Gregory Clark and S. Michael Halloran bring together nine essays that explore change in both the theory and the practice of rhetoric in the nineteenth-century United States.
In their introductory essay, Clark and Halloran argue that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, rhetoric encompassed a neoclassical oratorical culture in which speakers articulated common values to establish consensual moral authority that directed community thought and action. As the century progressed, however, moral authority shifted from the civic realm to the professional, thus expanding participation in the community as it fragmented the community itself. Clark and Halloran argue that this shift was a transformation in which rhetoric was reconceived to meet changing cultural needs.
Part I examines the theories and practices of rhetoric that dominated at the beginning of the century. The essays in this section include "Edward Everett and Neoclassical Oratory in Genteel America" by Ronald F. Reid, "The Oratorical Poetic of Timothy Dwight" by Gregory Clark, "The Sermon as Public Discourse: Austin Phelps and the Conservative Homiletic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century America" by Russel Hirst, and "A Rhetoric of Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century America" by P. Joy Rouse.
Part 2 examines rhetorical changes in the culture that developed during that century. The essays include "The Popularization of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric: Elocution and the Private Learner" by Nan Johnson, "Rhetorical Power in the Victorian Parlor: Godey’s Lady’s Book and the Gendering of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric" by Nicole Tonkovich, "Jane Addams and the Social Rhetoric of Democracy" by Catherine Peaden, "The Divergence of Purpose and Practice on the Chatauqua: Keith Vawter’s Self-Defense" by Frederick J.Antczak and Edith Siemers, and "The Rhetoric of Picturesque Scenery: A Nineteenth-Century Epideictic" by S. Michael Halloran.