E. Roosevelt and The Struggle For Human Rights: A Neo-Aristotelian Analysis

by Amanda Smith

[submitted to the web 3/18/04]



On September 28, 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady and delegate of the United Nations, delivered a speech entitled, “The Struggle for Human Rights.”  This speech was delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France to an audience of thousands of French citizens and delegates of the United Nations. “The Struggle for Human Rights,” dealt with the struggle toward universal acceptance of human rights from those states that were considered, by the United Nations and Roosevelt, non-compliant. Those non-compliant states consisted of, U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and other member states, who had refused to accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thus denying every human being fundamental rights and freedoms.  This declaration was written with the intent to unify all nations through common terms and principles surrounding the issues of human rights and freedoms.  Roosevelt felt that she must persuade those non-compliant countries to come to an understanding of the fundamental principles agreed upon by the United Nations through the means of establishing unification with her democratic audience.       

U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and other member states of the United Nations refused to accept the UDHR.  They held firmly to their communist, totalitarian beliefs of human rights, thereby refusing the fundamental rights and principles granted to every human being. Roosevelt’s speech states that these freedoms are, as stated in the UDHR, “freedom of speech and a free press; freedom of religion and worship; freedom of assembly and the right to petition; the right of men to be secure in their homes and free from unreasonable search or seizure and from arbitrary arrest and punishment.” (1948, par 11).  Roosevelt boldly criticized the beliefs of totalitarian governments in her speech, “The totalitarian state typically places the will of the people second to decrees promulgated by a few men at the top” (1948, p.5, par 5).  The fight for freedom and human rights was the basis of this speech. Roosevelt’s persuasive strategy was to provide the non-compliant countries with an accurate and clear definition of human rights and freedoms that should be accepted by all nations. 

As a former First Lady and a United Nations delegate, Eleanor Roosevelt was widely known for her “unparalleled humanitarian convictions”(1998, par 6) and for being “ the driving force behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (www.udhr.org, 1998, p.4).  Her numerous speeches, newspaper columns, and books, over the span of more than ten years, brought human rights to the front burner of the political scene. Her passion was in joining the nations of the world through working with the United Nations.  Uniting all nations was the reason for giving her speech “The Struggle for Human Rights.” The final purpose of Roosevelt’s speech was to convince France to remain strong in their principles and keep faith in their unyielding, peaceful efforts in restoring human rights and freedoms.

France was vital to the success of her speech, and to the efforts necessary in bringing the non-compliant “states”(Roosevelt, 1948, par 10) to an agreement with the UDHR.  France was an ally of The United States during and after World War II.  It was France, who battled between freedom and tyranny laying the foundation for human rights. It was France who coined the slogan, “Liberty, equality, and fraternity”(Roosevelt, 1948, par1).  For these reasons, Eleanor Roosevelt chose France as her immediate audience. 

The purpose of my paper is to analyze the speech artifact, “The Struggle for Human Rights,” as delivered by Eleanor Roosevelt.  What rhetorical devices, such as ethos, logos, pathos, and the rhetorical cannons were used to convince the audience that fundamental human rights were not to be compromised?  To what extent, if any, was Roosevelt able to create a sense of unity among her audience, persuading them to fight toward universal acceptance of human rights and freedoms?  The intent of my analysis is to contribute to the knowledge of the rhetorical processes by examining how humanitarian leaders unite opposing nations to form a common understanding and acceptance of the fundamental rights of all mankind.  I will begin by discussing the Neo-Aristotelian method of speech criticism. I will then analyze Roosevelt’s speech by means of this Neo-Aristotelian method. I further my analysis of her persuasive power through Burke’s theory of identification.  Next, I will respond to my questions and suggest further implications concerning the humanitarian rhetoric during the struggle against achieving universal approval of human rights and freedoms.  Finally, I will conclude with a description of the Neo-Aristotelian method of criticism. 


Eleanor Anna Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 11, 1884 to socially prominent parents, Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt.  Eleanor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt (Grolier, 2000).  Ridiculed by her mother and abandoned by her alcoholic father, Eleanor led an insecure and attention starved childhood. Raised in a strict home by her Grandmother Hall, Eleanor was sent to Allenswood, a finishing school in London, at the age of 15.  It was at Allenswood; Eleanor was placed into a leadership role, which instilled in her a newly found confidence.  Upon returning to the States for her debut in society, Eleanor quickly began working with the poor at a settlement house. (2000, p.1)  This was her beginning in humanitarian work, but definitely not the end. 

