First Advisor

Alfred Sugarman

Term of Graduation

Summer 1977

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Speech Communication


Speech Communication




Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Rhetoric



Physical Description

1 online resource (3, iv, 132 pages)


In May of 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, and his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest, and seven others, entered the draft board offices in Catonsville, Maryland where they removed 378 draft files and burned them with homemade napalm.

This paper examines that event as a case study in symbolic behavior as rhetoric. In doing so, the author first seeks a definition of rhetoric, and a definition of symbolic behavior. Background material, both on the Berrigans, and on symbolic behavior as rhetoric is provided.

The major portion of the paper deals with the analysis of the event as symbolic behavior as rhetoric. This is done from three viewpoints: 1) the legal, 2) the ethical, and 3) the rhetorical. In analyzing the legal dimension, the author deals with the questions of legal limits, of conscience in conflict with the law, and of civil disobedience and the First Amendment, freedom of speech. In the ethical analysis, the author deals with the problems of violence as a means of social protest, and the individual's responsibilities to his conscience, and to society. The analysis of the rhetorical dimension discusses the intent to communicate on the part of the demonstrators at Catonsville. This section deals with the message of the "Catonsville 9", its place as symbolic action as rhetoric, the audience and its reactions, and finally analyzes the success of that action.

The author concludes that legally, the courts had little choice but to find the "Catonsville 9" guilty, and to send them to jail. That appears to be the penalty for such demonstrations. Ethically, the event is seen as an eloquent statement of conscience which the defendants felt compelled to express. The group was sincere and dramatically demonstrated their ethical objections to the status quo. The question of violence is a difficult one, and the author concludes that the group was violent, but within a non-violent attitude. The violence was done to things, never to people. Rhetorically, the event was often misunderstood and condemned for being too radical. The author concludes that the group was legally guilty, ethically innocent, and rhetorically as effective as possible under the circumstances of that time.

Appendixes include the press statements, and an explanation of the participants' motivation as presented by Daniel Berrigan in the preface to his book, Night Flight to Hanoi.


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