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Presidential speeches reveal the United States’ challenges, hopes, dreams and temperature of the nation, as much as they do the wisdom and perspective of the leader speaking them. Even in an age of Twitter, the formal, spoken word from the White House carries great weight and can move, anger or inspire at home and around the world.
Here are the 10 most important modern presidential speeches selected by scholars at the Miller Center—a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship—and professors from other universities, as well.
You can find these speeches, with their commentary, as well as dozens more on the HISTORY speeches skill for Amazon Alexa.
1. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address
When: 1933, during the Great Depression
What Roosevelt Said: “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war.”
Why It Was Important: Roosevelt is embarking on something audacious, proposing that the national government has an obligation to provide an economic safety net for its citizens to protect them from the unpredictability of the market. In making a case for bold intervention in markets, he’s also making a case for a stronger executive at the top. But for all the disruptive talk in this speech, Roosevelt delivers reassurance. I think a hallmark of the speeches that we remember the most by presidents from both parties are ones that not only address the circumstances at hand, but also give people some hope.
— Margaret O’Mara, professor of history, University of Washington
2. Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat “On Banking”
When: March 1933
What Roosevelt Said: “My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking…confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends. Your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”
Why It Was Important: Beginning with the simple phrase, “My friends,” the stage was set for the personalization of the presidency that continued throughout FDR’s administration. Roosevelt received an outpouring of support from the public, and used the power of media to connect with his constituents. Recognizing publicity as essential to policymaking, he crafted a very intricate public relations plan for all of his New Deal legislation. Media allowed him to present a very carefully crafted message that was unfiltered and unchallenged by the press. Many newspapers were critical of his New Deal programs, so turning to radio and motion pictures allowed him to present his version of a particular policy directly to the people. Today, we see parallels in the use of Twitter to bypass opponents and critics of the administration to appeal directly to the American people. And that all started with FDR and his first fireside chat.
— Kathryn Cramer Brownell, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
3. Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” Speech to the United Nations
What Eisenhower Said: “I feel impelled to speak today in a language that, in a sense, is new. One which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use: That new language is the language is the language of atomic warfare…Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace. To the makers of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma. To devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”
Why It Was Important: Eisenhower believed in the political power of nuclear weapons, but in this speech he talks about their dangers. He speaks about the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and proposes that the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperate to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. Keep in mind that there were just 1,300 nuclear weapons in the world in 1953 compared with more than seven times that number today. But Eisenhower is also a realist. He understands the importance of nuclear deterrence and he reminds his audience that his proposal comes from a position of American strength, not weakness.
— Todd Sechser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia and Senior Fellow, Miller Center
4. Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address
What Eisenhower Said: “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportion…In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process.”
Why It Was Important: That speech gave a name to our modern era. Eisenhower was telling us that we now live in a time when government, the military and the corporate world all have joined together into a powerful alliance that shapes the basic democratic functioning of the country. Eisenhower understood that Americans wanted both security and liberty, and it’s a fundamental paradox of the American experiment. In order to have security, we need to have a large defense establishment. But he asks, who is going to be the guardian of our freedoms in a world where we have to have a permanent arms industry? What he was saying in the speech is that we have to learn how to live with it, and control it, rather than having it control us.
— Will Hitchcock, Randolph P. Compton Professor at the Miller Center and professor of history, University of Virginia
5. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” Speech at the University of Michigan
When: May 22, 1964
What Johnson Said: “For a century, we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century, we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization. Your imagination and your initiative and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. “
Why It Was Important: LBJ called on all Americans to move upward to a Great Society in which wealth is used for more than personal enrichment and is instead used to improve communities, protect the natural world, and allow all Americans, regardless of race or class, to fully develop their innate talents and abilities. The message of Johnson’s speech resonates today because we have lost not only that self-confidence and that idealism, but also the vision to recognize that prosperity can be used for something greater than the self.
— Guian McKee, Associate Professor of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center
6. John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Space Effort
When: September 1962
What Kennedy Said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the Industrial Revolution, the first waves of modern invention and the first wave of nuclear power. And this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space, we mean to be a part of it, we mean to lead it.”
Why It Was Important: We were in a new age of technology and space exploration. President Kennedy made Americans feel that there was nothing that we couldn’t do, no challenge we couldn’t conquer. It was before Vietnam, before Watergate, before the deaths of our heroes like Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King—when we had a sense in this country that if we all joined together we could fulfill our loftiest goals.
— Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center
7. Ronald Reagan’s Speech Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day
When: June 6, 1984
What Reagan Said: “The rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades, and the American rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs they began to seize back the continent of Europe… (to veterans) You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and Democracy is worth dying for because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.
Why It’s Important: That day in June of 1984, before Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan ever came to be, President Reagan paid tribute to the heroism of those we now call the Greatest Generation, the men and women who liberated Europe and ensured freedom for generations to come. But for the first time, he also tied resistance to totalitarianism in World War II to opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. President Reagan’s words at the end of that speech, again in the second person, to our Allies that “we were with you then, and we are with you now,” when he called upon the West to “renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it” kept the coalition in place that later defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. The “boys of Pointe du Hoc” saved the world, and, in many ways, they did so more than once.