On March 17, 1905, Eleanor was given in marriage to her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  During the next eleven years she gave birth to six children, one of which died during infancy. (2000, p.1-2)  Her husband was elected to the Senate of New York and later assistant secretary of the Navy during WWI. Eleanor then took on the role of not only wife and mother, but then she filled the role of wife to a political figure. 

Active in the League of Women Voters, Women’s Trade Union League, and Women’s Division of Democratic Party, her political affiliations were numerous (2000, p.2).  Due to the tragic circumstances of her husband being stricken with polio in 1921, Eleanor became her husband’s political stand-in, “serving as his eyes and ears,” (www.udhr.org, 1998, p.2) to keep his political affairs afloat.  Her role as political stand-in magnified when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1933.  She then traveled across the nation serving as a liaison between the people of the United States and her husband, President Roosevelt.  During her role as First Lady, Eleanor lectured nation-wide and initiated press conferences with women reporters on a weekly basis (1998, p.2).  She wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “My Day,” which was published daily for many years (1998, p.2).  She was the author of several books, two of which were published during her tenure in the Whitehouse and as delegate for the United Nations, This Is My Story and This I Remember.  Along the way she continued her humanitarian efforts by setting up factories for the unemployed as well as working in the Todhunter School in New York (1998, p.2).  She used a common sense platform to best represent the desires and needs of the common men and women.  This common sense platform intended to reach people who did not feel that had a voice in political issues. This approach clarified those issues for the people, that were currently in the political arena, but not clear or pertinent to “real life concerns of the common man.”  Roosevelt’s ability to represent the people and understand what average, working class people need and desire gave her credibility and respect across the nation.

Her educational background lacked the prestige, which normally is associated with political greatness, but her intelligence and familiarity with the political world certainly was not lacking.   “Her steady faith in human dignity and worth” (1998, p.2) as well as her experience with political issues in her journey as First Lady earned her respect and international admiration. 

In December 1945, as the aftermath of WWII engulfed the world, President Harry S. Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as delegate of the United Nations (Grolier, 2000, p.3).  She became chairperson of the commission on human rights also known as the Nuclear Commission. She was committed and tireless in her efforts of achieving a declaration that would unify all nations.

“We wanted as many nations as possible to accept the fact that men, for one reason or another, were born free and equal in dignity and rights, that they were endowed with reason and conscience, and should act toward one another in spirit of brotherhood.  The way to do that was to find words that everyone would accept” (www.udhr.org, 1998, p.3).

As mother, wife, political figure, and most importantly a humanitarian, Eleanor Roosevelt held firmly to her convictions and asked everyone to ponder one question, “ Where, after all do human rights begin?” (1998, p.1)   

On May 8, 1945, the United Nations was established with the help of President Harry S. Truman, after he attended the UN founding conference in San Francisco, California in early April of that same year (2000, p.5). At the same time President Truman had “brought to fruition the plans for unconditional surrender of Germany” (2000, p.5). Why was the United Nations’ establishment imperative at this time?  World War II came to a close in early 1945, but there were still pressing issues in Germany, Russia, and other communist countries that the United States and the other Ally countries had to deal with.  Eastern expansion and domination by Russia, who hoped to force its dominating, totalitarian views of government to these Eastern countries, forced American officials to become increasingly more aware and alarmed (2000, p.6).

In order to create some form of civilized peace between these countries, the United Nations introduced the Proclamation of the United Nations Charter and Statute of the International Court of Justice, which would come into action, “upon the ratification of the Republic of China, France, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, and other signatory states” (1998, p.1).  On October 24, 1945, the Secretary of State of the United States of America stated, “ the requirements of paragraph 3 of Article 110 with respect of coming into force…. ratification of the said Charter by the following states: Republic of China, France, United Kingdom of Great Britain, …United States of America…. Byelorussia Soviet Socialist Republic…Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic… and Yugoslavia”(1998, p.2).   President Truman proclaimed that all that had signed the Charter should accept it and follow its guidelines with good faith, on and from the date of October 24, 1945 (1998, p.2). 

Russian and Soviet Union Socialists were dominating Eastern Europe with their domineering, communist nature. Truman felt that it had to be made clear to these countries that totalitarian force would not gain mutual respect from any nation.  Truman setup a commission named, The Nuclear Commission in 1946 (1995, p. 1). The Nuclear Commission worked hand-in-hand with the Economic and Social Council and with the United Nations to represent the basic human rights that should be accepted by all nations.  The Commission of Human Rights was a spin off of this Nuclear Commission, whose sole duty was to ensure basic human rights and freedoms were granted to all nations and that those nations accepted and fulfilled these rights. 

