Welcome David Hirsch (TheStructureofReason.com), Dan Van Haften (TheStructureofReason.com), and Host William T. Gormley (Georgetown University)

Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason

Approximately 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, arguably our most revered President. Is there possibly anything new to say about him? Surprisingly, the answer is: yes! In this highly original book, David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften offer a fresh perspective on Lincoln’s oratory, as a lawyer and as a politician. The conventional wisdom is that Lincoln used colorful phrases, flowery oratory, and funny stories to persuade and charm his listeners. Hirsch and Van Haften offer a radically different perspective: that the key to Lincoln’s success was intellectual fidelity to the principles of Euclid, the Greek mathematician and logician.

The book that inspired and animated Lincoln and gave him his distinctive voice was not the Bible or Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress but Euclid’s Elements. To most of us, that book with its abstract generalizations and didactic tone might seem dull, rigid, or both. To Lincoln, it was electrifying! In Lincoln’s view, it contained the perfect recipe for constructing a convincing argument: a logical, linear presentation that moves sequentially and powerfully from the Enunciation to the Exposition to the Specification to the Construction to the Proof to the Conclusion.

In their book, Hirsch and Van Haften demonstrate, if I may use that Euclidean word, that Lincoln was enamored of Euclid. But they demonstrate much more. By analyzing some of his courtroom utterances as a lawyer and several of his most famous speeches, including the Cooper Union Speech, the Gettysburg Address, and the Second Inaugural Address, they show how Lincoln adhered, almost slavishly, to the Euclidean template and why this was so important to his rhetorical success.

Please join our conversation about this important book.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

86 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Hirsch and Dan Van Haften, Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason”

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Dan, David, Bill, Welcome to the Lake.

Bill, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I have a very basic question….Are there any better terms to describe the process? The words used seemed very elusive to me….Though I kept
at it. Thanks.

dakine01 February 17th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon David, Dan, and Bill and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

David and Dan, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a couple of questions.

First, what led you to look at Lincoln from this perspective?

Second, what has been the response from traditional Lincoln scholars? Have you had anyone compare your book to Doris Kearns Goodwin or the recent movie?

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

David and Dan,
Are you ready for liftoff?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
In response to RevBev @ 2

Which process? The six elements of a proposition?

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
In response to William Gormley @ 4

Yes, we are both on.

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Yes, the elements. Thanks

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

David and Dan,
Let’s start with something simple: what is the main thesis of your book?

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

We started out to write a book about Abraham Lincoln as a lawyer. One question we asked ourselves was “How did Abraham Lincoln make his arguments”. The statement that came up over and over was he read the first six books of Euclid to learn what it meant to demonstrate. With that, co-author David challenged me to do what Lincoln did, study the first six books of Euclid, and learn what Lincoln did, what it means to demonstrate. In the process, I learned about the six elements of a proposition, which are hidden in Euclid’s propositions. We then saw the six elements in Lincoln’s speeches.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to William Gormley @ 8

The main thesis is that Abraham Lincoln used the structure of a Euclidean proposition to structure his speeches, letters, and legal arguments, beginning in 1854. He initially did this to become a better lawyer, but ultimately used these in his political career.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

You guys are professionals (a lawyer and an engineer, respectively) but not historians. Had historians ever noticed Lincoln’s fascination with Euclid?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Scholars have responded in roughly three ways:

1. Totally enthusiastic and positive.

2. Acknowledging the fundamental discovery and its importance, but sometimes begrudgingly.

3. Rejecting the discovery at various levels or even totally.

As far as the movie Lincoln, the scene where Lincoln makes a triangle appears to be a result of our book. We do not know whether Doris Kearns Goodwin has read our book. No books other than ours document the use of the six elements of a proposition by Lincoln or any other President.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Lincoln’s study of Euclid is noted in hundreds of books going back 150 years. But the observation was always superficial. Namely, he studied Euclid, hauled the book around in his saddlebag; studied by candle light.

