Rhetorical Analysis of George C. Wallace’s Inaugural Address

In 1963, George C. Wallace gave his gubernatorial inaugural address in Montgomery, Alabama. Gov. Wallace had many strong beliefs that he proudly expressed in his address. For example, he spoke heavily on the topic of his support for segregation as well as his belief in a less powerful federal government. Wallace claimed that a strong state government is necessary for the United States to function as a country. The governor presented this speech in hopes of appealing to his conservative, white supporters from Alabama by using religious diction, historical references, and a sarcastic tone.

When George C. Wallace gave his inaugural address, he was speaking to a very limited audience: his white supporters in Alabama. When Wallace enforced his faith in God and Christianity, his audience was able to relate to him. This allowed Wallace to incorporate his beliefs of stronger state governments in a way that was understandable to those listening. According to the Pew Research Center, Alabama is currently the most religious state in the United States, with 82% of the population that are absolutely certain God exists. Wallace says that the United States was never meant to be united as one, but “a united of the many… In united effort we were meant to live under this government… whether Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, or whatever one’s denomination or religious belief…” (pg. 8) By incorporating many different denominations of Christianity, Wallace was inclusive towards most of his Alabama-native audience members. When Wallace tied religion into his argument, he created a religious relationship with his audience increased the audience’s trust in Wallace and his views.

Throughout his speech, Gov. George C. Wallace used historical references to argue his belief in stronger state governments. Many times, Wallace turns to the original ideas of the founding fathers to explain why we should lessen the power of the central government. Wallace believed that all forms of government are unable “to give freedom… or deny freedom. As Thomas Jefferson has said, ‘The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; no King holds the right of liberty in his hands.’ Nor doe any ruler in American government.” (pg. 7) Wallace explains to his audience that America hasn’t followed the decentralized path set by the founding fathers. Gov. Wallace wants to recreate an America where the nation isn’t, “…a unit of one… but a unit of many… that is the exact reason our forefathers established the states, so as to divide the rights and powers among the many states, insuring that no central power could gain mast government control.” (pg. 8)

Finally, throughout Gov. George C. Wallace’s speech, Wallace carefully chose his wording to create a sarcastic tone. In doing so, Wallace degraded progressives and pushed his conservative views onto his audience, leading Alabama to become one of six red-states in the 1964 presidential election. Gov. Wallace mentions how faith and reasoning have “long since been forgotten as the so-called ‘progressives’ tell us that our constitution was written for ‘horse and buggy’ days… so were the Ten Commandments.” (pg. 6) Using the words “so-called” and placing the word “progressives” in quotations, Gov. Wallace nearly seems disgusted at the idea of progressive motives; motives that he doesn’t believe are progressive at all.

According to Governor George C. Wallace’s inaugural speech, he deeply believed that the decentralized plan of the founding fathers is the way the United States should continue to run the government. Wallace interpreted quotes of the founding fathers throughout his speech to show that a strong state government is what the founders of the United States wanted. Wallace also used God and Christianity to relate to his audience. When Gov. Wallace used God as a reason for the need of strong state governments, more people were able to understand his argument due to the high number of those that believe in God in Alabama. Lastly, Wallace used a sarcastic tone to degrade progressives for their belief in a constantly changing interpretation of the constitution. Wallace makes it obvious he disagreed with the progressives through his word choice and tone. By the end of his speech, Gov. George C. Wallace made sure his motives were clear: to lessen the power of the federal government and to strengthen the power of the state governments.

Works Cited

“Electoral College Votes.” 270toWin. Accessed 8 Mar. 2017. Chart.

Lipka, Michael, and Benjamin Wormald. “How Religious Is Your State?” Pew Research Center, 29 Feb. 2016. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.

Wallace, George C. “Inaugural Address.” 14 Jan. 1963, Montgomery, Alabama. Speech transcript.

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