Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman
Presidential Studies - Rhetoric
6.125 x 9.25, 256 pp.
11 b&w photos., 4 line drawings.
Pub Date: 01/21/2004
Presidential Rhetoric and Political Communication
Price:        $45.00 s


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman

By Robert Alexander Kraig

“I wish there were some great orator who would go about and make men drunk with this spirit of selfsacrifice . . . whose tongue might every day carry abroad the gold accents of that creative age in which we were born a nation; accents which would ring like tones of reassurance around the whole circle of the globe.”

These rousing words of academician Woodrow Wilson foreshadowed the role oratory would play in his own political career—a career that saw him triumph on his domestic agenda largely through his inspirational message but fail in his most cherished dream, the League of Nations, when words were not enough.

Robert Kraig’s path-breaking study of Wilson’s political philosophy of the oratorical statesman traces the classical influences on him as a young man, the development of his full-blown scholarly philosophy of oratory, and his use of rhetoric as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States. Although Wilson’s reputation as one of the most eloquent American presidents is firmly established, treatments of his life and presidency have largely ignored how his rhetorical leadership was formed.

Kraig addresses this oversight by examining the rich neoclassical traditions of Anglo-American oratory and statesmanship, the rhetorical pedagogy of the Gilded Age, and the development of Wilson’s own political thought. He concludes with consideration of how Wilson’s conception of oratorical leadership influenced his innovative conduct of the presidency.

The result is a revisionist interpretation of Wilson’s presidency that gives it a clearer historical context, shedding light on a neglected dimension of the political culture of the Progressive Era. In the process, Kraig reopens the question of how effective Wilson’s effort for international cooperation might have been had illness not struck him down.

Robert A. Kraig, who earned his Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin in 1999, is presently political director of the Service Employees International Union–Wisconsin State Council.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Robert Kraig has written a splendid book that illuminates a central aspect of Woodrow Wilson’s thought and politics. As Kraig makes clear, any effort to understand Wilson must come to terms with his life-long idealization of the statesman-orator. Among the many impressive aspects of this richly documented study is its convincing reinterpretation of Wilson’s words and deeds during the League of Nations debate. . . . Should be required reading for historians, political scientists, and students of rhetoric alike.”--Stephen E. Lucas, Evjue-Bascom Professor in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin

“This is an outstanding manuscript, among the best works on presidential rhetoric and the history of a public address in general that I have read. It also is among the best studies of Woodrow Wilson that I have read . . . Long overdue . . . The scholarly range of this study is very impressive. The author engages a large and diverse body of literature in both rhetorical studies and history, and he positions this study very effectively as both a revision of some of the conventual wisdom, and as an effort to fill some gaps within that existing literature. The study is wide-engaging and thorough. . . well-written . . . Style is sophisticated and scholarly, yet clear and accessible . . . an ‘easy read.’ . . The scholarship is outstanding, even exemplary. . . It is an outstanding scholarly study in almost every respect: conceptualization, design, argument, and style. This is, quite simply, a first-rate piece of scholarship.” --Mike Hogan, Penn State University

I regard Mr. Kraig’s scholarship as superb.” --Ronald Carpenter, University of Florida

“This is a rich and well-written book.” --The Journal of American History

“Kraig presents an intriguing look at the place of classical rhetoric and classical ideals of oratory in turn-of-the-century America…Kraig paints a portrait of a man dedicated to the ideals of a good orator, dedicated to fighting the good fight, and giving his all—an ethical and virtuous man, self-sacrificing…Clear, coherent and engaging, Kraig’s prose is simultaneously sophisticated and accessible and offers a comprehensive portrait of the neoclassical oratorical culture in the Progressive Era in order to delineate the intellectual atmosphere and rhetorical influences responsible for Wilson’s political strategies.” --Rhetorical Review

“Scholars interested in presidential rhetoric should not hesitate to purchase Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman. Kraig has done a masterful job of using a wide variety of primary documents to support his claim that oratory was a, if not the, crucial component in Wilson’s understanding of a national leader.” --Quarterly Journal of Speech


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