No one before us saw beneath the surface and connected the six elements of a proposition to Lincoln’s speeches. Those six elements were nearly lost in the dust bin of history.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

So, I think you note in your book that Lincoln was not the first U.S. politician to admire Euclid. Tell us a bit about Jefferson’s devotion to Euclid. Did he structure any of his speeches or public documents with Euclid in mind?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:24 pm
In response to RevBev @ 7

It can take time to get comfortable with the six elements of a proposition. It is a new way of thinking (despite being over 2300 years old). Don’t let this bother you, any effort you put into this will pay off.

When we made the discovery, we had a rare opportunity, not to define the elements (Proclus did that in his commentary on Euclid about 1600 years ago), but to label them. Various people used different labels. From among them we chose what we thought were simplest or best conveyed what they actually were:

Enunciation: “The enunciation states what is given and what is being sought from it.”

Exposition: “The exposition takes separately what is given and prepares it in advance for use in the investigation.”

Specification: “The specification takes separately the thing that is sought and makes clear precisely what it is.”

Construction: “The construction adds what is lacking in the given for finding what is sought.”

Proof: “The proof draws the proposed inference by reasoning scientifically from the propositions that have been admitted.”

Conclusion: “The conclusion reverts to the enunciation, confirming what has been proved.”

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

In researching Lincoln, we found a book called “The Voice of Lincoln”, where Judge Wanamaker, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, speculated that Lincoln may have been influenced by the Declaration of Independence. Judge Wanamaker then commented about the Declaration having three parts, and then continued to say that none of Linocln’s biographies describe his system for writing. This led us to look at the Declaration of Independence, which we both demarcated into the six elements of a proposition. This led us to look into Jefferson a bit more – on his tombstone he asked to me remembered for three things: the Declaration, founding UVA, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It turns out the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom Jefferson also wrote as a proposition (and he states he did in his Autobiography).

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to David Hirsch @ 15

I also like the “plain English” version you gave on p. 29. . .

Enunciation: Why are we here?
Exposition: What do we need to know relating to what is given?
Specification: What do we need to know relating to what is sought?
Construction: How do the facts lead toward what is sought?
Proof: How does the admitted truth confirm the proposed inference?
Conclusion: What is proved?

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Let’s try to understand the six Euclidean elements a bit. Can we begin by saying that the enunciation is roughly the introduction (or a statement of the problem or puzzle) and the conclusion is precisely that? Next, what is the difference between a demonstration and a proof?

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

As an example – Gettysburg Address Demarcated

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Thank you. I kept trying to find the analogy of facts, argument, holding; there’s an overlap, but not really the same. I need to keep teasing out the different meanings. I love how the speeches have been included. Reading so much of that again is an education in itself.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

As far as Jefferson’s speeches and letters, the answer is a strong yes. We are writing a book on Jefferson now. Stay tuned.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to Dan Van Haften @ 16

Peter, I actually drafted the plain English definitions as an aid to me. It took me at least a year to get really comfortable with the six elements of a proposition. My plain English definitions are not 100% accurate, but they kept me pointed in the right directions until I internalized the six elements of a proposition.

Once internalized it changed the way I look at everything, the way I listen, and the way I evaluate.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Euclid was not the only Greek philosopher who thought he knew a thing or two about how to structure a good argument. Aristotle was another. Three questions: 1. Was Lincoln familiar with Aristotle? 2. From your perspective, what’s an example of how the Euclidean and Aristotelian approaches to structuring an argument differ? and 3. Which of the two approaches do you prefer and why?

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Could you give an example of how Lincoln used these elements during his court room closing arguments.

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I’m a pastor, with 25+ years in the pulpit as well as extensive advanced work in preaching, and found the book quite intriguing.

Interestingly, I started reading the book right after I wrote a post here at Firedoglake dissecting Lincoln’s second inaugural address, and I opened the post like this:

Does Anyone in DC Remember *All* of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural?

