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During the 1790s, Benjamin Banneker wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the creator of the Declaration of Independence and secretary of state to President George Washington. In this letter, Benjamin expresses his negative opinions on slavery. He exposes the injustices of slavery and shares other people’s experiences and how slavery has affected them as well as himself. He uses rhetorical appeals to support his argument by connecting to the readers who have experienced slavery before and to appeal to their emotions. Through writing this letter, Benjamin uses ethos, pathos and repetition to express his argument against slavery.
Banneker uses ethos to establish credibility, and trust in the audience. He does this by referencing the Declaration of Independence, and using its own words against the idea of slavery. He says, “All men are created equal” and “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which proves that Banneker is knowledgeable and is able to be trusted. He also talks about the Job in the Bible and is able to connect that to hardships that African Americans faced during slavery.
Banneker also uses pathos through emotional diction to create sympathy within the readers. This is shown when he says “groaning captivity” and “cruel oppression”. By acknowledging the condition of slavery, he is able to display the hardships of slavery and make the readers sympathize with him. He makes it more personalized to make the readers pity him even more by using pronouns like “his” in “his brethren”. He continues to say that violence has become a part of his everyday life. This also helps to keep the readers engaged when reading the letter. He tries to make Jefferson realize that there is a need for change when it comes to slavery.
Banneker uses repetition in order to appeal to Jefferson with respect and with the sense of an authority figure. Banneker opens his letters with “sir” and continuously repeats it throughout the letter. This shows that even though he does not agree with Jefferson’s ideals about slavery it shows that he has respect for him. He believes that if he repeats “sir” enough it will make Jefferson realize his wrongs. He uses “sir” to reason with Jefferson and tries to make him listen to his opinions. By using “sir” he is showing Jefferson that even though you’ve treated African Americans wrongly, I will still treat you with respect and be the better person. It also makes it difficult for Jefferson to become angry with these new ideals if he is continually being treated respected throughout the entirety of the letter.
Banneker uses pathos, ethos, and repetition to support his argument and convince Jefferson that slavery is wrong. By using his credibility through the use of historical documents he is able to show readers that he is educated and able to support his fellow African Americans in freeing them from slavery. He is able to make the readers sympathize with others and convinces the readers and finally maybe with Jefferson as well.
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