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The Formal Address

( Originally Published 1922 )

The formal address is almost as much in demand as the informal address. Informal address goes about in working garb; formal address dons its best clothes for some special event. A formal address is always carefully prepared. It may either be read or spoken without manuscript; but, however delivered, most likely it will have been composed laboriously at leisure. Its length will vary with the nature of the occasion that calls it into life. Frequently it will be the only address on the program. In the task of preparing and delivering such a discourse the speaker has much in his favor. Since the address is to be given on some particular occasion, he will have ample notice so that he will have time to secure his material, to develop his thought without haste, and to chisel his language with conscientious care. He will know just what kind of audience will greet him; will be certain of dignified and orderly surroundings; and will be able to look forward with a good deal of assurance to a sympathetic mood or mental attitude on the part of his listeners. Under such conditions failure will be almost impossible, while at the same time all the possibilities for a brilliant triumph will be present.

As has been said, there are many occasions that call for the formal address. Each year there are national holidays to be celebrated, there are school and college commencements, there are anniversaries of learned and fraternal societies, there are corner stones to be laid, monuments to be dedicated, gifts to be presented, nominating conventions to be addressed, welcomes and farewells to be tendered to living men and women of renown, and tributes to be rendered to the illustrious dead.

Some of these festivals and celebrations call out the highest and purest emotions personal, social, national. They are, therefore, coveted opportunities for the orator who is a genuine patriot and a lover of his fellow men. The occasion as well as the orator determines whether or not immortal words shall come to birth; and when the extraordinary occasion and the inspired man meet, the result is sometimes an utterance that men will not permit to perish. Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech was the outcome of such a conjunction of man and occasion; so was Emerson's Phi Beta Kappa address on The American Scholar; so were some of Webster's set addresses; and so was Lowell's address on Democracy, delivered at Birmingham, England, Oct. 6, 1884. Such in recent times were the addresses of Henry Grady on The New South, delivered before the New England Society in New York, Dec. 22,1886, and of Booker T. Washing-ton at the Atlanta Exposition.

At the very moment that the paragraphs above were being written the National Republican Convention of 1920 was nominating candidates for the Presidency. The morning after the day upon which the nominating speeches had been made, a report of the convention proceedings from the pen of William Jennings Bryan appeared in the great newspapers, as he was in Chicago as a staff correspondent. A great deal of what Mr. Bryan writes concerning the chief speeches of the day is so timely and so much to the point in this chapter, that the authors have asked permission to reproduce it, and consent has kindly been given.

When General Wood's name was presented, Mrs. Douglas Robinson, Colonel Roosevelt's sister, seconded the nomination, and her speech was one of the real hits of the day. In manner, thought, language, and arrangement of her argument she measured up to the most exacting rules of oratory. She left the audience under the impression that General Wood was the only real heir to the late ex-President and entitled to all his political assets.

The nominating speeches were not, as a rule, a success, possibly because the speakers overestimated the necessity for a thorough exhibit of the candidates' records. This is not an unusual mistake, and it probably has more effect on the gallery than on the delegates. The public can be assumed to be acquainted with men whose names are presented for this high office, and the nominating speech would be more effective if it were more brief. After a few minutes the audience gets restless and the speaker is apt to be interrupted with cries of "name him." Even so veteran a politician as Governor Allen of Kansas lessened the effectiveness of his appeal by extending it unnecessarily. The Wood supporter's speech would have been just as demonstrative had it been half as long.

Mr. Wheeler, who put Senator Johnson in nomination, aroused opposition, not only by the length of his speech, but by the tone. He presented some unpalatable truths and he did not take the precaution to sugarcoat them. He was defiant rather than persuasive, but possibly he felt that persuasion would be wasted on the delegates, to whom he addressed his remarks.

Ex-Governor Willis of Ohio made by far the best nominating speech of the day. He has a fine voice and is an experienced speaker. He began by a trick of expression that always catches a convention audience. He assured the delegates that Ohio would cast her vote for the Republican nominee, no matter what his name or the State from which he came. This is one of the pre-election prophecies which always makes good with a partisan gathering.

As Governor Willis comes from Ohio, many probably recall that another prominent Ohioan made a very taking convention speech about forty years ago. In the convention of 1880 General Garfield presented the name of Senator John Sherman so eloquently that he was nominated himself. This kind of history may repeat itself at any convention.