On the eve of President Obama’s second inaugural address, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s, delivered on the eve of both the end of the Civil War and his own assassination. Lincoln packed more into four paragraphs than others can deliver in forty pages, and every president since him dreams of trying to get even close to his eloquence. The last paragraph of that speech gets enormous attention — as it should — but if one doesn’t see what Lincoln does in the first three, that last immortal paragraph is robbed of its full power.

Clearly, Lincoln wasn’t just good with a turn of phrase or a felicitous metaphor, but was quite skilled at constructing his speeches. Thanks for your book!

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

And, Peterr, A lawyer, iirc. Come on…;)

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

The Enunciation in its Given states indisputable facts that are important to the proposition.

The sought is a high level statement of the proposition or issue.

Regarding the difference between a demonstration and a proof, labeling the fifth element Proof is both clarifying and confusing. It is clarifying, because it is the element within which one argues, and actually “proves”. It is confusing because in a sense the whole process is a proof. That is why it may be better to call the sum of the six elements of a proposition, a demonstration.

Lincoln is quoted saying he learned Euclid in order to learn how to demonstrate.

My instructions to Dan were to read Euclid’s Elements to learn what demonstrate means. In other words, do what Lincoln did. That is precisely what happened.

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to RevBev @ 26

No, I just argue a lot.

Also, I learned a lot about constructing speeches and doing public speaking from lawyers and communications profs who taught lawyers, long before I went to seminary.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

1. I’m sure Lincoln heard of Aristotle. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric” has been considered a definitive book on rhetoric – but it never talks about the six elements of a proposition, as they are defined in Proclus’s Commentaries on Euclid. Aristotle talks about many techniques useful in gaining the sympathy of the audience, etc.

2. The Euclidean approach is to convince people through logic that is developed based on your fundamental axioms and the evidence, which lead to a logical argument. When we first researched Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and were discussing what it covered, my co-author David’s comment to me was Aristotle’s Rhetoric is a book about how to lie – it covers every trick in the book about how to convince people you are right.

3. We prefer the Euclidean approach, because it is based on data, evidence, and clearly stating your logical argument. This is an ancedote to a “sound bite” approach, where people present their conclusions, and present them with emphasis, but no logic.

hackworth1 February 17th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

My understanding of Lincoln wrt the Civil War and the Abolitionist Movement is this:

The Civil War was fought for economic reasons. The South was winning. The Union needed the slaves (to fight) to turn the war in its favor. Lincoln, recognizing this, used the Abolitionist Movement to gain their fervent participation. The War had been grinding on for years before Freedom for Slaves was brought into the equation.

Am I wrong? How does Euclid factor into Lincoln’s “late salvo” which turned the war for the North?

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:45 pm

David and Dan,
As you know, I’m a big fan of your book! So, indulge me if I play devil’s advocate for a moment. Do you really need Euclid to figure out that some ideas should precede others when writing a speech or formulating an argument? Let me use baseball as an analogy. You don’t need to be Davey Johnson to know that your lead-off hitter should have a good on-base percentage, and that your cleanup hitter should be a slugger, and that your pitcher should bat last. Aren’t some elements of structuring a good speech common sense? In short, what is the “value added” that you get from Euclid? Is he really indispensable? Was he indispensable to Lincoln? Or just useful?

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Peterr @ 25

Lincoln’s second Inaugural demarcates beautifully into the six elements of a proposition. It is in the book.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 2:50 pm
In response to BevW @ 24


The Effie Afton closing argument may be the best surviving example (Rock Island Rail Bridge). There was not much of court transcription in Lincoln’s day. The Effie Afton closing argument was “taken down” by newspaper reporters. It demarcates into the six elements.

But the way Lincoln litigated after 1854, as described in anecdotal stories, appears consistent with the six elements of a proposition. The elements build credibility, withhold argument in a way perfectly timed. Also they can make you less effective when you are on the wrong side of a case. This all applies to Lincoln.