— Mary Kate Cary, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center
8. Ronald Reagan’s Address on the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
When: January 1986
What Reagan Said: “The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted but to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them…The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”
Why It Was Important: In our current era of political divisiveness, we tend to think of presidents as partisan leaders. But the president’s role as “comforter in chief” is one of the most important functions. The great presidents are distinguished by their ability to set aside partisanship in times of tragedy to speak words that comfort a nation and remind us that, despite our differences, we are all, in the end, Americans.
— Chris Lu, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center
9. George W. Bush’s “Get On Board” Speech
When: After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks
What Bush Said: “When they struck they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear, and one of the great goals of this war is…to tell the traveling public: Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.”
Why It Was Important: In short, Bush was saying don’t let the terrorists deter you from spending—the economy needs you. More specifically, Bush’s remarks demonstrated the importance that consumption had come to play in the economy by the twenty-first century. He was carrying out what had become an essential responsibility of the 21st-century president. Even as Bush modeled what it meant to be a strong commander in chief, he juggled another role that had become almost as important: “consumer in chief.”
— Brian Balogh, Dorothy Compton Professor of History, the Miller Center
10. Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” Speech
What Obama Said: “Contrary to the claim of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve to think as to believe we can get beyond our racial divisions on a single election cycle or with a single candidate, particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction, a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people, that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice. We have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union…What we know, what we have seen, is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope, the audacity to hope, for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”
Why It Was Important: Conventional wisdom wouldn’t recommend a speech on race. But Obama ran to the challenge, not away from it. Uniquely positioned to do so, he welcomed listeners to places many have never experienced—a predominantly black church, a cringeworthy conversation with a beloved relative of a different race, the kitchen tables of white Americans who feel resentful and left behind—and he recounted Americans often divergent perspectives. He asked us to be honest about our past while connecting it to the structural barriers faced by African Americans and other people of color today…Direct, honest, but nuanced, Obama believed that most Americans were ready to hear the truth and make a choice, to move beyond racial stalemate, face our challenges, and act accordingly.
— Melody Barnes, a Senior Fellow, the Miller Center
The 10 greatest speeches of all time, by 10 inspirational women
It’s easy for women to get lost in a sea of historic rhetoric. The words of Hillary Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi and Emmeline Pankhurst regularly lose out in the all-time greatest speeches polls to the weight of history. In other words: to men, politics and power Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Steve Jobs…
Swimming against the current, women have had to speak louder to get their voices heard. In the words of Virginia Woolf, they’ve had to create a room of their own. Our list today aims to open the doors and peer inside. We’re here to celebrate the women who found a room and encouraged others to do the same. That doesn’t mean our work is done, however.
In a social and political landscape where women are still under-represented, Emma Watson’s recent UN ‘He For She’ speech showed us just how important it is for women to continue to speak up and speak out, four centuries after Elizabeth I rallied the troops at Tilbury’s battlefield like Athena reborn.
Which is why we’re giving these 10 amazing women top-billing in our 10 greatest speeches of all time. Women who have inspired us over the decades and changed our world for the better…
1. Virginia Woolf, ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ (1928)
‘My belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…’
Based on a series of lectures Woolf delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, Cambridge University, in October 1928, ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ has since been heralded as a feminist manifesto. Her words continue to inspire women in 2015 nearly a century after she first spoke them. The speech strikes at the heart of patriarchy and argues that without financial independence and access to education, ideological, social and creative freedom is out of reach. Virginia knew this truth all too well: her own father believed only boys profited from schooling. As a result, she didn’t go. Her strength of spirit defied even her own father: ‘Lock up your libraries if you like’, she said, ‘but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’
2. Emmeline Pankhurst, ‘Freedom or Death’ (1913)
‘We wear no mark we belong to every class we permeate every class of the community from the highest to the lowest and so you see in the woman’s civil war the dear men of my country are discovering it is absolutely impossible to deal with it: you cannot locate it, and you cannot stop it.’
In November, 1913, just five months after fellow Suffragette Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and suffered fatal injuries, Emmeline Pankhurst spoke out to the crowds in Connecticut. She was far from home but her fight was a universal one and her aim was clear: to gather support across the Atlantic. ‘So here am I’, she declared. ‘I come in the intervals of prison appearance. I come after having been four times imprisoned under the “Cat and Mouse Act”, probably going back to be rearrested as soon as I set my foot on British soil. I come to ask you to help to win this fight.’
3. Elizabeth I, ‘Speech to the Troops at Tilbury’ (1588)
‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.’