The seconding speeches were as a rule more effective than the nominating speeches, partly due to the fact that speakers are more apt to be epigrammatic when their time is limited. Mr. McNeal of Michigan, who seconded the nomination of Senator Johnson, made a very favorable impression.

Congressman Schall of Minnesota turned his blindness to account. By a beautiful and touching incident he impressed upon the audience the argument by which he endeavored to show that Mr. Johnson's following was due to heart ties rather than to mere admiration of intellect.

The women have reason to be proud of the record they made today. They were in no respect inferior to the men. Reference has already been made to the happy speech of Mrs. Robinson, but two others deserve special mention. Mrs. Alexander Pfeiffer, who seconded the nomination of Governor Coolidge, and Mrs. J. W. Morrison, who seconded the nomination of Mr. Hoover. The former's speech was a rhetorical one. The latter's speech was very impressive.

It is a signal honor to be invited to voice the sentiments of multitudes of one's fellow beings in some hour of thrilling interest. The speaker so chosen cannot work too hard, he cannot overtax himself in the effort to meet the expectation of the people and fully measure up to it. He must gather up every resource of his nature in the attempt to make the occasion worthy and memorable. Henry Grady and Booker T. Washington, in the two immortal addresses referred to above, supply examples, as noble as they are interesting, of the mood and temper in which occasions of such high import should be approached. It is curious that these two great-hearted, silver-tongued men one white, the other black should both have come from the South, and should both have based the security of their fame upon large, sincere, patriotic, and humane utterances calculated both to interpret and to heal sectional and racial differences. May the spirit of these two men, alike flawless in heart and purpose, be with us still! Says Grady's biographer, writing of his speech, The New South: l

Thus to be called to speak of the South to such a company, and under such conditions, while an honor, was attended with grave perils. Mr. Grady recognized the delicacy of the position, and accepted the responsibility. He had lived long enough to form for himself a conception of the South. He understood her resources, the hearts and motives of her people. He had imbibed from her genial skies and learned from her loving sons, and caught from her suffering and her trials lessons which went to make the conception complete. It was not overdrawn; it was not unfair. It was such a conception of the South as squared with the facts. This conception he was not to chisel in cold unfeeling marble, but was to throw it out into Northern thoughts, and to make it live entire and complete in Northern hearts.

His traditions, his instincts, his training came to his help. His exquisite taste and boundless charity guided him. The mistake of a word or an insinuation would have been fatal. He accomplished his work Like a prince. He embodied his conception in Northern sentiment and left it to live and work in Northern convictions. It sensibly and perceptibly moved the sections nearer together.

Booker T. Washington tells with moving simplicity the weight of anxiety he felt in his intense desire to meet the exacting demands made upon him in the Atlanta speech.'

The receiving of the invitation brought to me a sense of responsibility that it would be hard for anyone not placed in my position to appreciate. . I remembered that I had been a slave; that my early years had been spent in the lowest depths of poverty and ignorance, and that I had had little opportunity to prepare me for such a responsibility. It was only a few years before that time that any white man in the audience might have claimed me as his slave; and it was easily possible that some of my former owners might be present to hear me speak. . .

I was determined to say nothing that I did not feel from the bottom of my heart to be true and right. When the invitation came to me, there was not one word of intimation as to what I should say or as to what I should omit. In this I felt that the Board of Directors had paid a tribute to me. They knew that by one sentence I could have blasted, in a large degree, the success of the Exposition. I was also painfully conscious of the fact that, while l must be true to my own race in my utterances, I had it in my power to make such an ill-timed address as would result in preventing any similar invitation being extended to a black man again for years to come.


In our libraries of oratory are many examples of notable formal addresses great speeches made on historic occasions, such as inaugurals, dedicatory services, memorials, receptions to distinguished men, greetings, farewells, and so forth. Read some of the well-known nomination speeches, like those of Garfield and Wheeler; study Lincoln's two inaugural addresses, Webster's Bunker Hill orations, President Wilson's War Message, Emerson's The American Scholar, the Commemorative Addresses of George William Curtis, Wendell Phillips' The Scholar in Politics, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Blaine's James Garfield, and others. As an instance of what has been done in poetry along this line, read Lowell's Commemoration Ode, written in 1865 in memory of the college students who had fallen in battle.

Divide the class into two sections, pairing each student with another. Let one student in each pair prepare an introduction to a long, formal speech; let the other introduce this speaker to his audience. A great deal of interest may be aroused by having men of importance introduced, such as senators, scientists, generals, explorers, welfare workers, etc. The art of introducing a speaker well should be cultivated. It is one of the types of formal speaking too often neglected in our classes.

