A study of leadership and rhetoric : two elements in the success of Charles Harting Percy

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Crawford, Paul K.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Speech


Percy; Charles H.; 1919-


Charles Harting Percy’s recent election to the United States Senate only emphasizes the unusual successes which he has enjoyed in his business and political experi­ences. Although his rise has been spectacular, explanatory information is almost nonexistent, and even a full bio­graphical study is not available of the leader often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate. It was the three-fold purpose of this paper to prepare a comprehensive biographical overview to place individual events from Mr. Percy’s life in proper perspective; to study available newspaper accounts, magazine articles, speeches, and recorded comments to assess the qualities of leadership which appeared most influential; and to care­fully examine representative speech manuscripts, recordings of speeches, filmed interviews, and published comments by and about Mr. Percy to ascertain his reliance upon the classical elements of rhetoric and his effectiveness as a speaker. The first portion of the study was categorical in nature. Because Mr. Percy's office refused access to persons or documents necessary for verification of the collected data, it was only possible to select the most likely information from an available biographical compen­dium, newspapers and magazines, and to indicate divergent opinions. This section served both as a background and occasionally as a reference in the completion of the remainder of the study. There was no attempt to create an exhaustive biography, although the result is one of the most extensive available. Analysis of Mr. Percy’s leadership determined the five influences which were most important in the success of his many achievements. His boundless energy, imaginative approach to problem solving, dedication to high ideals, utilization of preparation, and reliance on organization all proved to be especially valuable in the occasions analyzed. The final, rhetorical analysis was closely related to the preceding, for the first four of the five influences mentioned there were also found to be influential in the development of Mr. Percy's unique approach to public speaking. The analysis led to a number of conclusions, but two appear to be most important. First, all of the themes employed in the selected speeches are actually variations on a basic idea: personal involvement will alleviate a basic problem facing members of the audience. Second, the evaluation of each of the rhetorical elements: disposition, invention, style, and delivery, indicated at least a degree of his awareness and utilization of them in each of his speeches; however, the unique factor about the speeches is that although they are built around the same approach and general theme, they are divergent in nature. The answer was seen as Mr. Percy's desire to adapt each element of each speech to the particular audi­ence or situation involved. The emphasis he placed on utilization of his personality in the achievement of his speaking goals was especially clear as a result of the study of the delivery. The stress placed on inter-personal speaking situations where a response was possible, his use of physical and vocal charm, and his articulate responses based on an adequate preparation indicate the importance he places on informed, personable interchange to achieve success in communication.


Includes bibliographical references.


205 pages




Northern Illinois University

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