Rhetorical practice in Congress : a new way to understand institutional decline.




Wysocki, Joseph F.

Access rights

Worldwide access

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines a previously unexamined factor that may contribute to the recent decline in Congress, the historical development of congressional rhetoric. Chapter one begins by examining the relationship between rhetoric and factors that lead to institutional health in Congress. Primarily, it argues that certain uses of rhetoric contribute to deliberation, regular order, and institutional identity, while others undermine these institutional goals. Rhetoric that undermines these goals has been used increasingly as congressional speeches have become more public in recent history. The chapter then proposes five specific standards to trace the development of rhetoric in two historical case studies. These standards are taken from scholarship on presidential rhetoric. They include: 1) the connection between speech and thought, 2) the constitutional tradition, 3) rhetorical self-restraint, 4) masculine and feminine rhetoric, and 5) crisis rhetoric. The first case study examines the two eras of congressional responses to the President’s Annual or State of the Union Address. Chapter two examines the institutional response prepared by both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the first twelve years of the United States existence. Chapter three turns to the televised opposition party responses offered by members of Congress that began in 1966. These two chapters show the more extreme examples of rhetoric according to the above standards. The second case study shows this transition more gradually. Chapters four through eight examine the floor debates of five important congressional reforms. These include: 1) the Pendleton Act, 2) the “revolt” against Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, 3) the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act, 4) the 1961 changes to the Rules Committee, and 5) the 1970 Legislative Reorganization Act. These chapters illustrate the slow decline in rhetoric, according to the five standards developed. The conclusion in chapter nine ties the two case studies together with congressional decline and proposes an agenda for future research in the area of congressional rhetoric.



Congress., Congressional rhetoric., Rhetoric., Rhetorical studies.