Rhetorical Devices

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In his letter to Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Banneker uses rhetorical devices to reinforce his argument against the cruelties of slavery. Being a man of color, Banneker did not possess the social status deemed worthy of communication with a fine man such as Jefferson. Nevertheless, Banneker was an intelligent man and used his knowledge to point out the contradictory characteristics between slavery and American values.

Banneker uses repetition throughout his letter. Periodically, he refers to Jefferson as “sir.” Banneker was well aware of the differences between himself and the man to whom this letter was written and indulges in each and every nicety in order to maintain a polite atmosphere. He wanted to appear to Jefferson as a civilized man capable of discussing this sore issue without any issues. He respects Jefferson for the great things he has done, but he must address the problem at hand.

In addition to repetition, Banneker uses exemplification to emphasize the injustices of slavery. He quotes an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence in lines 28-32, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He continues on to say that this famous statement is a lie. African Americans of the day did not have all of these “unalienable rights.” By using a passage from Jefferson’s own work against him, Banneker strikes a powerful blow. White Americans are hypocrites who enjoy descriptive and flowing speech; Banneker gladly makes this clear.

Even so, Jefferson and Banneker are not all that different. They both know what it is like to be persecuted and controlled, whether it was by Great Britain of the American people. They are both men, human beings, with instincts and beliefs. Like the majority of people in that time, they believed in the basic idea of God, the Higher Power who dictates all...
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