Historically speaking, speeches on the battlefront are predominantly a man’s affair. Not so, here. On 19 August, 1588, England’s Queen – dressed in plumed helmet, white velvet gown and clutching a silver baton – gave the speech of her life, towering fearlessly on top of a white horse. Ready to fight, Athena, goddess of war, was reborn under a ruff. Monarch, political leader, military general, demi-goddess: The power of Elizabeth’s words as she rallied her troops make her all of these incarnations and more – so much more. Let’s not forget this was 15th century England and she was a woman.
4. Hillary Clinton, ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’ (1995)
‘If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.’
Five words that said it all: ‘Women’s rights are human rights’. In 1995, Hillary Clinton’s speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing marked a watershed moment for women’s rights. What makes this speech so inspirational isn’t just the words she spoke but where she spoke them. Defying both US administration and Chinese pressure to dilute her remarks, she went for the jugular. It was a full-blown attack against policies abusing ‘unheard’ women around the globe – not just China. Her manifesto was clear: ‘As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace around the world – as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes – the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.’
5. Sojourner Truth, ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ (1851)
‘I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?’
Named Isabella Baumfree, it says a great deal about Sojourner that she called herself Truth. She spoke it. An African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Truth was born into slavery in New York, sold at auction with a flock of sheep for $100 in 1806, escaping with her baby daughter in 1826. She bravely won her son back through the courts and was the first black woman to win a case against a white man. At the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio, she sensationally struck at the heart of gender inequality asking: ‘And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part?’
6. Nora Ephron, ‘Commencement Address To Wellesley Class Of 1996’ (1996)
‘Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.’
When Nora Ephron tragically died in 2012, out of the many important contributions she made to the blank page, it was her commencement address to her old college in the mid-nineties that became the most widely-shared. It’s not hard to understand why. Nora’s address to these young women is the ultimate “how to” guide for womankind, written with beauty, insight, humour and urgency like only Nora knew how. Highlighting just how far women had come (‘If you needed an abortion, you drove to a gas station in Union, New Jersey with $500 in cash in an envelope and you were taken, blindfolded, to a motel room and operated on without an anesthetic’), Nora also spiked her speech with words of caution: ‘Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you,’ she rallied. ‘When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you.’ Her words still echo today and one sentence rings eternally true: ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.’
7. Aung San Suu Kyi, ‘Freedom From Fear’ (1990)
‘Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.’
Burma’s ‘woman of destiny’ has inspired millions during her lifetime of political activism and captivity, held under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years in Burma. Receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, this now-famous speech followed in acceptance appeals to the spirituality of human nature: it’s bravery, compassion and conviction.
8. Gloria Steinem, ‘Address to the Women of America’ (1971)
‘This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race, because they are easy, visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups, and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen, or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.’
In 1971, a year before she co-founded feminist magazine Ms, at the founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Gloria Steinem delivered an Address to the Women of America. It would soon be regarded as one of the most memorable speeches of the second-wave feminist era. What made her speech so powerful wasn’t just its attack on sexism, but its focus on the intersectional issues of racism and class.
9. Julia Gillard, ‘The Misogyny Speech’ (2012)
‘Good sense, common sense, proper process is what should rule this Parliament. That’s what I believe is the path forward for this Parliament, not the kind of double standards and political game-playing imposed by the Leader of the Opposition now looking at his watch because apparently a woman’s spoken too long.’
There was just one word on our lips when we first heard Gillard’s spectacular slap-down of political rival Tony Abbott a few years ago: YES! Her angry words struck a blow for misogyny the world over and the speech itself went viral across the globe. It was quickly dubbed ‘The Misogyny Speech’ and for good reason: ‘I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,’ she blasted. Within just a week, a YouTube upload of this speech already had had one million views.
1. Steve Jobs&rsquo Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005
The Chairman and Co-Founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs delivered an inspiring commencement address at the graduation ceremony of the 114th batch of Stanford University. 13 years later, his speech still holds relevance.
In a span of 15 minutes, Jobs imparted crucial life lessons through 3 stories that were inspired from his personal experiences. From love and loss to the inevitability of death &ndash his words resonated with people of all ages.
Ending on a high note, he advised the audience to &ldquostay hungry, stay foolish&rdquo &ndash a phrase that became synonymous with Steve Jobs and till today, drives people to push themselves to become better versions of themselves.
Whatever interpretation one may make of the results of the test discussed in the first chapter, one fact is clear. Americans do not know their own history as well as they might. The next questions are obvious. Is this a serious deficiency in the education of Americans? Does knowledge of the history of our nation contribute something to the making of a citizen which can be acquired in no other way? If the answers to these questions are affirmative, then a new emphasis on and a new approach to the study of United States history are necessary.
Laymen and educators are generally agreed that knowledge of our own history is essential in the making of Americans. The reasons for this belief may be summed up under four main heads. History makes loyal citizens because memories of common experiences and common aspirations are essential ingredients in patriotism. History makes intelligent voters because sound decisions about present problems must be based on knowledge of the past. History makes good neighbors because it teaches tolerance of individual differences and appreciation of varied abilities and interests. History makes stable, well-rounded individuals because it gives them a start toward understanding the pattern of society and toward enjoying the artistic and intellectual productions of the past. It gives long views, a perspective, a measure of what is permanent in a nation&rsquos life. To a people it is what memory is to the individual and memory, express or unconscious, guides the acts of every sentient being.
