Uncivil speech: Invective and the rhetorics of democracy in the early republic

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Robert Owen's "Declaration of Mental Independence," declaimed on the Fourth of July, 1826, was one of the most ill-received speeches in the early Republic. The attendant controversy provides an opportunity to theorize invective's role in democratic culture. Invective was useful in the early Republic, and continues to be useful today, because it is both constitutive of national identity and a curative rhetoric for managing cultural anxiety. However, there are limits to what invective can achieve, and invective's place in democracy is consequently ambivalent. Rather than curing democratic anxiety, invective tends to perpetuate it, disrupting democracy's emphasis on controlled conflict and pushing it ever closer to violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-334
Number of pages24
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education


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