Benjamin Banneker’s Letter To Thomas Jefferson: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Benjamin Banneker penned a 1790 letter to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin shares his opinions about slavery in this letter. He shares the experiences of others and his own as he exposes slavery’s injustices. He appeals to his readers’ emotions and connects with those who have been slaves. Benjamin expresses his anti-slavery argument through this letter by using ethos and pathos.

Banneker uses ethos in order to build trust and credibility with the audience. In order to do this, he uses the Declaration of Independence’s words in opposition to slavery. Banneker proves to be a knowledgeable man and can be trusted by saying, “All Men are Created Equal” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is among those things. He speaks about Job from the Bible. This is how he connects it to the suffering that African Americans suffered during slavery.

Banneker creates sympathy with his readers by using emotional diction. He uses words like “groaning captive” and “cruel abuse”. He can make readers feel sympathy for him by acknowledging slavery. He uses pronouns to personalize the story and make it even more pity-inducing for his readers. He says that violence is now a part his daily life. This engages the reader as they read. He tries his best to convince Jefferson of the need to change slavery.

Banneker repeats “sir” throughout his letter to Jefferson to show him respect and authority. Banneker repeatedly repeats “sir” at the beginning of his letters and throughout. It shows respect, even though Banneker does not share Jefferson’s views on slavery. He thinks that by saying “sir”, Jefferson will realize his mistakes. He uses the word “sir” in an attempt to get Jefferson to listen and to understand his point of view. He is telling Jefferson, by using “sir”, that despite how you treated African Americans, you will be treated with respect. Jefferson will also be less likely to get angry at these new ideas if they are treated with respect throughout the entire letter.

Banneker uses repetition, pathos, and ethos in order to convince Jefferson of the wrongness of slavery. He can show his readers his education and ability to help his fellow African Americans free themselves from slavery by using historical documents. He makes the reader sympathize and then convinces them, perhaps even Jefferson.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.