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."

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