secret counsel of these men are. They tremble and are afraid. (Applause, laughter, hisses, "No, no!" and a voice, "New York mob.") Now, personally, it is of very little consequence to me whether I speak here to-night or not. (Laughter and cheers.) But one thing is very certain, if you do permit me to speak here tonight, you will hear very plain talking. (Applause and hisses.) You will not find a man— (interruption)—you will not find me to be a man that dared to speak about Great Britain three thousand miles off, and then is afraid to speak to Great Britain when he stands on her shores. (Immense applause and hisses.) And if I do not mistake the tone and temper of Englishmen, they had rather have a man who opposes them in a manly way—(applause from all parts of the hall)—than a sneak that agrees with them in an unmanly way. (Applause and "Bravo!") Now, if I can carry you with me by sound convictions, I shall be immensely glad (applause); but if I cannot carry you with me by facts and sound arguments, I do not wish you to go with me at all; and all that I ask is simply FAIR PLAY. (Applause, and a voice, "You shall have it, too.")

Those of you who are kind enough to wish to favor my speaking,—and you will observe that my voice is slightly husky from having spoken almost every night in succession for some time past,—those who wish to hear me will do me the kindness simply to sit still; and I and my friends the Secessionists will make all the noise. (Laughter.)

B. On the affirmative side of the following propositions, write conciliatory introductions, of about two hundred words each, suited to the audiences indicated:—


1. All colleges should abolish hazing. 2. Fraternities tend to destroy college spirit. 3. A classical education is not worth while. 4. All colleges should abolish secret class societies. 5. Intercollegiate athletic contests are harmful to a college.


6. Strikes are barren of profitable results. 7. Unions are detrimental to the laboring man. 8. The concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few men benefits industrial conditions.



As soon as the persuasive portion of an introduction has rendered the audience friendly, attentive, and open to conviction, the process of reasoning should begin. First of all, it is the duty of the arguer to see that the meaning of the proposition is perfectly clear both to himself and to all the people whom he wishes to reach. If the arguer does not thoroughly comprehend his subject, he is likely to produce only a jumble of facts and reasoning, or at best he may establish a totally different proposition from the one that confronts him; if the audience fails to understand just what is being proved, they remain uninfluenced. The amount of explanation required to show what the proposition means varies according to the intelligence of the people addressed and their familiarity with the subject.


To begin with, if there are any unfamiliar words in the proposition, any terms or expressions that are liable to be misunderstood or not comprehended instantly, they must be defined. At this point the arguer has to exercise considerable judgment both in determining what words to define and in choosing a definition that is accurate and clear. Synonyms are almost always untrustworthy or as incomprehensible as the original word, and other dictionary definitions are usually framed either in too technical language to be easily grasped or in too general language to apply inevitably to the case at hand.

DEFINITION BY AUTHORITY. As a rule, the very best definitions that can be used are quotations from the works of men distinguished for their knowledge in the special subject to which the word to be defined belongs. The eminent economist defines economic terms; the statesman, political terms; the jurist, legal terms; the scientist, scientific terms; the theologian, the meaning of religious phraseology. To present these definitions accurately, and to be sure of the author's meaning, one should take the quotations directly from the author's work itself. If, however, this source is not at hand, or if time for research is lacking, one may often find in legal and economic dictionaries and in encyclopaedias the very quotations that he wishes to use in defining a term. It is always well, in quoting a definition, to tell who the authority is, and in what book, in what volume, and on what page the passage occurs.

