Study Guide

The Great Silent Majority Analysis

By Richard Nixon

  • Rhetoric

    Ethos

    Ethos is the root of the word "ethical." That's right, the word relating to moral principles.

    Richard Nixon, the guy who resigned from the presidency because of a seriously messy wiretapping scandal, is rarely seen in the same sentence as the word "ethos." But hey, we like to push the envelope here at Shmoop, so we're going to do it anyway.

    Because Richard Nixon's "The Great Silent Majority" speech is all about the rhetorical appeal of ethos.

    Nixon's appeal to America's "great silent majority" is basically a call to your average Joe Schmoe American to stand up and do the right thing.

    This may sound great and all, but there is a dark side to Nixon's speech-giving force.

    Part of his call for America to "do the right thing" is also to "sit down and shut up." He doesn't want to witness any more college students chanting anti-war slogans. He doesn't want to hear any more songs about peace and love. And he definitely doesn't want any more anti-war protests sweeping through the nation.

    These were not the Nixon way to get things done. The Nixon way to get things done was the right way to get things done. And thus, this speech is Nixon telling everyone in America the right way to deal with Vietnam.

  • Structure

    There's No Structure Here, We're Just Chatting

    To be honest, there's no clear and defining structure to Nixon's speech. There's a logical flow, and the speech was created with a goal in mind, but it's not really broken down into separate components.

    But even that was intentional. Nixon did not want to sound too formal. A lot of people already thought that he was kind of a jerk. Nixon wanted to make it seem like he was chatting…with all of America.

    In other words, too much structure would make him sound like a robot. And what politician wants to sound like that?

    How It Breaks Down

    The Vietnam War Is Getting Pretty Tiring, Guys

    Everyone knows that the Vietnam War thing stopped working out a long time ago. But hey—who hasn't been in a toxic relationship that's hard to leave? You know that you need to get out for your own sanity, but you need to leave with a little self-respect, too. That's how Nixon describes Vietnam in this first section. Except unlike dating, there's a little bit more bloodshed and violence involved.

    How Do We Know We're Going to Win If We Leave Now?

    Nixon really doesn't want to leave Vietnam on a low note. Who likes being a loser? That's what he's asking in this section. Not America, that's for sure. America sees things through. Including Vietnam.

    The Game Plan

    Nixon is basically the head coach of the U.S. military, so he's letting his fans (the American public) know that he's got the game plan necessary for the big W. First, he wants to get his Vietnamization plan off the ground, so he tells everyone that the Vietnamese are going to start doing more of the fighting. Second, he wants to start bombing the other team more. That, according to Nixon, is the recipe for success.

    This Plan Is Going to Work…or Else

    Nixon wants everyone to know that he's got a lot more hidden up his sleeve. His main goal is to get American troops out of Vietnam altogether. But he wants America to know that if the North Vietnamese even think about upping the ante, he's going to kick their butts. At this moment, you can imagine Nixon rolling up his shirtsleeves and making fists.

    Who's With Me?

    This is the "you're either with me or you're against me"part of the speech. Nixon already knows that the anti-war crowd is against him, so he wants them to ignore the rest of his speech. He wants the patriotic Americans, those in the "great silent majority," to get together and give him the support he believes that he truly deserves.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Technically, this speech is called "President Nixon's Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam." But who cares about that title? This speech will always be remembered as Nixon's "The Great Silent Majority" speech, and for good reason.

    "Great silent majority" may seem like three totally harmless words, but they're actually a political wolf in sheep's clothing.

    By calling the "great silent majority" into action, Nixon was actually trying to tear the country apart. He really wanted to end the Vietnam War, and he figured he could do this only if he got massive support. The problem was that his vision of massive support (i.e., the "great silent majority") included those who hated anti-war protestors, peace-loving hippies, and most likely the entire Democratic Party. It's a polemical term—one that's built off of political anger and a fractured nation. It's also arguably super unpresidential.

    Yeah, "The Great Silent Majority" is a much juicier name than "President Nixon's Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam."

