Over the weekend, I read an article in The Morning Call detailing the career of Allentown attorney John Karoly. His sister Candy Karoly Pamerleau told the reporter that her brother “put himself above the law…because he’s an eloquent speaker. It’s very easy for him to take a grain of truth and spin it.” I do not know Mr. Karoly or his sister, and I could understand how she might associate good speaking with bad deeds, but I wish to assert that eloquence in the truest sense arises from greatness.
In many of his writings the Roman orator Cicero notes that the eloquence derives from wisdom and that eloquence and morality could not be separated. Similarly, another great Roman rhetorician Quintillian said that “no man (I’m sure he meant to add woman) can speak well who is not good him/(her)self.”
The term eloquence is better reserved for utterances that have proven historical merit. According to the website www.americanrhetoric.com, the greatest speeches in American history include: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address and Barbara Charline Jordan’s 1976 DNC keynote address.
If utterances are temporarily persuasive, we would do better to call them just that: persuasive. Let us
reserve the more regal-sounding word, eloquence, for speech aiming at a higher purpose than temporary acclaim.