Presidential Addresses

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13872

When presidents address the nation, they must try to craft their messages in such a way that all people listening, even those who didn't vote for them, will be persuaded and will trust them.


History, Verbal Communication, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


When something bad happens in the country, people look to the president to be the "doctor" of the nation.

doctor comforting a patient

They are supposed to tell the nation the truth and reassure the nation that everything is going to be all right.

  • But what is more important? Telling the truth? Or making the nation feel better?

Sometimes both of these can't be achieved at the same time, and the president has to pick one or the other.

  • Which one would be more persuasive?


cars in Maryland waiting for gas, 1979

Image by Warren K. Leffler, via Wikimedia Commons, has no known copyright restrictions.

In the 1970s, the U.S. economy was in trouble. The world's oil producers cut off the United States' global oil supply, which caused gas prices to rise tremendously and gas stations to run out of fuel.

Also during this period, money began to lose its value, and the prices for things like groceries began to climb.

Overall, the U.S. economy was out of control and was defying what economists thought was even possible. Drastic measures would be required to fix it.

Toward the end of this decade, Jimmy Carter was elected president.

When faced with speaking to the American people about the reality of the country's economy, Carter needed to choose between making the country feel better and the truth, which would hurt to hear.

Presidential Addresses

Jimmy Carter, 1970s

Image by Department of Defense, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Typically, presidential addresses are made when a disaster happens or the president wants to speak to the country about a pressing issue.

When Jimmy Carter addressed the nation in 1979 about the overall energy and economic problems, he chose -- above all -- to tell the truth.

His premise was the hope that, if he could speak the truth to the American people, they might be more willing to support his presidency and re-elect him.

As we look at his address, ask yourself if you think his premise will work.


The appeal to ethos is a rhetorical device in which the speaker establishes credibility with the audience before making his or her argument.

Let's look at the beginning of Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech in order to identify the way in which he tries to establish credibility with the American people.

Jimmy Carter: Crisis of Confidence from Bradley Sullivan:

President Carter does two things to make himself seem more credible in the eyes of the American people.

First, he explains that he is not isolated from the average person. This makes his message seem more trustworthy because he can relate to and understand his audience more accurately.

Secondly, he talks about how the news keeps focusing on the government and what it thinks should happen. Instead, he wants to focus on the concerns and thoughts of the nation's people. This adds credibility because he is acknowledging the reality that the audience has not had much of a voice.


The appeal to pathos is when a speaker pulls on the emotions of an audience in order to make the message more persuasive.

As you watch the second part of this address, look for the answers to these questions:

  • How does Carter utilize the idea of democracy to touch the emotions of the audience?
  • How does he use the idea of consumerism and being materialistic to touch the emotions of the audience?

  • Did you catch the appeals to pathos in there?

The idea of democracy being threatened by a crisis in confidence instantly plays on the emotions of the American people because the United States was the first democracy in modern times. The notion that our democracy could be threatened would scare most Americans and make them listen even more closely to his next message.

Carter pulled on the emotions of the audience even more when he told the American people the truth about consumerism and the materialistic society that exists in the country. However, this is different than the idea of democracy being challenged because, toward the end of this address, he tells Americans to stop buying "things".

In order to tell the truth about the problems with consumerism, Carter was not able to reassure the nation. Instead, he put a lot of the blame for the economic crisis on the American people themselves.

  • Regardless of whether this were true, do you think attacking your audience is very persuasive?


So, in order to tell the country the truth as he saw it, then-President Carter tried to advise the American people on how best to live.

For a quick explanation on the aftermath of this speech, watch a portion of  Ford, Carter, and the Economic Malaise: Crash Course US History #42 from CrashCourse:

Continue on to the Got It? section to review the purpose of and argument in Jimmy Carter's speech while also considering if his original premise was valid.

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