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Good evening, my fellow Americans.

    Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans and to many people in all parts of the world, the war in Vietnam. (1.1-2.1)

    As far as the very first line goes, there's nothing really special going on here. Nixon is starting off his television address with a simple "hello." It's definitely better than starting with "hey, America, I'm talking to you!"

    And then…bam.

    Nixon gets straight to the point. Vietnam is the topic at hand, and Nixon wants to get down to business. It's actually a fairly powerful opener if you think about it. The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart (not to mention Vietnam), and Americans were seriously concerned about the events taking place there.

    So, by starting off this way, Nixon is able to grab everyone's attention.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    As President I hold the responsibility for choosing the best path for that goal and then leading the nation along it.

    I pledge to you tonight that I shall meet this responsibility with all of the strength and wisdom I can command, in accordance with your hopes, mindful of your concerns, sustained by your prayers.

    Thank you and good night. (137.1-139.1)

    There's more to these closing statements then just a polite farewell to the American people. We can actually catch a little glimpse of Nixon's leadership style in these final words.

    Say what you want about Nixon (and, trust us, people have had a lot of things to say about Nixon), but he was a guy that knew what he wanted and was willing to do just about anything to get it.

    He was like this to a fault.

    But you can kind of see this Nixonian quality throughout the speech and even in these closing lines. He claims to "hold the responsibility for choosing the best path for that goal" (137.1). He says this as if he was the only person in the United States with a vision to end the war in Vietnam.

    Or, at least, he is sort of claiming that his vision is going to be the choice no matter what, so the rest of America might as well support him in his decision-making.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Nixon is not trying to impress all you Shakespearean scholars out there by speaking in iambic pentameter whilst cradling a human skull a la Hamlet. No, this speech is for the average Joe and normal Nancy. He wants to reach out to all of America, so he keeps the rhetoric simple and his Victorian-era costumes at home.

    It would be pretty cool to hear this speech in Shakespearean terms, though.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Literary and Philosophical References

    • The U.S. Constitution (117.7)

    Historical and Political References

    • Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. (82.1)
    • "Communist" China (21.1)
    • The Communists (28.1, 29.1, 46.1, 78.1)
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower (22.1, 34.1)
    • The Great Silent Majority (131.1)
    • Lyndon B. Johnson (17.1-17.4, 19.2, 22.3, 23.1, 34.1)
    • John F. Kennedy (22.2, 32.1)
    • Henry Kissinger (53.1)
    • Melvin Laird (81.1)
    • Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (47.4, 53.1, 61.1)
    • Ho Chi Minh (54.2, 54.3, 59.1)
    • Nixon Doctrine (70.2)
    • Nixon's War (17.4, 19.2)
    • William Pierce Rogers (53.1)
    • The Soviet Union (21.1, 53.1)
    • The United Nations (43.1)
    • Vietnam/Vietnam War (throughout)
    • Vietnamizing/Vietnamization (79.3, 81.1, 106.1)
    • Woodrow Wilson (135.1-135.3)

    References to This Text

    Historical and Political References

  • Trivia

    President Lyndon B. Johnson had a dog named Little Beagle Johnson. His wife was called Lady Bird. Notice a trend here? They all have the same initials. Even his children were given names with LBJ as their initials. (Source)

    The 1960 debate was the first televised presidential debate. Everybody who watched thought that JFK was drop-dead gorgeous and won the debate. Those who listened to the debate on the radio, on the other hand, totally thought that Nixon won the debate. (Source)

    The 1968 election would be remembered for a lot of things, but none quite so important as the name of one of the candidates that ran for president: Pigasus the Immortal. The Youth International Party nominated the pig as a protest of the Vietnam War (among other things). You can't make this kind of stuff up. (Source)

    Toward the end of the U.S.'s stint in Vietnam, nearly 600 POWs were released back to the states in 1973. With 450 vets and their guests in attendance, Nixon hosted 1,300 for the largest ever White House dinner party. (Source)

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