The Commission of Human Rights was made up of individuals, not representatives of the governments. The representatives were; Eleanor Roosevelt, U.S.A, chairwoman; Ferdanda de Husse, Belgium; K.C. Neogi, India; Prof. Rene Cassin, France; Dr. C.L. Haai, China; Dusan Brkish, Yugoslavia; Mr. Borisov, U.S.S.R (1995, p.1).  This commission met with the intent on writing a declaration of human rights that could be applied to all nations. Thus, creating a universal understanding and acceptance of human rights and freedoms. The exigency of this controversial issue was revealed when the U.S.S.R. representative told the commission that he was not empowered to vote on the declaration, keeping the commission from making the votes on the declaration unanimous (1995, p.1).


The critical analysis of a rhetorical artifact might be approached through the Neo-Aristotelian method of criticism.  This form of criticism is derived from the teachings of Aristotle.  Rhetoric is built on the five classical cannons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.  In dealing with the speech artifact, “The Struggle for Human Rights,” by Eleanor Roosevelt, I will use three of these cannons: invention, arrangement, and style. 

Invention is where the speaker must draw on both specialized knowledge and the sub and general lines of reasoning.  The speaker must seek out arguments that could possibly persuade the audience to his/her case.  This speaker states her main concern through an example of invention, “I have chosen to discuss it (human rights) in the early days of the General Assembly because the issue of human liberty is decisive for the settlement of outstanding political differences and for the future of the United Nations” (Roosevelt, par 1). Invention embodies three subcategories, which are types (or modes) of proof to measure persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. 

Logos is the logical and rational pattern of the rhetoric. Logos allows the critic to identify the arguments or main claim (thesis). It also allows the critic to find support for this claim given by the rhetor in the artifact.  The rhetor should support and develop the arguments and claims in the external/inartistic proof by, quoting experts, giving personal experiences, and giving statistical findings. This will assure that the evidence given is consistent and sufficient enough to persuade the audience of the claim. 

Internal/artistic and external/inartistic proofs allow the rhetor to use inductive or deductive reasoning.  Inductive reasoning typically takes on the form of a series of specific examples that are used to draw a general conclusion.  An example of inductive reasoning is:

            Student A is nice.  Student B is nice.  Student C is nice.  All students must be nice. 

Deductive Reasoning is a generalization that is acceptable to the audience, which the rhetor applies to a specific case. 

The materials used in the area of logos are, the enthymeme and example.  The enthymeme is an incomplete syllogism in which not all of the claims are explicitly stated.  A syllogism consists of a major premise, minor premise, and a conclusion. An example of a syllogism is:

            MP: Blondes have more fun than brunettes.

            MP: I am blonde.

            C:    I have more fun than brunettes.

An example of an enthymeme is:

           MP:  Blondes must have more fun than brunettes.

              C:  I have more fun than brunettes.

The second of the internal/artistic proofs is Ethos.  Ethos is the appeal of the rhetor’s character to the audience.  Ethos is the most important of the three proofs because of its persuasive power over the audience.  For example, an unidentified man wearing a dress is giving a speech on fashion. At the same moment, the editor of Vogue magazine is engaging an audience in a speech, which is also concerning fashion.  Which of the two would seem more persuasive in convincing the audience to go out and buy the new winter line at Neiman Marcus?  The speaker with the most credibility would be more effective.

The credibility of a speaker entails perceived intelligence, virtuous character, and goodwill. Perceived intelligence has to do with the quality of intelligence, the common sense and practical wisdom that a speaker conveys to the audience, through shared beliefs and values.  The editor of Vogue will most likely have knowledge of the issue she is presenting and will hopefully share the common value that looking nice and fashionable feels good.  A credible speaker must be perceived as a virtuous character, meaning they must have a good and honest image. Again the values and beliefs must coincide with the audience to maintain the perception of virtuous character.  The Pastor of a church is viewed as a virtuous human being, honest and good.  To persuade the audience the speaker must have goodwill.  Goodwill is the audience’s perception that the speaker has their best interest at heart.

The final subcategory of invention is pathos, the emotional proof.  Pathos deals with appealing to the audience’s emotions.  Although Aristotle was “quite skeptical about the emotion-laden public oratory typical in his era…he set forth the theory of pathos” (Griffin, 308).  Within his theory he defined the “earliest systematic discussion of human psychology,” as being: Anger versus Mildness, Love or Friendship versus Hatred, Fear versus Confidence, Shame versus Shamefulness, Indignation versus Pity, and Admiration versus Envy (Griffin, 308).  Pathos is interested in discovering how the speaker is able to stir up these emotions in the audience and persuade them to take action.       