Lincoln’s speeches from 1854 on are objective proof. But the anecdotes of how he practiced law are strong circumstantial proof.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to hackworth1 @ 30

Lincoln wrote his letter to Horace Greeley arguing that to preserve the Union, he would free the slaves, or nor free the slaves, as required. The most important goal was to preserve the Union.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

As all of us know, Lincoln and Douglas were fierce intellectual foes (though friendly) and famous debaters. If your thesis is correct, that Lincoln’s speeches were distinctive (and better) because of Euclid … then presumably you should NOT be able to demarcate (or parse) Douglas’ speeches in the same way that you have Lincoln’s. Correct? So, have you tried applying Euclid’s six elements to any of Douglas’ speeches or orations?

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

David and Dan, in looking at how you dissected various speeches, some of the examples seem a bit more forced than others. I don’t say this as a criticism of your approach and basic thesis, but to say that I think Lincoln was not slavish about how he used Euclidian propositions.

To use the Second Inaugural as an example, I think he actually skipped the Specification — as a way of saying “you think the goal was simply to defeat the other side, but it’s more than that”. I think he went from exposition to construction, with the development of the argument leading the hearers toward a goal he explicitly DIDN’T spell out in a Specification.

Lincoln build the speech with language of expectation, but creatively twists things to say that everyone’s expectations failed: “Neither expected . . . Neither anticipated . . . and the prayers of both could not be answered, that of neither was answered fully . . .”

By skipping a Specification, he rhetorically structures the speech to DO what his language is saying. By not spelling it out, he kept the hearers in suspense: “Where is he going with this?”

Only at the end, in the conclusion, does the goal finally appear. As I said in the post I referred to above:

The guns are still firing, the deaths are still mounting, the injured are still crying out, the sick are still in agony, the farms are still in disarray, the cities are still in upheaval, and Lincoln says “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” This war will not end, he says, so long as the nation holds onto malice and reserves its charity only for some. He gives one last skewer to those who claim to perfectly understand the will of God (God’s on my side, you know), and instead paints a picture of wounds tended, the dead buried and the survivors carrying on in a manner much different from the previous four years of death and destruction. He looks for peace not just between the armies of North and South, not just between the people of the North and South, but a vision of peace that goes beyond this nation to embrace the world.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Thus far have not seen evidence of Euclid in Douglas’s speech.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I think I agree with Peter’s “friendly amendment” to your thesis. Another way to put it: Lincoln “used” Euclid … but did not adhere slavishly to him in every instance. He was too intelligent and too resourceful to do that.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

On Douglas, I guess I’d say: why not try to demarcate a couple of Douglas’ speeches? (not now! but at your leisure) It would be a way of putting your thesis to a test.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Towards the end of your book, you say: “Everyone is aware of the poetry in Lincoln’s speeches. But the poetry is the frosting; Euclid is the cake.” What exactly do you mean by that?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:03 pm


The science of professional sports is unquestionably high.

Rhetoric has barely advanced since Aristotle.

Yeah, a speech needs a beginning, middle and end.

But today’s rhetorical science is hardly more than what color clothes to wear, then tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them what you tell them, tell them what you told them.

The six elements of a proposition are elegantly short. But they are deep and disciplined. For instance, when Lincoln says in the Second Inaugural, “And the war came.”, it is praised as an elegant phrase that took restraint. But it took Lincoln no restraint. This is the Exposition. It is a place for nearly indisputable facts that prepares for the investigation.

Look at Bill Clinton’s second inaugural. A blast of useless soundbites. Then look at Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention. His Second Inaugural does not demarcate. Clinton’s speech at the convention does demarcate. His speech at the convention is clearly superior.

Dan got a copy of the book to President Obama December 2010 or early January 2011.

Ironically the six elements of a proposition make it easier to create terrific soundbites, almost without trying.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Let me try another analogy, moving beyond baseball! Take music. The AABA form is widely used in popular music, jazz. Using that form has certain advantages: it’s familiar to musicians and listeners alike … comfortable, pleasing. Also, it frees up your mind to concentrate on other things (like melody, harmony, rhythm) rather than the basic structure, which is already more or less set in stone. Does a Euclidean structure serve a similar purpose in public speech?