All this is true, but not in an exclusive sense. History leads to all these goals so do other subjects studied in the schools. Civics, geography, and sociology also aid in developing loyal and intelligent citizens art and literature help to create tolerant, sympathetic, well-rounded individuals. Each one has a definite place in the curriculum.
The unique importance of history is based not on its objectives, which are common to other school subjects, but on its methods and materials. History relates the social experience of our people in concrete and detailed form. It deals with specific and unique events instead of with averages and abstractions. It is interested in the experiences of groups of ordinary individuals as well as in the achievements of extraordinary persons. History arranges its materials in chronological order and thus is naturally led to stress the concepts of change and continuity, of development and decay. This time dimension cannot be given so much emphasis in any other school subject. In short, history attempts to present the facts of social experience in the same form and order in which the facts of individual experience occur.
Formal history is an attempt to widen and deepen the stream of historical thinking which flows through every man&rsquos mind. We are all historians, as Carl Becker once said we are all forced to use our knowledge of the past in every act of daily life. We do something because we have always done it we refrain from doing something because we have found that unpleasant consequences develop from that particular action. Faced with a new situation, we try to find in it elements which are familiar from past experience. If we could not learn from the past we would find the present unendurable. We would be perpetual strangers in the city of mankind, unable to move easily or with confidence, forever wandering from the main streets into the blind alleys. Men who cannot remember their own personal history are feeble-minded or afflicted men who cannot learn from their own experience are failures.
What is true of individuals is also true of communities. Every organized social group is guided by its recollection of the past. If it does not think about its past it will be ruled by custom, but only the most primitive peoples remain at this level. Everywhere else there is a conscious effort to learn from the past, because knowledge of the past is the guide to acting in the present and planning for the future. It is hard to see how a community could exist without a sense of its past. It could not know that it was now a community if it did not know that it had been a community. It could not have a common policy if it did not remember the common experiences from which policy must be derived. We have all laughed at the story of the college which opened its doors in September and called a mass-meeting of the student body in October to determine its traditions, but there was a good deal of sense behind this somewhat premature action. Until the college had traditions it would not be a community of students and teachers but merely an unstable mixture of individuals.
We all use history we all appeal to past experience in making both individual and group decisions. Much of the history we use comes to us naturally and without effort we remember our own experiences and those of the people with whom we are most closely associated. In a small community or a primitive society this informal history meets most needs. In a large community or a complex society it is inadequate. There are many experiences, important in the life of the whole community, which the individual will never encounter in his own life because they are too remote in space or in time. It is essential for the individual to know something about these experiences because they influence the life of his community, because they form the necessary basis for any intelligent decision.
The more complex the society, the wider and deeper its roots go into the past. It was not very important for our ancestors of the eighteenth century to know the history of the Far East it is of greatest importance for us to know something of that history today. It was not very important for our ancestors to know the history of the republics of the ancient world when they were hewing new settlements out of the wilderness, but when the Founding Fathers met at Philadelphia in 1787 almost every delegate made constant reference to the Greek and Roman experience. Formal history is needed to bridge the gap between the limited experience of the individual and the tremendously complicated experience on which our civilization is built.
Once these general principles are understood, it is easier to see how the study of history, and especially of American history, contributes to the educational objectives mentioned above. History can help to make loyal citizens because history has helped to make the nation. It was the sense of having had the same experiences, of having suffered the same wrongs, of having attempted the same remedies, which encouraged the thirteen colonies to unite in the War of the Revolution. It was the memory of the common experience in that war, added to a common political and intellectual background, which made the drafting and adoption of the Constitution possible. And the idea of the Union, which in the end proved strong enough to override the terrible divisions of the Civil War, was based on the belief that in working together for three generations we had created a way of life which should not be allowed to perish.
Common experience and common aspirations make a nation, and they can be most easily found and most fully understood through a study of its history. The symbols in which a nation tries to express its spirits are historical symbols. Our national festivals&mdashWashington&rsquos Birthday, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July&mdashcommemorate the great men and events of our history. The aspirations of the American, people are epitomized in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. The log cabin and the covered wagon remind us of the conquest of a continent, Faneuil Hall and Monticello of the heroic age of the Republic. How can a boy who knows only an Iowa farm or a Pennsylvania factory town understand the full meaning of these symbols&mdashhow can he know the temper and spirit of the nation, what we have been and what we wish to be&mdashif he does not know our history? How can he understand his own community if he does not understand how it has influenced and been influenced by the history of the country? The nation is greater than our own experiences, and its greatness can be comprehended only by knowing something of the deeds and the hopes of our fellow-Americans.