The second section of the Neo-Aristotelian speech criticism is arrangement.  Arrangement is to determine the general pattern of organization that the speech will take on. A more simplistic arrangement of a speech will allow the speaker to fully captivate his/her audience.  The speech may be arranged systematically through an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  The introduction is meant to capture the audience’s attention and to define the purpose of the speech, while establishing credibility of the speaker.  The body of the speech may be arranged in a variety of ways.  One form of arrangement is chronological, which is the dividing of the speech into time units.  Another form of arrangement is the problem solution order. Problem solution is a discussion of a problem followed by suggested solutions.  Other arrangement forms of a speech are, topical, cause-effect, spatial, and effect-cause.  In order to determine which type of spatial arrangement the speaker may use, the critic must take into consideration the subject and purpose of the discourse. They must also know whom the targeted audience is, as well as, which concept the speaker spent the most time on and in what order the issues fell.

The third and final rhetorical cannon I will discuss for the analysis of my speech artifact is style.  Style deals with the rhetor’s language. Style deals with how words or other symbols are used to create varying effects.  Style deals with how the symbols are arranged to form larger units, such as sentences.  Some forms of style are common or ordinary, forceful or robust, and stately and ornate.  Examples of this arrangement of words or symbols can be best described with the examples of rhetorical figures.  Rhetorical figures dress up the ideas of the rhetor and allow the audience to become more easily engaged in what is being said.  A few examples of rhetorical figures are: Exemplum, which is simply “using an example, brief or extended; real or fictitious, to illustrate a point; an example” (American Rhetoric).

EX: “For instance, the U.S.S.R. will assert that their press is free because the state makes it free by providing the machinery, the paper, and even the money for the salaries for the people who work on the paper”(Roosevelt, 1948).

Anaphora is the figure of repetition that occurs when the first word or set of words in one sentence, clause or phrase is/are repeated at the beginning of successive sentences, clauses, or phrases.

EX:  “We are a people in a quandary about the present.  We are a people in search of our future.  We are a people in search of a national community” (Barbara Jordan, 1976).

Another example of a rhetorical figure is the rhetorical question, which asks a question, not for the purpose of further discussion, but to assert or deny an answer implicitly; a question whose answer is obvious or implied.

EX: “Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works when he had offered Isaac, his son, upon the altar? (James 2:20-21) (KJV).

The last rhetorical figure I will discuss in my analysis of Roosevelt’s speech artifact is the figure of parallelism.  Parallelism is the balance identified by a similarity in the syntactical structure of a set of words in successive phrases…with very similar grammatical structure.

EX: “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish form the earth” (Lincoln, Gettysburg Address).

I will further my analysis of style by including the methods and terminology of rhetorical critic, Kenneth Burke.  Identification is the major premise of Burke’s theory and is found numerous times throughout the speech artifact that is in question.  Identification is for the rhetor to make him/herself appear to have a connection or similarity with the audience.  Identification is achieved by establishing a “common ground.”  Identification is meant to unite the speaker with the audience by what they stand for or against.  The two propositions that best describe the types of identification that will be used in the speech criticism are:

1.  There is no persuasion without identification.

2.  Identification implies division, where people are united others are excluded, thus division occurs.   

Kenneth Burke’s idea of words that evoke a powerful emotion or response from the audience, he calls the “God” and “Devil” term. The “God” term is used to represent the good and what the speaker wants the audience to agree with.  The “Devil” term is used to form antithesis, which is what the audience and speaker hate in common. This develops a common oppositional force to fight against.



The primary purpose of Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech was to persuade the “states consisting of the U.S.S.R, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and other member states, to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Up to the time of the address, they had yet to do so.  Roosevelt’s final purpose was to convince France to remain strong in their principles and keep faith in their unyielding, peaceful efforts in restoring human rights and freedoms.  It is evident throughout Roosevelt’s speech that the use of ethos, pathos, and logos assisted her in this hope for persuasion.


Eleanor Roosevelt establishes credibility by building her speech on the very reason so many audiences around the world deem her a credible source. Her speech discussed the pressing issue of human rights.  Her prior credibility, intelligence, and goodwill established a foundation for which the audience to trust.