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

In that comparison, is it fair to say that the elements are more useful or easier for someone who is not long-winded?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The six elements of a proposition are the makings of poetry. When used they are how meaning is created. Done well, it is poetry.

Poetry is structure. Good poetry is magical structure. The same with speeches and writing done according to the six elements of a proposition.

Remember, the six elements are designed for proving and convincing. It happens magically when you do it “right”.

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to David Hirsch @ 42

A clear structure like this also makes delivery of the speech much, much easier. You can carry on a lengthy address without notes or a teleprompter, because you know that A leads to B, which flows into C . . . It also makes it easier for the hearers to follow you, and to remember what was said.

That, to me, is the downfall of many political speeches. Because the flow is neglected (give soundbite A, then soundbite B) or interrupted (see almost every State of the Union address in recent memory), hearers are often left scratching their heads. I find it amusing when pundits give their reactions based on what they READ, rather than what they HEARD and SAW.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

In March 2010 when we were working to get the manuscript finalized for our publisher, I was asked (at a time when I had no time) to give a speech to my county board on the subject of video poker. I wrote a four minute speech using the six element or a proposition in about 30 minutes, and felt pretty good about it. Without the six elements, it would have taken me a lot longer, and I suspect would not have been as good. I was able to concentrate on saying things clearly, concisely, and well, because the structure worked for me.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:14 pm
In response to RevBev @ 44

A person who is long winded needs the six elements perhaps even more. Once a person understands the six elements there is less a tendency to be long-winded. One reason a person can be long winded is they argue throughout, or don’t know where to put something, so it is repeated in ways that don’t make sense.

The six elements do tend to tighten things. I use them all the time in my law practice. My briefs are shorter and better (and easier and quicker to write). My letters are longer and better. (I used to write very short letters. Now, when things are contentious, I document better.)

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to Peterr @ 46

Also . . .

For a lawyer, addressing a jury, the last thing you want to happen is for the jury to lose the flow of your argument.

bluewombat February 17th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to Dan Van Haften @ 29

This is an ancedote to a “sound bite” approach, where people present their conclusions, and present them with emphasis, but no logic.

I should probably careful about attempting to correct people who write books about Euclidean reasoning, but I think you mean “antidote.”

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I am guessing that you have seen the movie, “Lincoln.” I had seen it before knowing your thesis. Does any of this evolution come through in the movie?

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

On Peter’s point, I agree that it’s hard to be Euclidean in an era of soundbites. I would add that something else is missing from many debates, such as congressional debates: oddly enough (in an era of hyper-partisanship), that is REBUTTALS. A few years ago, Gary Mucciaroni and Paul Quirk studied congressional debates and that found lots of specious reasoning, plenty of inaccuracies, AND a general reluctance to rebut or attempt to rebut your opponent (presumably, because that would just draw attention to his/her arguments). Lincoln would have been chagrined, right? I think from some of the examples in your book that he went out of his way to summarize his opponent’s arguments and to rebut them.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
In response to Peterr @ 46

I’ve been listening to State of the Union messages for many years. On several occasions (going back over 40 years), I can remember the commentators immediately after the State of the Union asking “Was there a memorable sound bite?” If they can identify one, they would use that to support the fact that it was a good speech. The sound bites, not the content, seems to be a strong focus.

bluewombat February 17th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Kudos to the mod, who’s asking smarter questions than I could.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

As you know, different cultures have different musical structures. I like the music metaphor, because music has structure. There are as many ways to write a speech as to write music. If the goal is to persuade or convince, and you have the facts, the six elements of a proposition is a universal structure to get that done.