The value of American history in preparing future voters for intelligent participation in politics is so obvious that the point hardly needs elaboration. Parties and candidates always try to identify themselves with admirable episodes and individuals in our past. Every political campaign involves questions of historical interpretation. We have repeatedly argued the great question of federal and local authority, government and business, isolation and cooperation in world affairs. No voter can make an intelligent decision about such problems unless he knows what our policies have been and what results they have produced.
Even more important than knowledge of specific facts is the type of thinking which is encouraged by the study of history. A student who has learned to think in terms of historical development should realize both the certainty and the gradualness of change. He should realize the complexity of even the simplest social problems and the uselessness of superficial solutions. He should be able to avoid the extreme optimism which keeps men from seeing the existence of a problem until it has become acute and the extreme pessimism which leads to hasty and ill-considered action. The democratic process does not work well with citizens who become panicky and seek patent remedies, and knowledge of the crises of the past is one of the best safeguards against these weaknesses.
Americans must be good neighbors as well as good citizens. No country so large and so productive as the United States can exist without diversity of occupations, interests, and beliefs. Any attempt to impose uniformity would keep us from making the most of our human and geographical resources. Any attempt to treat large groups of Americans as second-class citizens would destroy the unity of the nation. The &ldquo100-per-cent American&rdquo who insists on absolute conformity in belief and behavior is unconsciously trying to destroy at least 50 per cent of American life. We need more tolerance we need active appreciation of the contributions of all the kinds of people who make up our country. The study of history can do much to create this state of mind. The student who can see that both Hamilton and Jefferson helped to establish the Republic will be less inclined to treat his political opponents as traitors and outcasts. The student who can see that both the pioneer farmer in the Middle West and the pioneer ironmaster in Pennsylvania helped to make the Republic strong will be less inclined to denounce a particular economic group as the cause of all our troubles. The student who knows what was done by Steuben and Gallatin, Ericsson and Pulitzer, Booker T. Washington and St. Gaudens, will be less inclined to ascribe all virtue and intelligence to a single racial group. The platitude that it takes all kinds of people to make the world is usually uttered in a tone of sour resignation. What history, does is to point out that the world can exist only by having all sorts of people in it.
If history can teach an individual how to live with his neighbors, it has already begun to teach him how to live with himself. Understanding and appreciating what has been done by others is one way of keeping life from becoming monotonous and meaningless. History, when properly taught, shows the importance of religion, art, and literature as much as it does that of economic and political processes. And even if history does not introduce the student to the literature and art of the past it can increase his enjoyment by placing these works in their proper setting. Moreover, history itself gives pleasure to many people. It has an interesting story to tell, and it illustrates aspects of human behavior which the arts singly have never been able to present.
There is also a stabilizing influence in the study of history in binding the individual to the past it keeps him from being blown about by the winds of hope and despair. Young people, when they are not thinking that every one of their ideas is new and every one of their successes unique, are apt to be thinking that every misfortune is unprecedented, every loss irretrievable, every suffering unparalleled. There is something comforting in the realization that others have had the same troubles, just as there is something chastening in the realization that others have accomplished a good deal even if they did live in the dark ages before 1900. Courage and humility, a realization that individuals make history and that it takes many of them to do it&mdashthese are some of the fruits of historical studies, and the individual who has gathered them has gone a long way toward adjusting himself to the world in which he lives.
The study of history can help to develop loyal, intelligent, cooperative, well-rounded, and well-balanced American citizens. But not everything which is labeled history will produce these results, and even the best history will not be effective if its lessons are not reinforced by other experiences, both inside and outside the school. Everything that men have said and done is raw material for history, but history is more than a pile of this raw material, just as a book is more than a heap of type.
Historians must select from the vast record of human activity those events and ideas, institutions and personalities, which seem to have significance they have the further obligation of explaining why the events which were chosen are significant. They have usually found the first task easier than the second. No two historians would produce exactly identical lists of important events, but no two historians would fail to produce lists which had many items in common. School courses in history have usually been formed around this common core of events recognized by most scholars as important. Unfortunately teachers and writers of history sometimes seem too exhausted by the labor of selection to undertake the work of interpretation. They know why the events are important, and they expect their students to accept without question the statement that they are important. There still are courses in history in which students memorize long lists of facts without ever receiving an explanation of the significance of the facts. Students taught in this way can hardly be blamed for finding history dull and useless. They might as well be asked to learn the geography and economic activities of their town by memorizing the telephone directory.
Teachers and writers who avoid the purely factual approach to history may fall into still other errors. One of the most important lessons of history is that all human activities are interrelated. We all know that a religious revival may lead to important political decisions, or that an economic depression may have profound influence on art and literature, but it is difficult to point out these relationships to a class. It is easier to keep the topics separate during most of the course, and to spend only a few minutes building flimsy bridges from one to the other.