Her prior credibility assured the audience that she shared similar values of freedom and democracy.  She also demonstrated her value of universal human rights through using these terms in a “we” sense versus the “I” sense. She maintained the fact that she had their best interest at heart, by repeatedly emphasizing what “we” would gain from these universal human rights.  She states in her speech, “We the people of the United Nations determined…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and…to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”  The audience, no matter who they were, most likely felt that they were a part of this issue.  Prior to this speech, Roosevelt was deemed credible among many nations because of her passion for humanitarian issues and political affiliations.  Roosevelt’s prior credibility limited the use of ethos in this speech, due to the fact her credibility was not established solely in the speech.  However, by discussing this particular subject from the position of chairperson for the commission that wrote the Declaration of Human Rights, her credibility was enhanced.

She begins her speech by identifying with the audience through her shared values of freedom.  She reminisced with the audience, consisting of thousands of citizens of France about their struggle to overcome tyranny, which ultimately resulted in freedom. Next, she demonstrated her knowledge of the actual issue of human rights, by quoting lines from the United Nations Preamble for Human Rights.  As she spoke of the terms that were fundamental of human rights, such as democracy, freedom, and individuality, she translated these terms to help the audience understand what they meant. She also clarified for her audience what these terms meant to the opposing forces of the U.S.S.R, which consisted of, totalitarian, compromise, communism, and enslaved.  Roosevelt’s use of ethos was limited in its effectiveness, probably because of her credibility was established prior to the speech. Her credibility during the speech was most likely enhanced through her attempt to find a common sense of values and beliefs with her audience.      


Eleanor Roosevelt used pathos in bringing out the urgent nature of her speech.  She induced in the audience a feeling of indignation toward Russia, in that Russia was not willing to accept the Declaration of Human Rights.  She evoked the feelings of friendship and empathy between herself and France, along with the other countries that accepted the Declaration.  These feelings of friendship and empathy were strengthened by the use of unifying language such as, “we,” “our,” and “democracies. ” These terms brought forth the feelings of democracy and a unified force.  The feelings of hatred and pity were probably instilled in the audience at the mere mentioning of how the totalitarian states define freedom and human rights.  Roosevelt states, “Our government seems powerless to them (U.S.S.R.) because, in the last analysis, it is controlled by the people,” and “ In the totalitarian state a trade-union is an instrument used by the government to enforce duties, not to assert rights” (Roosevelt, 9).  This was an effective rhetorical strategy, in that Roosevelt might have lost the audience’s attention if she did not differentiate between the good “democracies” and the bad “totalitarian states.” 

Roosevelt most likely evokes a feeling of renewed confidence in her audience as she defines democracy.  The audience probably felt confidence in continuing the struggle to assure every human being received the rights granted to them.  For example, “We, in the democracies, believe in a kind of international respect and action which is reciprocal.” She also assures the people that, “ Freedom for our people is not only a right, but also a tool…they are tools with which we create a way of life, a way of life in which we can enjoy freedom.”  Apparently, Roosevelt wanted her audience to think of all of the freedoms that are allowed to the democracies and the lack there of in those totalitarian states. She was effective in doing this through the use of emotive language to reinforce the firm beliefs and hopes for freedom held by France and the other nations present.


In the artifact “The Struggle for Human Rights,” Roosevelt used numerous examples to add support for her main claim and central arguments.  Her main claim intended to persuade the audience that universal acceptance of the Declaration of Human Rights will assure all human beings are granted, without compromise, their fundamental human rights and freedoms.  She also used examples to emphasize terms crucial in furthering the audience’s understanding of human rights throughout the speech.  These dominant terms consisted of terms such as, totalitarian, democracy, trade union, compromise, and human rights and freedoms.  She followed several of the terms with examples to increase understanding within the audience.  Roosevelt uses an example to describe the totalitarian states’ definition of freedom. “For instance, the U.S.S.R., will assert that their press is free because the state makes it free….”.  She uses personal testimonies as well as expert quotes to show the differences in the democracies and the totalitarian states.  She quotes from the United Nations Preamble, from Mr. Vyshinsky of Russia, and from her husband, the former President of the United States. 

Roosevelt employs an enthymeme where she states that, “The field of human rights is not one in which compromise on fundamental principles are possible.” The syllogism might read as follows:

MP: Compromising the Declaration of Human Rights is denying the fundamental human   rights granted to all people.

Mp:  The U.S.S.R. compromised the Declaration of Human Rights by attempting to add a phrase to meet their totalitarian belief of human rights.

C: Therefore the U.S.S.R. will deny their people the fundamental human rights granted to all people.


