The Columbian Orator

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A copy of The Columbian Orator at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays, poems, and dialogues first published in 1797, was widely used in American schoolrooms in the first quarter of the 19th century to teach reading and speaking. Typical of many readers of that period, the anthology included many speeches celebrating "republican virtues" and promoting patriotism. The Columbian Orator is an example of progymnasmata, containing examples for students to copy and imitate. In his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist writer Douglass describes how he "got hold" of a copy of the Columbian Orator at the age of twelve, with far-reaching consequences for his life.

The Columbian Orator became symbolic not only of human rights but also of the power of eloquence and articulation.


  • Full title: The Columbian Orator: Containing a Variety of Original and Selected Pieces Together With Rules, Which Are Calculated to Improve Youth and Others, in the Ornamental and Useful Art of Eloquence.
  • Caleb Bingham (Editor), 1797.
  • David W. Blight (Editor), Bicentennial edition 1998, (ISBN 0-8147-1323-8).
  • Selected speakers include: Joseph Perkins,[1] George Washington, Paulus Emilius, Hugh Blair, Philo, Thomas Muir, James Hervey, Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Mason, and Cato the Younger.


"I well remember, when I was a boy, how ardently I longed for the opportunity of reading, but had no access to a library", Caleb Bingham, 1803.

"Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book", Frederick Douglass, 1845.


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