An even worse fault in teaching history is the tendency to emphasize one activity at the expense of all the rest. America has had a rich experience, and no single approach will do full justice to what we have achieved. American democracy has been expressed in our economic structure and in our literature as well as in our political institutions. American ideals have been upheld by our religious and intellectual leaders at times when they have been almost forgotten by our political and economic leaders. Excessive concentration on any one aspect of the past may lead students to believe that social problems are simpler than they really are, that all difficulties may be solved by one method, that many activities are useless because they are unrecorded in school textbooks.
A history course which is broad enough to give a true picture of American society may nevertheless be inadequate because it emphasizes social forces instead of individuals, solutions instead of problems. History is the record of human decision as well as the record of human experience. Men have always had to choose, and choose at their peril, between alternative lines of action. History is made by men and not by blind forces beyond human control. There is no reason to be proud of the American achievement if it was inevitable and predestined. There is no reason for a student to prepare himself for the responsibilities of citizenship if he feels that all problems solve themselves automatically. We must discuss great men as well as great events we must think of what might have been as well as what was.
Finally, if the study of history is to prepare Americans for living in the world of today, that study must not be wholly confined to the history of the United States. We must know our own history if we are to understand our country and deal adequately with its problems. But many aspects of our history can be fully understood only in the perspective of world history, and many of our problems cannot be solved without reference to other peoples. The American Revolution was part of a world war in which four European countries were involved the development of American industry has often been affected by events which took place abroad. If we know only our own history we are apt to exaggerate both our achievements and our failures. Such exaggerated ideas of superiority and inferiority (the two can exist simultaneously) easily lead a people astray, and such ideas can best be checked by a study of world history. It is also true that Americans have not yet had all the experience of other peoples, and that certain ideas and forms of social organization which may affect our country in the future can be studied at present only by going beyond the limits of the United States. For these reasons it seems clear that the intensive study of American history should be supplemented by a survey of the history of the more important foreign countries.
Since history is concerned with all significant human achievement, it is dependent on almost every other subject taught in the schools. The historian has neither the time nor the ability to discuss in detail all the activities which he hopes to bring into meaningful relation with one another. If his students do not know something about literature and government, art and economics, he will find himself teaching empty verbalisms. The materials of history cannot be understood if the content of other subjects has not been studied. The lessons of history cannot be applied if they are not given direction and meaning by the other social studies and the other fields of human knowledge.
The historian believes that knowledge of the past will help us to understand the present, but he knows that his primary job is to explain the past. Immediate concern with the present is reserved for the teachers of politics, sociology, and economics, and much historical knowledge is useful and usable only after they have done their work. The historian believes that knowledge of our past will help to develop good citizens and good neighbors, but he knows that history describes what was done instead of what should have been done. Values and ideals, civic and private virtues, are implied in the study of history, but they are made explicit through courses in religion, literature, and civics. The historian believes that knowledge of the past will help to produce well-rounded, well-balanced individuals, but he knows that history alone will not give this result. The well-rounded man must know something of the sciences and the arts as well as something of the social studies the well-balanced man may find stability in studying the works of individuals as well as the work of society.
Finally, it must be remembered that history is only a guide, not a dictator, that it can suggest but cannot command. The closest study of past experience does not guarantee that we will draw the proper inferences from our study the deepest knowledge of the aspirations and ideals of our ancestors does not guarantee that we will live up to their standards. And even the suggestions gained from the study of history can be stifled quickly by an unfavorable environment outside the school. If we are not good citizens we can hardly expect the schools to make good citizens of our children. If there is a conflict between what is taught in the school and what is done in the community, it is not the school which will be victorious. Community inertia and selfishness cannot be overcome by filling our history courses with boastful and exaggerated claims about the strength and virtues of the nation. This kind of teaching not only destroys the values of history by giving students false ideas about our country it is not even effective as propaganda. The experience of France is instructive on this point. The French schools taught their national history carefully, thoroughly, and effectively. They emphasized the value of French civilization and the wisdom of French policy, while saying little about the objectives and achievements of other peoples. Few other countries devoted as much time to national history or presented it in as attractive form. But what the schools taught was the union of all citizens in unselfish support of their country, and what the students saw about them were irreconcilable cleavages between Right and Left, greedy politicians plotting for office, and cynical individuals seeking favors from a corrupt government. When the test came, the ideals taught in the schools were not strong enough to overcome promptly the decay of the nation&rsquos social and political leadership.
The United States has great traditions to remember and great ideals for which to strive. But if the traditions and the ideals exist only in textbooks and classrooms they are museum pieces. We must live our traditions and our ideals before we can teach them. The study of American history can help to produce loyal, intelligent, cooperative, well-rounded citizens only if our society honors citizens who possess these qualities.
Queen Elizabeth I
1588 “Spanish Armada” Speech to the Troops at Tilbury
In 1588, English monarch Queen Elizabeth I gave one of the manliest speeches in history in spite of, at one point, putting down her own body for being female. As the “mighty” Spanish Armada, a flotilla of some 130 ships, sailed toward Britain with plans of invasion, the queen delivered a rousing address at Tilbury, Essex, England. As it turned out, a storm and some navigational errors took care of the Spanish warships instead. Still, it was a bold speech that helped bolster a nation, also made famous for Queen Elizabeth’s attire: She is said to have worn armor in front of her troops.
