Cicero and Barack Obama: How to Unite the Republic Without Losing Your Head

33 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2020

Date Written: May 21, 2020


By turning to the works of Cicero and Barack Obama, we can find models of how to speak into crises in ways that foster unity. Cicero’s Catilinarian orations were delivered in 63 BCE, during his one-year term as consul — the highest elected official in the Roman Republic. Facing a conspiracy by certain noble Romans, Cicero delivered a series of four speeches that drove the chief conspirator out of Rome, turned public opinion against the conspirators, and convinced the Roman Senate to support the death penalty for conspirators who remained and were captured in Rome. The Fourth Catilinarian, in which Cicero advocates for the death penalty, is a prime example of a legal speech delivered in a political forum during a divisive time.

Barack Obama delivered “A More Perfect Union” to defuse a crisis following media reports of incendiary remarks made by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. In “A More Perfect Union,” delivered on March 18, 2008, Obama defended himself and addressed the larger question of race relations in America.

There is much for lawyers to learn from the rhetoric of the Fourth Catilinarian and “A More Perfect Union.” In each case, a very strong orator faces a crisis and marshals evidence and arguments in favor of legal or quasi-legal determinations. The speakers do not hesitate to take strong positions, but the goal of each is unity: unity is an explicit call of each orator and a requirement to achieve the ends the speakers seek. Moreover, each orator positions himself as embodying the unity he advocates. These efforts to bridge deep divides can teach lawyers how to achieve results in challenging circumstances.

Keywords: legal rhetoric, persuasion

Suggested Citation

Cedrone, Michael, Cicero and Barack Obama: How to Unite the Republic Without Losing Your Head (May 21, 2020). Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 20, No. 3, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Michael Cedrone (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center

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