How to Build an Army: The Constitutive Utopian Rhetoric of Julius Wayland in the Appeal to Reason
Overton, Daniel Patrick
University of Kansas
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Founded and edited by Julius Augustus Wayland, the Appeal to Reason, an influential socialist newspaper at the turn of the twentieth century, succeeded where every other contemporary radical periodical failed. It attracted a large national audience with an eventual distribution of approximately 750,000 copies per week. During its peak, the Appeal had a greater circulation than any other national weekly paper, and it remains the most widely circulated leftist publication in American history. In what follows I discuss the rhetorical strategies Wayland employed to constitute his readership into a movement geared toward collective action, and I describe the power of the utopian, constitutive, and prophetic rhetoric found in the pages of the Appeal, especially through the editorship of Wayland. Despite its largely secular doctrine, the Appeal can be seen as a kind of scripture pointing toward a socialist utopian myth to create heaven on earth, and Wayland was the key prophetic, homiletic, and symbolic figure serving to rally an energized group of Appeal Army foot soldiers during a period of great social unrest. I examine key rhetorical moments from the Appeal, including the early years of the paper, the creation of the Appeal Army, and the publication of Eugene Debs’ infamous “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” These case studies reveal Wayland’s mobilization of a vernacular persona, autobiographical narrative, hermeneutics, redefinition, and rhetorical violence as key strategies in the creation of the Appeal public. Through an inductive analysis of the rhetoric in the Appeal, I provide a theory-based explanation for the constitution and prodigious growth of the Appeal’s unprecedented readership.
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