“I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: To which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”
4. Ain’t I A Woman by Sojourner Truth
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
Hailing from a background of slavery and oppression, Sojourner Truth was one of the most revolutionary advocates for women’s human rights in the 1800s. In spite of the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, her slavemaster refused to free her. As such, she fled, became an itinerant preacher and leading figure in the anti-slavery movement. By the 1850s, she became involved in the women’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, she delivered her illuminating, forceful speech against discrimination of women and African Americans in the post-Civil War era, entrenching her status as one of the most revolutionary abolitionists and women’s rights activists across history.
The 35 Greatest Speeches in History
These famous speeches lifted hearts in dark times, gave hope in despair, refined the characters of men, inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honored the dead, and changed the course of history.
How did we compile this list?
Great oratory has three components: style, substance, and impact.
Style: A great speech must be masterfully constructed. The best orators are masters of both the written and spoken word, and use words to create texts that are beautiful to both hear and read.
Substance: A speech may be flowery and charismatically presented, and yet lack any true substance at all. Great oratory must center on a worthy theme it must appeal to and inspire the audience’s finest values and ideals.
Impact: Great oratory always seeks to persuade the audience of some fact or idea. The very best speeches change hearts and minds and seem as revelatory several decades or centuries removed as when they were first given.
- 1. Theodore Roosevelt, "Duties of American Citizenship"
- 2. Winston Churchill, "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"
- 3. Lou Gehrig, "Farewell to Baseball Address"
- 4. Demosthenes, "The Third Philippic"
- 5. Chief Joseph, "Surrender Speech"
- 6. John F. Kennedy, "Inauguration Address"
- 7. Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Nation on the Challenger"
- 8. "Speech of Alexander the Great"
- 9. William Wilberforce, "Abolition Speech"
- 10. Theodore Roosevelt, "The Man with the Muck-rake"
- 11. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address"
- 12. Charles de Gaulle, "The Appeal of 18 June"
- 13. Socrates, "Apology"
- 14. George Washington, "Resignation Speech"
- 15. Mahatma Gandhi, "Quit India"
- 16. Winston Churchill, "Their Finest Hour"
- 17. William Faulkner, "Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech"
- 18. Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Farewell Address"
- 19. Marcus Tullius Cicero, "The First Oration Against Catiline"
- 20. Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate"
- 21. Pericles, "Funeral Oration"
- 22. General Douglas MacArthur, "Farewell Address to Congress"
- 23. Theodore Roosevelt, "Strength and Decency"
- 24. Abraham Lincoln, "2nd Inaugural Address"
- 25. Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!"
- 26. Ronald Reagan, "40th Anniversary of D-Day"
- 27. John F. Kennedy, "The Decision to Go to the Moon"
- 28. Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
- 29. General Douglas MacArthur, "Duty, Honor, Country"
- 30. Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic"
- 31. Winston Churchill, "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"
- 32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation"
- 33. Jesus Christ, "The Sermon on the Mount"
- 34. Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream"
- 35. Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address"
1. Theodore Roosevelt, “Duties of American Citizenship”
January 26, 1883 Buffalo, New York
Given while serving as a New York assemblyman, TR's address on the "Duties of American Citizenship" delved into both the theoretical reasons why every man should be involved in politics and the practical means of serving in that capacity. Roosevelt chided those who excused themselves from politics because they were too busy it was every man's duty to devote some time to maintaining good government.
Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man's being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude military virtues which alone can assure a country's position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the great virile virtues.
But this is aside from my subject, for what I wish to talk of is the attitude of the American citizen in civic life. It ought to be axiomatic in this country that every man must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty in the Political life of the community. No man has a right to shirk his political duties under whatever plea of pleasure or business and while such shirking may be pardoned in those of small cleans it is entirely unpardonable in those among whom it is most common--in the people whose circumstances give them freedom in the struggle for life. In so far as the community grows to think rightly, it will likewise grow to regard the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men in business, or of our young men who are bent on enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if only they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote yet voting is the very least of their duties, Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age. The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.
2. Winston Churchill, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”
June 4, 1940 House of Commons, London
Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, was interestingly enough, like Demosthenes and other great orators before him, born with a speech impediment which he worked on until it no longer hindered him. One would never guess this from hearing Churchill's strong and reassuring voice, a voice that would buoy up Britain during some of her darkest hours.
During the Battle of France, Allied Forces became cut off from troops south of the German penetration and perilously trapped at the Dunkirk bridgehead. On May 26, a wholesale evacuation of these troops, dubbed "Operation Dynamo," began. The evacuation was an amazing effort-the RAF kept the Luftwaffe at bay while thousands of ships, from military destroyers to small fishing boats, were used to ferry 338,000 French and British troops to safety, far more than anyone had thought possible. On June 4, Churchill spoke before the House of Commons, giving a report which celebrated the "miraculous deliverance" at Dunkirk, while also seeking to temper a too rosy of view of what was on the whole a "colossal military disaster."