Another convenient way of using definition by authority is not to quote the entire definition but to summarize it. Frequently an authoritative definition is so exhaustive that it covers several pages or even chapters of a book. In such a case the arguer may well condense the definition into his own words, not omitting, however, to name the sources used. The following example is an excellent illustration of this method:—

The bearing of the Monroe Doctrine on all these contentions and counter contentions is not at once evident to the casual observer.... Of course with changing times its meaning has changed also, for no one attempts to declare it to be as immutable as the law of the Medes and Persians. It is applied in various ways to meet varying conditions. Nevertheless, I may say I believe, after a perusal of the more important works on the subject, that during the forescore years of its existence two principles have steadily underlain it: (1) that Europe shall acquire no more territory for permanent occupation upon this continent; (2) that Europe shall affect the destinies of, that is exert influence over, no American state.[Footnote: A. B. Hart, Foundations of American Foreign Policy, chap. VII; J. W. Foster, A Century of American Diplomacy, chap. XII; J. A. Kasson, The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States of America, pages 221 ff. [Footnote: Nutter, Hersey & Greenough, Specimens of Prose Composition, p. 218. ] ]

DEFINITION BY ILLUSTRATION. Since the purpose of each step in the reasoning portion of the introduction is to convey information accurately, quickly, and, above all else, clearly, a particularly good method for defining terms is by illustration. In using this method, one holds up to view a concrete example of the special significance of the word that is being explained. He shows how the law, or custom, or principle, or whatever is being expounded works in actual practice. For example, if he is advocating the superiority of the large college over the small college, he should define each term by giving specific examples of large colleges and of small colleges. The advantage of this method lies in its simplicity and clearness, qualities which enable the audience to understand the discussion without much conscious effort on their part. Investigation reveals that the definitions of great writers and speakers are replete with illustration. Whenever the student of argumentation has something to define that is particularly intricate or hard to understand, he should illustrate it. If he fails to find already prepared an illustrative definition that exactly fits his needs, he will often do well to learn just what the term means, and then make his own illustration.

Consider how this method has been used. The Hon. Charles Emory Smith defines reciprocity as follows:—

Its principle, rightly understood, is axiomatic. Brazil grows coffee and makes no machinery. We make machinery and grow no coffee. She needs the fabrics of our forges and factories, and we need the fruit of her tropical soil. We agree to concessions for her coffee and she agrees to concessions for our machinery. That is reciprocity.

The following is a definition of free silver by The Hon. Edward O. Leech, former Director of the Mint:—

It is important to understand clearly and exactly what the free coinage of silver under present conditions means. It may be defined as the right of anyone to deposit silver of any kind at a mint of the United States, and have every 371.25 grains of pure silver (now worth in its uncoined state about 52 cents) stamped, free of charge, "One Dollar," which dollar shall be a full legal tender at its face value in the payment of debts and obligations of all kinds, public and private, in the United States.

In upholding his opinion that a majority of the members of the House of Representatives have the right to make the rules governing parliamentary procedure in the House, The Hon. Thomas B. Reed carefully defines the term "rights":—

It is the fault of most discussions which are decided incorrectly that they are decided by the misuse of terms. Unfortunately, words have very little precision, and mean one thing to one man and a different thing to another. Words are also used with one meaning and quoted with another. When men speak of the rights of minorities and claim for them the sacredness of established law, they are correct or incorrect according as they interpret the word "rights."

A man has a right to an estate in fee simple, a right to land, and there is no right more indisputable under our system. Nothing but the supreme law can take the estate away, and then only after compensation. The same man has a right of passage over land used as a highway, but his town or county can take that privilege away from him without his consent and without compensation. In both cases the man has rights, but the rights are entirely different, and the difference arises from the nature of things. It is good for the community, or at least it has been so thought, that a man should have unrestricted right over his land. On it he can build as high as heaven or dig as deep as a probable hereafter. This is not because it is pleasant for the man, but because it is best for the community. Therefore his right to build or dig is limited by the right of eminent domain—the right of the whole people to take his property at any time for the common benefit on paying its value.

For the same reason the right of a man to walk over the land of a roadway is an inferior right which may more easily be taken from him; for if it be more convenient for the whole community that nobody should walk over that land, each man's right, which is a perfect right while it exists, is taken away from him, and he alone bears the loss.

It is hardly necessary to multiply examples in order to lay a foundation for the assertion that the rights, so called, of any man or set of men, have their foundation only in the common good.


