chapter  2
Reformation and Resentment in Antebellum America
Pages 20

To appreciate how Douglass and his audiences were involved in a revolution in rhetorical ethos, we have to study the ethos expectations that preceded his transformative efforts. While ethos as a technical term would not have been familiar to many of those attending a lecture, every audience member would have had some notion of whose speeches were more apt to be believable and what type of person was worthy of their attention. Some would have gotten a smattering of rhetorical theory in school, because literature and rhetoric from the Greeks and Romans were the main objects of study in the American educational system.1 The higher the education, the more familiarity the audience member would have had with the works of great speakers and technical rhetorical terms. But aside from those training for the pulpit or the bar, very few people would have read the sections of Aristotle or Cicero describing the necessary qualities of the eloquent speaker. How, then, did the Northerners filling the seats to hear Douglass speak acquire the standards they used to judge his efforts to persuade with ethos?