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Tricks Of Debate

There are a great number of tricks that may be practiced in debate. They
should be avoided by the serious man who is debating to defend a great
cause. It is well to know the best methods but anything like a trick
should never be practiced.

Some debaters I have met actually consider it smart to fill an opening
speech with empty words so as to handicap their opponent by giving him
nothing to reply to. This is precisely what Mr. Mangasarian did in his
debate with me, but although many disagree with me, I take the view that
he did so, not as a trick, but because of his ignorance of the question
and his want of experience in debate. To have done this deliberately as
a clever trick, after allowing an audience of 3,000 to pay over $1,100
for their seats would have been criminal, and I refuse to believe that
any public man of Mr. Mangasarian's status would stoop to any such
performance as a matter of deliberate strategy.

On one occasion, when the subject of discussion was not of any such
serious import as Socialism, but more a question of who could win a
debate on a subject of small merit, I defeated my opponent by a trick
that I am heartily ashamed of, even under those mitigating
circumstances. I record it here, not as an example to be followed, but
as a warning not to let anyone else use it against you.

Unskilled debaters usually reply to their opponent's points in the order
in which they were presented--seriatim. This is easy but not most

This opponent, whom I heard debate with someone else before I was
engaged to try conclusions with him, was limited, as I saw, to the
seriatim method of reply. When we met, I completely destroyed his
influence on the audience by the following trick:

Having the affirmative, I had to open and close, which gave me three
speeches to his two. In my first speech instead of taking five to ten
good points only, I added a good number of other points, stating them
briefly and just giving him time to get them down. These extra points
cost me about one minute each to state, and I knew they would cost him
at least four or five to reply. Then just before closing I very
seriously advanced the heaviest objection to my opponent's position. I
especially called the attention of my audience to this point and
declared it to be unanswerable and hoped my opponent would not forget to
make a note of it. Then I paused long enough for the audience to see
that I gave him full opportunity to get it down--as he did. Then I
gathered my threads together and entered on my peroration.

It worked out precisely as I had anticipated. My opponent began at the
beginning, as he saw it, and all his time went over those decoy points
and the chairman rapped him down long before he reached that special

I then repeated the same tactics only I loaded him more heavily with
decoys than before. I called upon the audience to witness that in spite
of my begging him to do so, he had never so much as mentioned the main
difficulty in his position.

In his second and last speech, he saw the necessity of getting to that
point but, alas, although he hustled through the column of stumbling
blocks so rapidly that the audience hardly knew what he was talking
about, just as he was about to reply to this much-paraded difficulty of
mine--and it really was the main weakness of his position--down came the
chairman's gavel.

Then I lashed him unmercifully. I called the attention of the audience
to the fact that twice I had especially begged him to answer this
question and he had repeatedly failed to do so. The audience, of course,
drew the inference that he was unable to answer, and he was considered
to be hopelessly defeated.

He should, by all means, have given that point his first consideration
before dealing with the rest of my speech.

This gentleman had humiliated quite a number of young aspirants in the
local debating class, and openly boasted of the clever tricks by which
he had done so. For once, however, he was "hoist on his own petard."

Next: Rhetoric

Previous: Debating

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