Roosevelt begins her speech by establishing a common ground with the audience.  She then discusses the “decisive importance of this issue” and lays out for the audience the “basic premise of the Charter” of the United Nations Preamble on human rights and freedoms. This speech followed a pattern of arrangement including distinct areas of introduction, body, and conclusion.  

In the introduction, Eleanor gives the chronological order of events leading up to the Human Rights Commission presenting the “International Bill of Rights” to the General Assembly.  It was here that she explained the content of the “International Bill of Rights.”  The exigence was discovered as Roosevelt stated that the “Declaration has come from the Human Rights Commission with unanimous acceptance except for four abstentions-the U.S.S.R, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia.” 

The arrangement of the speech then switches to a topical order and thus the body of the speech begins.  She discusses topically examples and definitions of differences between the non-compliant states and the democracies.  Within this topical order, I found that an underlying arrangement of problem-solution order was evident.  She felt that democracy was the answer, so after each mention of totalitarian state ways she followed with an example of the beliefs of a democracy. 

In her conclusion, she reiterates her main purpose, which is to convince her audience to remain strong in their principles of human rights and to keep faith in their unyielding peaceful efforts toward the Soviet Union.  She asks why some countries still refuse to support human rights and freedoms.  She concludes by reinforcing the identification achieved with the audience through the hopes of, “another victory here for the rights and freedoms of all men.” 

The overall organization of the speech was well thought out.  She began with terms that formed a common ground and then continued with ideas that were more centralized to the United States.  She did this probably to ease her audience into the U.S. way of thinking on these particular issues.  The structure in which the arguments were presented, most likely captured the audiences’ attention.  Through a more conventional structural scheme, Roosevelt clearly defined the core differences that exist between the opposing sides of human rights and freedoms.  By doing this, Roosevelt more than likely attained the attention of the audience and painted a clear picture of what the problem actually was.


Through the use of rhetorical figures Roosevelt is able to captivate her audience and enhance the identification levels she was most likely striving toward.  Roosevelt uses an oratory style that is stately.  Through her combination of rhetorical figures, such as, exemplum, anaphora, and parallelism, a stately oratory style was introduced.  This stately style filled with political jargon and ornate terms presented in a concise manner seemed politically grounded but humanitarian based.  When expressing her opinion she tends to have quite lengthy sentences filled with political jargon.  However, she was able to flip to her “common sense” style of oration, which allowed her to remain on the same level as the “common man.” 

Roosevelt uses numerous exemplums throughout her speech to clarify the terms that may be unclear to her audience.  In describing the beliefs that the U.S.S.R. have about freedom, Roosevelt states, “For instance, the U.S.S.R. will assert that their press is free because the state makes it free by providing the machinery, the paper, and even the money for salaries for the people who work on the paper.”  She uses another exemplum when she discusses the issue that “the field of human rights is not one in which compromise on fundamental principles are possible,” in the illustration, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own.”  The Soviet Union’s rebuttal to this statement was to add the phrase, “in accordance with the procedure laid down in the laws of that country” (7).  This clearly is an example that the Soviet Union would be willing to compromise the fundamental human rights Roosevelt was trying so hard to maintain throughout all nations.  Roosevelt uses the exemplum to bring focus to the issue, while presenting these issues through deliberative and epideictic speaking. 

The rhetorical figure of an anaphora is used in her introduction to reiterate her reasoning for choosing the location of her speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.  She uses the phrase, “I have chosen to discuss…” three times during the first paragraph of this artifact.  In doing this she probably established credibility and trust from the audience. This most likely made them feel that she was not forced to deliver the speech in this location, but chose to be there.  Another example of anaphora is through the phrase, “freedom of,” which is the reoccurring theme of this speech.  In three separate cases in this speech, Roosevelt uses this phrase to remind the people of their fundamental freedoms by saying, “ freedom of speech…freedom of religion and worship, freedom of assembly…”(Roosevelt, 3,5,6).  The repetition of these phrases effectively reminded the audience what they were entitled to and what they were fighting for.

Roosevelt uses a rhetorical question in asking the audience, “Is there a faithful compliance with the objectives of the charter if some countries continue to curtail the human rights and freedoms instead of to promote the universal respect for an observance of human rights and freedoms for all as called by the Charter (Roosevelt, 8)? 

