Benjamin Banneker, was a well-educated man and the son of former slaves, writes in his letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1791 that slavery is against the foundations that the country based upon itself upon. Banneker supports his argument by recalling texts and moments of history that was crucial to the foundation of America and the contradictory aspects of slavery. Banneker uses several rhetorical techniques including tone, allusion, diction, ethos, pathos, and counterargument to make his position of the given subject clear and to make Mr.Jefferson change his own opinion about slavery, The author’s purpose is to show Jefferson the contradictions of slavery and and eventually persuade him to abolish its slavery. One of the most importantAmong rhetorical devices used, one of the most important in this letter is allusion. It is shown in many cases within the letter where allusions have been made to justify Banneker’s argument on abolishing slavery.
The first allusion in this essay is his reference to the revolutionary war in the first paragraph and saying “you cannot but acknowledge that the present freedom and tranquility… is the blessing of Heaven. ” Here, he is showing that the suppression of Britain led to hopeless situations, eventually leading into the revolutionary war. He justifies his argument using this , saying that slavery is even more suppressing under even harsher conditions and that this it should be abolished. Another instance of allusion is when he quotes the Declaration of Independence.
He reminds Jefferson that there is no bigger contradiction than slavery in a country based on the “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal and that they are endowed… with certain unalienable rights…” By quoting one of the most important texts in the history of America, Banneker successfully justifies his argument on the abolition of slavery. Lastly, he refers to the Bible, mentioning Job and quoting his words “put your souls in their souls stead,” to show the righteousness of his argument. He shows that even in the Bible, people are told to sympathize and makes a point to Jefferson to sympathize with the slaves.
Banneker employs a formal diction with abstract words and ideas, in the letter. One of the reasons for this would be the obvious: Jefferson is a very respectable government official so he deserves the respect. Apart from that, he is adding credibility to his argument by showing that he is well educated and knows what he is doing. However, there is a deeper meaning to this move: by utilizing abstract and somewhat confusing terms and ideas, he is implying that Jefferson is doing the exact same. He implies that Jefferson only talks about abolishing slavery but his actions are very timid and confusing.
Lastly, Banneker appeals with logos, or makes logical appeals, to show the hypocrisy of Americans and especially, Jefferson. By mentioning the allusions above, especially the one on the Declaration of Independence, he makes a point on how the Jefferson’s words and actions are contradictory. Since he wrote the text, he must be the one to take actions to keep the words. However, he acts timidly and sometimes ambiguously to confuse the public. The main point he wants to make is this: if America is established upon freedom and equality, what is slavery; slavery is nowhere close to equality or freedom.
By showing that Jefferson he is a hypocrite, his ultimate goal is to see Jefferson take actions against slavery to keep his words as he wrote in the foundations of America. Through allusion, formal diction, and logical appeals, the ultimate argument Banneker puts forth is that slavery is bad and should be banned. The process of this argument, as shown above, is not as simple as calling it bad. Rather, he justifies his argument and even attacks at the foundation of the country to call for actions.