If you want to trick and deceive, or you are interested in cheap, short term victory at all cost, the six elements still can be used, but are not ideal.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to RevBev @ 51

In the telegraph office scene, Lincoln talked with two telegraph operations, discusses Lincoln’s second common notion (discussed in chapter 2 of our book), and forms his hands into a triangle (as in Euclid’s Proposition 1). This was a clear acknowledgment to Lincoln’s awareness of Euclid.

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Is there any current examples of someone using the Euclid framework?

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Have you analyzed any of Bill Clinton’s speeches? He always seems to get the message across.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Bill, I still feel the six elements create the best soundbites.

I agree it is defensive to repeat the other side’s argument, and republicizes it. However Lincoln was a genius at taking what the other side says, and turning it into a given, and proving his own side (Lincoln’s) in the process. In law, I like to use the same technique, when I can, with the other side’s expert witnesses.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

The focus of your book is, understandably, on Lincoln and Euclid. Have you thought about what other factors made Lincoln the superb orator he turned out to be? His integrity? His morality? His colorful phrases? His sense of humor? Presumably, not his high-pitched voice!!!

NorskeFlamethrower February 17th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to David Hirsch @ 15

Citizens Hirsh and Van Hafyen:

Thank you so much for this most enlightening piece of intellectual history. I think (hope) this work will lead to a reinvigoration of American intellectual history which, I believe has been moribund since Richard Hofstadter (Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood not withstanding). I am gettin’ a copy to take with me for a month in Florida and will present it to my math-teacher daughter who is teaching geometry for the first time this year began by hating it.

Have the two of you thought about doing another project on Jefferson or others of the American enlightenment with regard to the influences of Euclid or other classical thinkers on the thinking and writing of the “Founding Fathers”?

Thank you again for giving American history much needed CPR.

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Thanks, that is so interesting. Must have been interesting for you
to watch. Were you consulted on the movie?

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:31 pm
In response to BevW @ 58
William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

One of Clinton’s most extraordinary rhetorical gifts is his capacity to make the rest of us feel that he is “one of us.” Also, a bemused attitude towards his critics, as opposed to righteous indignation. I wonder if Lincoln had similar gifts?

masaccio February 17th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I’ve just started on your book, and as I read, I thought about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, partly because peterr had just written on it, and partly because is my favorite speech ever. I remember the first time I read it all the way through, it’s on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial in DC.

One thing I always loved about geometry was that after you learned the basic rules of proofs, you could almost feel the answers unroll as you directed your attention towards the end point while thinking about the axioms and intermediate proofs you had worked out.

In the Second Inaugural, you can feel the lack of malice, almost the lack of partiality, towards North and South from the very beginning, but especially in the second paragraph: “the war came” is in the passive voice, not blaming. And this potent statement from the third statement: “that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came”, recognizing that both sides participated in the initiation and continuation of slavery.

So, at the end, when he states we, the nation for which he claims to speak, must have malice towards none, he has steadily shown that lack of malice throughout the speech, and that charity towards all.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

To ability to tell a story certainly did not hurt. His reputation for integrity was enhanced by the six elements. His political instincts were superb.

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
In response to masaccio @ 65

So well said. Throughout I had the impression that he was incredibly
courteous, from whatever source.

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 3:36 pm


Enjoy your trip. I wouldn’t exactly call this “beach reading,” but I think you will really enjoy the book.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

We are currently working on a book about Thomas Jefferson’ use of Euclid. The manuscript is presently 600 pages, but not done.

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:37 pm
In response to BevW @ 57

Responding to your question of current examples:

Barack Obama (hundreds of speeches since January 2011).

Bill Clinton (one speech that I know of).

Michelle Obama (one speech that I know of -the convention).

Newt Gingrich has the book on his Kindle.

Mitt Romney used the structure in his acceptance speech.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

You may not want to reveal your “punch line” about Thomas Jefferson because this is a work in progress. But you have just completed — and published — a new book about the speeches of Barack Obama. What did you conclude about Obama’s rhetorical approach as President?