The last rhetorical figure that I will discuss is the use of parallelism. Roosevelt demonstrates that we (society in general) have been immersed in “propaganda” that fills our minds with misleading thoughts and perceptions of what rights and freedoms we are granted.  In the statement, “…Seeks to impugn, to undermine, and to destroy…” and “Such propaganda poses to all peoples the issue whether to doubt their heritage of rights and therefore compromise the principles by which they live, or try to accept the challenge, redouble their vigilance, and stand steadfast in the struggle to maintain and enlarge human freedoms” (7).  By using this combination of rhetorical figures she again suggests a stately style of oration.

Identification is used through the terms, “we,” “our,” and “democracy.”  Roosevelt begins her speech by stating she understands the roots of democracy in France, “It was here the Declaration of Rights of Man was proclaimed, and the great slogans of the French Revolution—liberty, equality, fraternity—fired the imagination of men” (1).

Again she displayed her identification with the French people by stating, “For instance ‘democracy’ means one thing to the U.S.S.R. and another to the U.S.A. and, I know in France.”  This implies that Roosevelt is familiar with what they believe and that “identification implies division.”  By this I mean that the definition of democracy France holds is not the same definition that the United States goes by and nor is it the same in the U.S.S.R.  Therefore, the three are divided by the actual meaning of the word. 

However, by implying the term “we” she forms a major source of identification throughout this speech.  She uses “we” to emphasize the commonality of all democratic nations.  She hopes to persuade these countries that they must remain united in this struggle towards universal human rights. She does this by providing the audience with clarification of what the United Nations deems as the appropriate definition of democracy.  “We must not be confused about what freedom is. Basic human rights are simple and easily understood…”.  Roosevelt views this definition as simple and easy to understand. Through the use of identification the audience will most likely view the term in the same light.    

Roosevelt uses Burke’s “God” versus “Devil” terminology through the words, “democracy” and “totalitarian states.”  It is apparent that she uses the term “democracy” to represent the good and just forms of human freedoms, whereas she uses the term, “totalitarian” to represent what her and the audience “hate in common.”  The term democracy is strategically placed in positions of power by assuming the role of a solution to the problem of oppressive nations.  These oppressive nations were termed, “totalitarian states” and went against everything Roosevelt was hoping to persuade her audience to conform to.  “Their (totalitarian states) government encourages this suspicion and seems to believe that force alone will bring them respect” (4).  She then states, “We, in the democracies, believe in a kind of international respect and action which is reciprocal” (4).  Using these terms repetitively throughout her speech, Roosevelt was most likely able to persuade the audience that what they believe in is the right way, the only way, and should be viewed as a universal truth.


In this paper, I have analyzed, “The Struggle for Human Rights,” by Eleanor Roosevelt.  I have closely examined her past experiences as a humanitarian and political voice for “common man.”  According to my analysis, Roosevelt was successful in convincing her audience that this struggle toward human rights would be one worth fighting for.  In doing so she persuaded them to accept her definitions of human rights and convinced them to remain steadfast in demonstrating these rights, in hopes of gaining acceptance from those non-compliant states.

A few questions have yet to be answered, concerning the effectiveness of Roosevelt’s speech.  These questions are: What rhetorical devices, such as ethos, logos, pathos, and the rhetorical cannons were used to convince the audience that fundamental human rights were not to be compromised?  To what extent, if any, was Roosevelt able to create a sense of unity among her audience, persuading them to fight toward universal acceptance of human rights and freedoms? 

In response to these questions, Roosevelt used numerous rhetorical devices to support her main claims.  Roosevelt’s use of unifying terminology developed a sense of trust from her audience and helped to establish ethos. Ethos was also enhanced by her description of common values and beliefs, which enhanced her intellectual appearance in front of her audience.  The final notice of ethos was that Roosevelt instilled in her audience a sense of goodwill; that she wanted what was best for them.  Ethos was limited in this speech due to Roosevelt’s prior credibility.  Her credibility allowed the audience to accept her as knowledgeable and honest, with only the audience’s best interest in mind.  

Roosevelt used logos to create understanding throughout the audience that human rights should not be compromised, and doing so, will result in forfeiting these rights.  The numerous arguments she presented were made through the use of problem-solution logic and a topical format. My thesis was that Roosevelt’s definition of human rights, which was found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should be accepted universally to grant all human beings the rights and freedoms they deserve, without allowing governments to compromise these rights. 

In support of my thesis Roosevelt proclaimed to her audience that compromising human rights would not be tolerated.  She furthered this claim by clearly stating her definition of human rights. She continued by referring to those nations that were non-compliant with these rights.  She pinpointed the totalitarian states, which consisted of U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia, as non-compliant, forceful governments that put the will of the people second to the will of the government. 