Not only must the arguer define the unfamiliar words that occur in the proposition, but he must also explain the meaning of the proposition taken as a whole. Since an audience often has neither the inclination nor the opportunity to give a proposition careful thought and study, the disputant himself must make clear the matter in dispute, and show exactly where the difference in opinion between the affirmative and the negative lies. This process is of great importance; it removes the subject of dispute from the realm of mere words—words which arranged in a formal statement are to many often incomprehensible—and brings out clearly the idea that is to be supported or condemned.

To discover just what the proposition means, the arguer must weigh each word, carefully noting its meaning and its significance in the proposition. To neglect a single word is disastrous. An intercollegiate debate was once lost because the affirmative side did not take into consideration the words "present tendency" in the proposition, "Resolved, That the present tendency of labor unions is detrimental to the prosperity of the United States." The negative side admitted everything that the affirmative established, namely, that unions are detrimental; and won by showing that their tendency is beneficial. In another college debate on the subject, "Resolved, That the United States should immediately dispose of the Philippines," one side failed to meet the real point at issue because it ignored the word "immediately." A thorough explanation of the proposition would have shown the limitations that this word imposed upon the discussion.

In the next place, the arguer should usually present to the audience a brief history of the matter in dispute. Many debatable subjects are of such a nature that the arguer himself cannot, until he Has studied the history of the proposition, fully understand what constitutes the clash in opinion between the affirmative and the negative sides. To understand the debate, the audience must possess this same information. A history of the idea contained in the proposition would be absolutely necessary to render intelligible such subjects as: "The aggressions of England in the Transvaal are justifiable"; "The United States should re-establish reciprocity with Canada"; "Football reform is advisable."

In the last place, the arguer must give his audience all essential information concerning the matter in dispute. For example, if the proposition is, "Naturalization laws in the United States should be more stringent," a mere definition of "naturalization laws" is not enough; the disputant must tell just what naturalization laws exist at the present time, and just how stringent they are to-day. Again, if the subject is, "The United States army should be enlarged," the arguer must tell exactly how large the army is now. If the proposition is, "The right of suffrage should be further limited by an educational test," the arguer must state what limits now exist, and he must also tell what is meant by "an educational test." In a debate the work of the affirmative and of the negative differ slightly at this point. Since the proposition reads an educational test, the advocate for the affirmative has the privilege of upholding any sort of educational test that he wishes to defend, provided only that it comes within the limits of "an educational test." He may say that the test should consist of a knowledge of the alphabet, or he may advocate an examination in higher mathematics; but he is under obligation to outline carefully and thoroughly some specific system. The negative, on the other hand, must be prepared to overthrow whatever system is brought forward. If the affirmative fails to outline any system, the negative has only to call attention to this fact to put the affirmative in a very embarrassing position.

The following quotations are good illustrations of how a proposition may be explained:—

The supremely significant and instructive fact, in the dealings of society with crime in our day, and one which has not been fully grasped as yet by the legal profession, not even by those who practice in criminal courts, and who should be familiar with it, is this: We have now two classes of institutions fundamentally distinct in character and purpose, both of which are designed by society, erected and conducted at public expense, for the purpose of dealing with criminals. The most numerous class of these institutions consists of prisons, in which to confine men for terms specified by the trial courts as penalties for their offenses. The laws, under which offenders are sentenced to these prisons, aim at classifying crimes according to the degree of guilt they imply, and assigning to each of them the penalty which it deserves. Thus, to these prisons are sent men sentenced to confinement for two, five, ten, fourteen, or thirty years, or for life, according to the name which the law attaches to the crime proved upon them; and each man, when he has served the prescribed term, is turned loose upon society. The other class of institutions includes what are known as "reformatories." The fundamental principle here is that an offender is sent to them not for a term, but for a specified work. It is assumed that his character and habits unfit him for social life. For reasons to be found in his own nature, he cannot yet be trusted with freedom and the responsibilities of citizenship. But he may possess the capacity to become an honest, industrious, and useful citizen. To the reformatory, then, he is sent to be educated; to be trained to habits of industry; above all, to be disciplined in the habit of looking forward to the future with the consciousness that his welfare and happiness to-morrow depend on his conduct to-day, and that he is constantly shaping his own destiny. He is expected to remain until it satisfactorily appears that this training is effective, and he may then go forth with a prospect of leading an honest and respectable life. This, in brief, is the distinction between these two classes of institutions.