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to RevBev @ 62

We were not consulted on the movie Lincoln. We know people who were.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:43 pm

We haven’t discussed LINCOLN the movie since early on in this salon. The movie focuses less on Lincoln the speechmaker and more on Lincoln the dealmaker. Do you feel comfortable with that image? (the dual roles) Arguably, they are strikingly different: a Euclidean committed to evidence, logic, and rational argumentation (Hirsch & Van Haften); and a down-and-dirty pol willing to buy a few votes if that’s what it took to achieve his policy goals (Spielberg). Contradictory? Or reconcilable?

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:43 pm

In our second book, “Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the Structure of Reason”, we describe President Obama’s use of Lincoln’s system for structuring speeches. The book contains a selection of President Obama’s speeches from 1H2011, including the Gabrille Giffords Tucson speech, and the Osama Bin Laden speech. President Obama’ speeches are easier to demarcate than Abraham Lincoln’s. President Obama is clear and direct.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Should we be encouraging our schoolchildren to master Euclid’s elements when they prepare a speech or an essay? On the plus side, it might help them to be more logical, more persuasive. On the minus side, might it in some ways dampen their creativity? Isn’t it sometimes good to vary the familiar elements of a speech — e.g., by beginning with an implausible conclusion and working backwards?

CTuttle February 17th, 2013 at 3:50 pm
In response to Peterr @ 68

… I wouldn’t exactly call this “beach reading,”…

*heh* Is there such a beast…? ;-)

Aloha, Bill, Dan, and David…! Mahalo for being here at the Lake…!

This is truly inspiring me to brush up on Euclid’s writings, and, I look forward to reading your book…!

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

The movie apparently in its early development was too broad. We have no problem with the focus on the 13th Amendment. That was a core goal of Lincoln’s. His full life is too ambitious a goal for one movie. The focus is fine. The attempt to stick to the facts was better accomplished in this movie than in any of the earlier movies about Lincoln that I am aware of.

As far as politics, Lincoln was a wheeler and dealer. Couldn’t have succeeded without it. Few politicians can.

He did it for the “right” cause.

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I think they will be helped. Writing (and giving) a speech can be challenging and stressful for many people, including children. This will not dampen their creativity. For persuasive speeches, this will help them, and liberate them, and allow them to be more creative within the elements. It did this for Lincoln. In his Baltimore Sanitary Fair speech, he uses a parable as his construction – very creative). It is important to note this structure only works for persuasive speeches.

BevW February 17th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this interesting Book Salon discussion,

David, Dan, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and Lincoln’s speeches.

Bill, Thank you very much for Hosting this Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

David and Dan’s website and book

Bill’s website (Georgetown University)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

David Hirsch February 17th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

In my opinion we should begin teaching the six elements in pre-school. We want children who can think and analyze and separate the wheat from the chaff.

RevBev February 17th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to David Hirsch @ 80

Thanks. We may have to find a remedial course…….thanks for being here and for your great work.

William Gormley February 17th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

David and Dan,
Thanks so much for your OUTSTANDING book on Lincoln and for your excellent and thoughtful comments this evening! There are lots of professional historians out there … and a fair number of amateur historians too. It’s to your great credit that you found something fresh and important to say about Abraham Lincoln, who has received so much attention over the decades. An excellent piece of detective work.
Congratulations, and good night!!!

Dan Van Haften February 17th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thanks everyone. We’ve really enjoyed being on the Book Salon

NorskeFlamethrower February 17th, 2013 at 4:02 pm
In response to Peterr @ 68

Brother Peterr:

Thanks, we are gunna be on an island in the Gulf that requires a ferry to access with no mail delivery…so hopefully we won’t even know we’re in Florida.

As for today’s topic, have you read the book and will it stimulate you to take a closer look at some of the earlier American thinkers and writers to maybe inflence your own work?

Peterr February 17th, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Oh, they’ve been influencing my work for many years — and I’m sure they will continue to shape me in the future.

Enjoy your island escape.

reader February 18th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Totally fascinating! Thanks to the authors and everyone!

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