Roosevelt used the problem-solution logic format to precisely separate the totalitarian states from the democracies. This problem-solution format also placed the totalitarian states in the role of the “problem” and assigned the democracies to the role of “solution.”  She supported this claim by attempting to persuade her audience that, great leaps and bounds would be made toward ensuring all human beings were able to have the fundamental rights and freedoms, if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was unanimously accepted.  She made it a point to clarify all of the terms interconnected with human rights, possibly allowing the audience to see why compromise of human rights should not be tolerated by any nation.

She established pathos by creating the emotions of friendship, hatred, indignation, pity, and confidence in her audience.  She did this by using unifying language, such as, “we” and “our” and by differentiating between the “good” democracies and the “bad” totalitarian states. 

The use of style helped to support the thesis through engaging the audience and guiding their attention to the root of the problem.  Her oratory style was stately, which added to her perceived intelligence and most likely gave the audience a reason to support this declaration.  The use of exemplum was a dominant style used to effectively clarify the terms surrounding the issue of human rights.  Roosevelt’s use of anaphora seemed to urgently proclaim, “These are your rights! Do not dare compromise them, nor should you let any human being compromise them.”   

Roosevelt may have been more successful in motivating her audience to take action and exude confidence in their beliefs, if she would have limited the number of arguments and further elaborated on what to do about these arguments versus simply defining the terms.  Roosevelt was clear in determining that there was a problem.  Her problem, however, was in presenting a solution to this grand dilemma.  How would these democratic nations convince the totalitarian states that acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was mandatory?       


This analysis constitutes a case study in Human Rights rhetoric.  My analysis suggests that the Human Rights rhetoric is firmly built on establishing the commonality of speaker and audience.  The speaker must let the audience feel that he/she has been in their shoes and will continue to walk with them throughout the struggle.  Human Rights rhetoric also is founded on the idea that solutions can be created by a unifying force, and will reign victorious over the evil, opposing force in the end.  My analysis further suggests that Human Rights rhetoric establishes credibility through clearly defining unfamiliar or vague terms for the audience through precise terms and personal examples.

The rhetoric used in the Human Rights domain is one of great power. This rhetoric has the ability to speak to the people, about the people, and for the people, while potentially accomplishing political issues and improving morale. This power is, exuded only by a credible speaker, common ground, and unification of morals and values with the audience, without the speaker taking on a grandiose, political air or becoming overly judgmental. 

The use of identification and exemplum were dominant persuasive tools used by Roosevelt to engage her audience in the issue at hand. She used these tools as a public service to guide the audience toward overcoming the struggle for human rights. She did so without appearing too politically savvy or playing the mother telling her children that they should know better, in doing this she demonstrated her rhetorical power. 

I would suggest that future studies be directed toward finding what rhetors after Roosevelt did to support and strengthen the universal human rights presented in her speech.  How and to what effect did Roosevelt’s speech aide in toppling the totalitarian powers of the U.S.S.R.?  How and to what extent would a change of venue or audience contribute or exhaust the rhetorical purpose of Roosevelt’s speech?  Also in light of Burke’s theory, the terms “democracies” and “totalitarian” played the role of “God” and “Devil” terms. What terms if any would be more persuasive in accomplishing the unification Roosevelt was seeking across all nations through the acceptance of the UDHR? These questions and many more would attempt to fully capture the spirit and drive Human Rights rhetoric has for so long instilled in its audience.


Griffin, E. (2000). A First Look at Communication Theory (4th ed.). Boston Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw Hill.

Kirkendall, R. (2000). The American President. Harry S. Truman Biography. Retrieved November 7, 2003 from the World Wide Web http://www.gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/bios/33ptrum.html

Lash, J. (2000). The American Presidency. Eleanor Roosevelt Biography. Retrieved October 28, 2003 from the World Wide Web http://www.gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/first/32pw.html

National Coordinating Committee for UDHR (1998). Eleanor Roosevelt Biography. Retrieved October 28, 2003 from the World Wide Web http://www.udhr.org/history/

Roosevelt, Eleanor (April 1948) The Promise of Human Rights. Black, Allida, Ed. (1995) What I Hope to Leave Behind: The Essential Essays of Eleanor Roosevelt. Retrieved November 5, 2003 from the World Wide Web http://www.udhr.org/history/113.htm

Yale Law School. The Avalon Project: A Decade of American Foreign Policy. (1998). Proclamation of United Nations Charter and Statute of the International Court of Justice. Committee and the Department of State. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950. Retrieved November 7, 2003 from the World Wide Web http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/decade/decad029.htm

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