For a generation past, these two kinds of prisons have been standing side by side in New York, Massachusetts, and other States. Each of them has received many thousands of criminals under sentence for grave offenses. Each of them has sent out thousands of inmates into the world of human society, with whatever impress the life, teachings, and associations of the institutions could make upon their natures, as a preparation for their after career. What is the result? [Footnote: Charlton T. Lewis, in North American Review, August, 1904.]

Congress has at last decided that the long-talked-of canal shall be built, and shall be built at Panama. Those issues no longer confront us. The question now to be decided concerns the kind of canal that shall be constructed. Two plans have been suggested: the lock-canal plan and the sea-level plan. The advocates of the lock-canal plan aim to build a gigantic dam in the valley of the Chagres River; the enormous artificial lake thus formed being used as part of the passageway for the vessels. They say that this lake will be at an elevation of about eighty-five feet above mean sea-level; the passage to and from it will be made by means of canals at both ends, each canal containing three locks. Thus there will be, if this plan is adopted, six locks in the entire system. The canal will be of sufficient width and depth to accommodate vessels of such size as may be expected to be built when the canal is completed.

If the canal is built at sea-level, it will be of the same depth and width as the lock-canal, but it will be at the level of the sea throughout its entire length. Owing to the fact that the Atlantic and the Pacific have a difference in extreme level of twenty feet, an automatic tide-lock will have to be installed. A small lake will also be built, merely to divert the Chagres and to furnish light and power.

The question that now confronts us is, "Which plan should be adopted?"


Following the discovery of the real meaning of the proposition, comes the finding of the issues. Whenever a man in business, professional, or political life, or in any circumstances whatsoever, must determine upon some policy or come to some decision regarding theoretical or practical matters, he formulates his belief and chooses his line of action in accordance with the answers that he makes to certain questions either consciously or unconsciously present in his mind. For instance, if he considers the purchase of a certain piece of real estate, he says to himself: "Is the price fair?" "Have I the money to invest?" "Can I sell or use the property to good advantage?" "How much pleasure shall I derive from it?" If he answers these questions in one way, the purchase is likely to be made; if in another, it is not. Again, a board of college trustees may be considering the abolishment of football. In arriving at a decision, they are confronted with these questions: "Is the game beneficial or detrimental to the player?" "How does it affect the college as a whole?" Those who favor the game will, of course, say that it is a benefit to the player and the whole college; while those who oppose it will maintain that it is a detriment to all concerned. But evidently the same questions must be met and answered by both sides. These questions are called issues.

Issues are subdivisions of the subject under discussion, and are always essentially the same for any given idea. The first requirement for the issues of any proposition is that they be comprehensive; that is, the sum of their ideas must equal the main idea expressed in the proposition. To those who are carrying on the discussion and to the audience, if there be one, it must be perfectly evident that these questions cover the entire field of controversy; that if these questions are satisfactorily answered in one way or the other, the discussion is settled and nothing remains to be said. The second requirement is that the issues consider only disputed matter. A question that gives rise to no disagreement, that admittedly has but one answer, is never an issue. Issues, therefore, may be defined as the questions that must be answered by both the affirmative and the negative sides of the proposition under discussion and that, if answered in one way, establish the proposition, and if answered in another way, overthrow it.

The issues of a proposition exist independently of the side that is being upheld. The affirmative will find the same issues as the negative, but it rarely happens that two men will divide a proposition in exactly the same manner and thus state the issues in precisely the same language. If, however, the work of both has been fair and complete, their issues will not vary in any important particular. For example, under the subject, "The Federal government should own and operate the railroads of the United States," one person might give as issues:—

1. Has the government the right to take the roads without the consent of the present owners?

2. Is the government financially able to buy the roads?

3. Does the present system contain serious defects?

4. Will the proposed system remove these defects without bringing in new evils equally serious?

Another might state as issues:—

1. Is the proposed plan practicable?

2. Will it benefit the people?

The issues in both instances, however, are essentially the same, as questions one and two of the first list are equivalent to one of the second; and three and four of the first, to two of the second.

