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Title: Heirs of the revolution : the founding heritage in American presidential rhetoric since 1945
Author: Thomson, Graeme M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5352 9928
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2014
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The history of the United States’ revolutionary origins has been a persistently prevalent source of reference in the public speeches of modern American presidents. Through an examination of the character and context of allusions to this history in presidential rhetoric since 1945, this thesis presents an explanation for this ubiquity. America’s founding heritage represents a valuable – indeed, an essential – source for the purposes of presidential oratory. An analysis of the manner in which presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama have invoked and adapted specific aspects of this heritage in their public rhetoric exposes a distinctly usable past, employed in different contexts and in advancing specific messages. Chapters devoted to the references of modern presidents to the Declaration of Independence, to the Constitution, and to four of the nation’s Founding Fathers, demonstrate that distinct elements of the founding heritage can be invoked in different ways. In sum, however, they reveal that allusions to this history have served three, sometimes overlapping, purposes in modern presidential discourse. Firstly, and most commonly, this history has proved an essential source on the numerous occasions in which presidents have reflected upon and reaffirmed the enduring character of American national identity. Secondly, such is the prominence of the founding heritage in the collective memory of Americans that presidents have been able to invoke elements of this familiar history pertinent to their discussion of a diverse range of contemporary concerns. Finally, and most significantly, this rhetoric has very often been applied for more pragmatic and partisan reasons. Given the veneration of the founding heritage in American culture and the acceptance that the democratic ideals then established remain essential to the purpose and direction of the nation, this thesis argues that presidents have found political value in implying their own inheritance of the Founders’ incontestable legacy. In speeches delivered across the shifting contexts of the post-war period, presidents have explicitly aligned their policy goals with the values and vision of the nation’s first leaders, interpreting and adapting the Founders’ words in a manner supportive of their public message.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: E151 United States (General) ; JK Political institutions (United States)