Reconstruction Rhetorical Devices Lesson Plan

  • 26 pages
  • Subject: Ethos, Historical Context, Logos, Pathos, Rhetorical Devices, Thesis, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
  • Common Core Standards: RI.9-10.5, RI.9-10.6, RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.4, SL.9-10.1

Additional Reconstruction Resources

Product Description

Analyzing Rhetorical Devices for Persuasive Effect in Douglass’s “Reconstruction”

This lesson plan focuses on Douglass’s use of rhetorical devices in arguing his position regarding the political reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. Students will identify the thesis in Douglass’s essay, locate examples of antithesis, parallelism, and alliteration in the text, and analyze how they advance and support his thesis. In studying Douglass’s use of rhetorical devices, students will be better able to explain why “Reconstruction” is an effective and persuasive expository essay.

Skills: close reading, identifying the thesis in an essay, analyzing sentence structure and interpreting connotative language, drawing inferences from the text

Introduction to the Lesson

In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the 1845 autobiography that made Douglass an international celebrity, he details the endless physical and emotional abuse that defined his former life as a slave. The worst mistreatment, as he tells it, came from an especially cruel slave-breaker, Mr. Covey, who “crushed” young Frederick’s curious and independent spirit until he was “reduced to a brute.” Douglass chronicles in grueling detail the years of inhumane treatment to shock his Northern readers out of their complacency; he hoped they would feel compelled to join the growing numbers calling for an end to the Southern slave system. The stories of cruel abuse serve another purpose as well; they set the stage for the dramatic renewal of hope and self-respect that Douglass experienced after defeating Mr. Covey in a two-hour fist fight in a stable. This transformation he calls his “glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom.” Douglass’s personal rebirth story reflects his wishes for his enslaved brethren, who he insisted would similarly rise once they attained liberty, equality, and opportunity.

When the institution of slavery was abolished in 1865 with the end of Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the rebirth Douglass foresaw seemed one step closer. However, it is clear from “Reconstruction,” Douglass’s essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1866, that the battle was not at all over. As he explains in the essay, conspirators in the defeated “rebellious states,” with support from President Andrew Johnson, were constructing governments in the South designed to return former slaves to a state of servitude and degradation. If Congress let that happen, he warns, the sacrifices of the Civil War would be meaningless and devoid of “permanent results.” Even worse, the American republic would be imperiled if it upheld a “privileged class” and denied rights to a large segment of its citizens. The only correct response to the grave situation, Douglass insists, is to create entirely new state governments in the South designed to protect the rights and property of all men, “black and white,” and to keep the new governments accountable by giving the vote to freed slaves.

In “Reconstruction,” Douglass draws on his considerable rhetorical skills in persuading his readers that the situation is urgent and that his proposals must be implemented. Through the rhetorical device of antithesis, he presents the issue in terms of a dichotomy, as if there were only two options, making compromise impossible in reconstructing the South. Douglass uses this device extensively to suggest that there is no middle ground and that implementing anything short of his plan—radical reconstruction of Southern state governments and voting rights for freed slaves—will mean the failure of the Civil War to truly free the enslaved and the inevitable collapse of the American republic. Douglass combines antithesis with other effective rhetorical devices, parallelism and alliteration, to make his words rhythmic, forceful, and memorable. With his rhetorical skills, passionate delivery, and moral authority, Douglass’s persuasive powers are on full display in the essay, revealing one of many reasons he was a major force in promoting freedom and opportunities for the millions of people who had been exploited and degraded by slavery in the United States.

About This Document

Owl Eyes lesson plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment and bridge the gap between online learning and in-class instruction. The main components of each plan include the following:

  • An introduction to the text
  • A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
  • Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
  • A collection of handouts complete with answer keys

Each of these comprehensive, 60-minute plans focus on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers.