Tone and Diction of Banneker’s Letter to Jefferson
Banneker’s use of formal tone and succinct diction delivers to Jefferson the urgency of ending slavery. He demonstrates the lack of equality and hypocrisy as Jefferson claims “all men created equal” while treating human beings as possessions that could be bought and sold; and doing that exactly. He strengthens his point by using negative diction and challenges Jefferson’s Christian values to successfully express that slavery should be ended.
Benjamin Banneker utilizes personification to start off his letter by referencing their ruler, Britain, and requesting Jefferson to recall the moment when “the arms and tyranny of the British Crown were exerted with every powerful effort in order to reduce you to a State of Servitude.” This use of personification was used to prioritize and compare the correspondence of past slavery to present-day slavery and how Jefferson once carried an anti-slavery attitude. Banneker utilizes negative diction such as “horrors of it’s conditions” to intrigue Jefferson’s emotions in order to remind him that he does in fact know the persecution and horrors of slavery. Banneker uses the Declaration of Independence as evidence to attack Jefferson with his own past claims and views: ”We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…”, exposing his hypocrisy and that he indeed was against slavery, but however now chooses to ignore this when it’s his own country. Banneker highlights that Jefferson’s words are meaningless, and that he went from being a former anti-slavery supporter, to now “guilty of that most criminal act which you professedly detested in others.” Banneker displays slavery as such a dreadful doing by using negative diction to describe it as “cruel oppression” and “groaning captivity.”
Banneker challenges Jefferson’s Christian values to successfully express that slavery should be abolished. He uses the Bible to express the correspondence between persecuted men in the Bible and persecuted slaves. Banneker attacks Jefferson’s religious views and beliefs to try and make him feel guilty for tolerating slavery and bringing to his attention that he isn’t following Christian beliefs. Banneker says to Jefferson that, ‘You were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the father of mankind and of his equal and impartial distribution of those rights and privileges.” This effectively reminds Jefferson that he is going against God’s will. Additionally, Banneker addresses Jefferson as “sir” and “you” in order to mock him and blame him for his actions.
Throughout this letter, Banneker uses strong and emotional diction, as well as Jefferson’s Christian beliefs and his own past claims against him to prioritize the importance of the abolition of slavery. He utilizes negative diction in order to guilt and remind Jefferson how horrific slavery is and that he is tolerating it.
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