Two examples of excellent formal address are given here. It is too bad that there is not space for more, but do not be content with these, nor with any number of addresses you find in books. Whenever you have a chance to hear some of the well-known speakers of our day who appear frequently on the public platform in lectures, sermons, or other forms of speaking, be sure not to miss the opportunity to study the spoken formal address, just as you are now working on the written speech.


(From the speech of Hugh Wallace, American Ambassador to France, at the dedication of the Bayonet French Monument, at Verdun, December 8, 1920.)

Verdun is the new Thermopylae, where civilization itself does homage to France. The ground is hallowed and we view it with awe. Yet we cannot withhold our tribute of thanksgiving and praise. With loving hands we erect this monument with anxious care we seek to express the thoughts that surge within us; but it is in vain that we hope that what we say and do here are adequate to the occasion which calls them forth. Our monument will crumble and our words soon be forgotten, but Verdun and what she stands for are immortal. The martyred city is her own monument and such a monument as exists nowhere else on earth. Great is the glory of France as she thinks of Verdun as her own. Overwhelming is the debt of gratitude which she here imposed upon the world. For at Verdun, France faced the Hun alone, and the victory which once again saved civilization was her victory and none may share it. Let us say this in deep devotion to the Frenchmen who fought and died here and to the land which gave them birth. They fought for France, but they conquered for humanity, and theirs alone are the glory and the praise.

If aught that we speak here today be preserved in the memory of men, let it be this confession of gratitude to France, the thanks of the world to her and to her noble sons who stood in the breach not of the Allies' line alone but of civilization itself; who fought and died here, but died victorious. So great a debt cannot be repaid. What we seek to do here today is but to mark our recognition of it.

This stone comes from America, and as her representative, I dedicate it as a symbol of that gratitude which our national friendship will make eternal. It is good to do this and to be here and I am greatly honored in the opportunity; but if on such a field and in such a presence I venture to put my own thoughts into words it is because I may properly say what the distinguished President of the Republic would in modesty forbear.

France has no more eloquent son than her Chief Magistrate, but even he cannot gild her glory. It streams from the hills which surround Verdun and points a golden line down the valley of the Marne. It envelops her living children who stand on guard on the ancient frontier, now happily restored to her, and it enshrines forever the memory of the dead who, like the heroes of the historic trench before us, stood firm for France and, dying, live in deathless fame.



(The following speech was given by Booker T. Washington at the Atlanta Exposition, September 18, 1895. The sanity, breadth of view, and keen insight displayed in it won for Mr. Washington the unqualified respect and admiration of leading Southerners and Northerners alike, and the wonderful, simple effectiveness of it gave this Negro speaker a place among America's great orators.)

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and Citizens.

One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest success. I but convey to you, Mr. President and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized than by the managers of this magnificent Exposition at every stage of its progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn of our freedom.

Not only this, but the opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial progress. Ignorant and inexperienced, it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden.

A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel.

From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, "Water, water; we die of thirst!" The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, "Cast down your bucket where you are." A second time the signal, "Water, water; send us water!" ran up from the dis-tressed vessel, and was answered, "Cast down your bucket where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: "Cast down your bucket where you are" cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded.

Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance. Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.

To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, "Cast down your bucket where you are." Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.

There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed "blessing him that gives and him that takes."

There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:

The laws of changeless justice bind
Oppressor with oppressed;
And close as sin and suffering joined
We march to fate abreast.

Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.

Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at an exhibition of our progress, you must not expect over-much. Starting thirty years ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts and pumpkins and chickens (gathered from miscellaneous sources), remember the path that has led from these to the inventions and production of agricultural implements, buggies, steam-engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, the management of drug-stores and banks, has not been trodden without contact with thorns and thistles. While we take pride in what we exhibit as a result of our independent efforts, we do not for a moment forget that our part in this exhibition would fall far short of your expectations but for the constant help that has come to our educational life, not only from the Southern states, but especially from Northern philanthropists, who have made their gifts a constant stream of blessing and encouragement.

The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.

In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has given us more hope and encouragement, and drawn us so near to you of the white race, as this opportunity offered by the Exposition; and here bending, as it were, over the altar that represents the results of the struggles of your race and mine, both starting practically empty-handed three decades ago, I pledge that in your effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South, you shall have at all times the patient, sympathetic help of my race; only let this be constantly in mind, that, while from representations in these buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth.


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