At this point it may be well to mention a common error that must be guarded against. It often happens that a question is stated as an issue which is not a subdivision of the proposition at all, but is the entire proposition itself, framed in slightly different language. Such would be the error if the question, "Would the change be desirable?" were used as an issue for the proposition, "All state colleges should abolish military drill"

It sometimes happens that one is forced to defend or attack what has been called a "combined proposition," a proposition that contains two distinct subjects for argument. Such subjects are to be avoided as much as possible, but when they must be met, it is usually necessary to have two separate sets of issues. An example of such a proposition would be, "All American colleges and universities should adopt the honor system."

The only practicable method of finding the issues of a proposition is to question it from all pertinent points of view, and then to eliminate all questions that have no vital bearing on the subject, or that are acknowledged to have but one answer. The questions that remain are the issues. In using this method of analysis, one must be careful to consider the proposition in all its phases and details, and from both the affirmative and the negative sides. Neglect to give the subject thorough consideration often results in one's being suddenly confronted with an issue that he has not previously discovered and consequently cannot meet. Failure to cast aside all questions that are not real issues may cause equal embarrassment: an arguer never wishes to waste time and effort in establishing proof that is not essential to the argument, or that is admitted by the other side.

It is hardly possible even to suggest all the various kinds of questions that may be asked about debatable subjects. An arguer must depend largely upon his own judgment and common sense in analyzing each proposition that he meets. He may, however, find the issues of many propositions by carefully questioning them from certain important and comprehensive points of view. The list of standpoints indicated here is not exhaustive; only the more important and general standpoints are considered. The student should bear in mind that the following instructions are designed to teach him a practical method of analysis; they do not constitute a formula that can be applied in all instances.

First, the analysis of propositions of policy will be taken up; secondly, the analysis of propositions of fact.


1. IS THE PLAN PRACTICABLE? Whenever a plan is proposed, first ask whether or not it is practicable. If those who oppose the idea can maintain that great obstacles exist which will prevent the undertaking of the project or hinder its execution, then the question of practicability constitutes an important issue. For instance, one who contemplates a thorough argument on the proposition, "The United States navy should be greatly enlarged," must prove that the plan is, or is not, practicable. Plainly, such hindrances as enormous expense, inadequate facilities for building and repairing battleships, and the increased demand for officers and sailors render questionable the expediency of such a measure. This issue, however, is not found in connection with all propositions; it does not concern propositions that merely approve or condemn existing conditions or assert the occurrence of an event. For example, practicability does not enter into such subjects as these: "Strikes are justifiable"; "The present powers of the Speaker of the House of Representatives are dangerously great"; "Athletics have been excessively developed in American colleges and universities." But all propositions that advocate a change, that propose some new system of operation, usually have this issue involved. Such subjects are: "American cities should own and operate public plants for the furnishing of light, heat, and power"; "Military drill should be taught in the public schools"; "Porto Rico should be given a territorial form of government."

2. WILL THE PROPOSED PLAN BE A MORAL BENEFIT OR DETRIMENT TO THOSE CONCERNED? Not all propositions, by any means, but many, are of such a character that they must be considered from the standpoint of morality. The arguer must ask whether the idea involved in the subject is morally right or wrong; whether it is morally beneficial or harmful. This point of view includes more than at first appears. It takes into consideration justice, duty, honesty, faithfulness, religion, everything that pertains to what is right or wrong. Under the proposition, "The treatment of the American Indians by the United States should be condemned," appears the moral issue, "What is our duty toward the people of this race?" The proposition, "Public libraries, museums, and art galleries should be open on Sunday," presents this issue, "Is the method of recreation afforded by the opening of these buildings in accordance with the teachings of the Christian religion?" The proposition, "Football is an undesirable college game," must be settled in part by the answer to the question, "Is the game beneficial or harmful to the player's character?"

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