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Today is President’s Day, and Joe Romm , a long-time climate-change awareness advocate, admittedly disappointed by what he hoped would be inspiring rhetoric from Obama on the subject, has written an interesting survey of the literary and rhetorical virtues of America’s present and past commanders-in-chief, singling out Lincoln as an exceptional man of letters:

“Lincoln, a master orator, debater, and rhetorician, was the most consciously rhetorical of our presidents. He once incisively attacked an opponent for employing a particular metaphor-using a metaphor of his own: “I wish gentlemen on the other side to understand that the use of degrading figures [of speech] is a game at which they may not find themselves able to take all the winnings.” Lincoln continued his passion for poetry and Shakespeare throughout his entire life. He spent hours reading passages from Shakespeare to his personal secretary John Hay and the artist F. B. Carpenter. After seeing one performance of Henry IV Part One , Lincoln debated Hay on the meaning and emphasis of a single phrase of Falstaff’s. During the painting of “Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Carpenter describes Lincoln reciting Claudius’s 36-line speech in Hamlet “from memory, with a feeling and appreciation unsurpassed by anything I ever witnessed upon the stage.”

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