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In a persuasive letter written in 1780, Abigail Adams advises her son John Quincy Adams to take advantage of the opportunity to travel to France with his father (future president of the United States John Adams) and brother. Adams supports her position by using analogies to convince her son of his great attributes and potential, developing an emotional appeal to initiate a patriotic responsibility, and finally by reassuring him of her love and affection for him through her word choice and nurturing and guiding tone.
Adams opens with an assertion that John is making an unwise decision to oppose partaking in the French voyage. She then crafts analogies to illuminate the benefits he will stand to gain by attending with his father. Beginning in line 16, Adams recalls a short anecdote in which an author compares a “judicious traveller to a river.” He continues this figure of speech by explaining that “certain springs, which, running through rich veins of minerals, improve their qualities as they pass along,” and Adams concludes that her son can do the same by expanding his boundaries and enriching himself through this voyage. Additionally, Adams lauds Cicero by questioning whether he would “have shone so distinguished an orator if he had not been roused, kindled, and inflamed by the tyranny of Catiline, Verres, and Mark Anthony” (lines 30-32). It is in this analogy that Adams takes the opportunity to not only show how the great Cicero achieved greatness through trials and tribulations—and thus compare him to her son—but to also incorporate a gentle praise by mere association for what John Quincy Adams has already done. As Adams has already been noted to manipulate her son’s emotions in the above listed occasions by his sense of pride, she intensifies this emotional appeal and shifts her focus to persuading on the basis of a moral obligation. America is still at war with Britain in the year of 1780, with whom diplomat John Adams will be attempting to negotiate. Capitalizing on the current situation, Abigail Adams develops an emotional appeal by instilling a sense of urgency and guilt over his lack of regard for his country. Stating in lines 45-47 that her son “[owes his] existence among a people who have made a glorious defence of their invaded liberties,” Adams implies that he would be acting on selfish motives if he were to abandon his voyage. Further-more, she burdens him with the patriotic responsibility of doing “honor to [his] country” in line 61. This directly appeals to his feelings of nationalism and, in an era where these emotions were very intense, this was likely the deciding factor in her persuading her son to travel to France.
If Mrs. Adams were boxing, the knockout punch would be her word choice and prevailing tone throughout her letter. In her very first utterance, she lovingly addresses John Quincy Adams as her “dear son.” Adams uses the bait of “[rendering his] parents supremely happy” (lines 61-62) as a last-ditch effort to advise and convince. She finishes her letter by reminding her son in lines 62-63 that she is an “ever affectionate mother,” and creating a caring and nurturing tone. Her purpose contributes to the directive tone also evident throughout the piece, which ultimately creates a very effective persuasive material.
Abigail Adams utilizes a variety of rhetorical strategies to argue her position on her son’s voyage to France. She compares John Quincy Adams to a river and the legendary Cicero in order to illustrate how each grows from adversity and experience. She then develops an emotional appeal through her patriotic allusions, and finally she writes in an encouraging and nurturing tone, all the while employing diction to reassure and emphasize how much she and her husband love him.
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