Historical Writing Project

Good and Bad Writing -- Exercises in Evaluating Writing Samples

Contrasting and Comparative Paragraphs

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
This is an example of a good comparative paragraph.
Pg. 28-- Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates were members of a restless generation of Americans, destined to leave behind the eighteenth-century world of their fathers. Bates, the oldest, was born when George Washington was still president; Seward and Chase during Jefferson’s administration; Lincoln shortly before James Madison took over. Thousands of miles separate their birthplaces in Virginia, New York, New Hampshire, and Kentucky. Nonetheless, social and economic forces shaped their paths with marked similarities. Despite striking differences in station, talent, and temperament, all four aspirants for the Republican nomination left home, journeyed west, studied law, dedicated themselves to public service, joined the Whig Party, developed a reputation for oratorical eloquence, and became staunch opponents of the spread of slavery.

MacLean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
A paragraph that has a contrasting point. The KKK strove to “protect” American values but the leaders did not practice what they preached, in the sense of good wholesome values.

Pg. 99—As a site of debauchery, the Imperial Palace of the Klan rivaled some of the motion picture sets its representatives so habitually rebuked. The national chaplain of the Klan, Caleb Ridley, a well known Atlanta minister and Prohibitionist, was arrested in 1923 for driving while intoxicated. Imperial Wizard Simmons, according to numerous people in a position to know, drank heavily, relished pornography, and regularly patronized prostitutes. His assistants E. Y. Clarke and Mary Elizabeth Tyler, the masterminds of the Klan’s growth after 1920, were once arrested together, inebriated and in the flesh, during a tryst in a hotel. The list could go on. The unsavory conduct of the highest leadership helped cause its overthrow and replacement in 1922—and cost their movement much of its following over the decade. The hypocrisy of the order’s national officials is more than ironic, however. It underscores, in a circuitous way, their Machiavellian appreciation of the appeal of morality campaigns for the people they hoped to attract. And, indeed, rarely did local chapters suffer such scandals. To rank-and-file members, the Klan’s professed commitment to purity meant a great deal.