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
3. Lou Gehrig, “Farewell to Baseball Address”
July 4, 1939 Yankee Stadium
It seemed as if the luminous career of Lou Gehrig would go on forever. The Yankee's first baseman and prodigious slugger was nicknamed the Iron Horse for his durability and commitment to the game. Sadly, his record for suiting up for 2,130 consecutive games came to an end when at age 36, Gehrig was stricken with the crippling disease that now bears his name. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held a ceremony to honor their teammate and friend. They retired Gehrig's number, spoke of his greatness, and presented him with various gifts, plaques, and trophies. When Gehrig finally addressed the crowd, he did not use the opportunity to wallow in pity. Instead, he spoke of the things he was grateful for and what a lucky guy he was.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them for even one day?
Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert - also the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow - to have spent the next nine years with that wonderful little fellow Miller Huggins - then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology - the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy!
Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something! When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something.
When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter, that's something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing! When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break - but I have an awful lot to live for!
4. Demosthenes, “The Third Philippic”
342 B.C. Athens, Greece
Demosthenes, master statesman and orator, loved his city-state of Athens. He cherished its way of life and abundant freedoms. And he believed in standing strong against anyone who might attempt to infringe on these privileges. This passion, unfortunately, was seldom shared by his fellow Athenians. While Philip the II of Macedon made bolder and bolder incursions into the Greek peninsula, the Athenian people seemed stuck in an apathetic stupor. For years, Demosthenes employed his powerful oratorical skills in attempts to awaken his fellow citizens from sleep to the realization of the imminent danger Philip posed. When Philip advanced on Thrace, the Athenians called an assembly to debate whether or not to finally heed the great orator's advice. Demosthenes was sick of his brethren taking liberty and the Athenian way of life for granted and he boldly called upon them to rise up and take action. After his rousing speech, the assembly all cried out, "To arms! To arms!"
It is this fate, I solemnly assure you, that I dread for you, when the time comes that you make your reckoning, and realize that there is no longer anything that can be done. May you never find yourselves, men of Athens, in such a position! Yet in any case, it were better to die ten thousand deaths, than to do anything out of servility towards Philip [or to sacrifice any of those who speak for your good]. A noble recompense did the people in Oreus receive, for entrusting themselves to Philip's friends, and thrusting Euphraeus aside! And a noble recompense the democracy of Eretria, for driving away your envoys, and surrendering to Cleitarchus! They are slaves, scourged and butchered! A noble clemency did he show to the Olynthians, who elected Lasthenes to command the cavalry, and banished Apollonides! It is folly, and it is cowardice, to cherish hopes like these, to give way to evil counsels, to refuse to do anything that you should do, to listen to the advocates of the enemy's cause, and to fancy that you dwell in so great a city that, whatever happens, you will not suffer any harm.
5. Chief Joseph, “Surrender Speech”
October 5, 1877 Montana Territory
In 1877, the military announced that the Chief Joseph and his tribe of Nez Perce had to move onto a reservation in Idaho or face retribution. Desiring to avoid violence, Chief Joseph advocated peace and cooperation. But fellow tribesmen dissented and killed four white men. Knowing a swift backlash was coming, Joseph and his people began to make their way to Canada, hoping to find amnesty there. The tribe traveled 1700 miles, fighting the pursuing US army along the way. In dire conditions, and after a five day battle, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles on Oct. 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana Territory, a mere 40 miles from the Canadian border. The Chief knew he was the last of a dying breed, and the moment of surrender was heartbreaking.
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
6. John F. Kennedy, “Inauguration Address”
January 20, 1961 Washington, D.C.
Young, handsome, with a glamorous family in tow, John F. Kennedy embodied the fresh optimism that had marked the post-war decade. On January 20, 1961, Kennedy took the oath of office as the 35th President of the United States. The youngest president in United States history, he was the first man born in the 20th century to hold that office. Listening to his inaugural address, the nation felt that a new era and a "new frontier" were being ushered in.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
7. Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Nation on the Challenger"
January 28, 1986 Washington, D.C.
On January 28, 1986, millions of Americans, many of them schoolchildren watching from their classroom desks, tuned in to see 7 Americans, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37 year old schoolteacher and the first ever "civilian astronaut," lift off in the space shuttle Challenger. Just 73 seconds later, the shuttle was consumed in a fireball. All seven aboard perished. These were the first deaths of American astronauts while in flight, and the nation was shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy. Just a few hours after the disaster, President Ronald Reagan took to the radio and airwaves, honoring these "pioneers" and offering comfort and assurance to a rattled people.
We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.
And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'
8. "Speech of Alexander the Great"
326 B.C. Hydaspes River, India
In 335 B.C., Alexander the Great began his campaign to recapture former Greek cities and to expand his empire. After ten years of undefeated battles, Alexander controlled an empire that included Greece, Egypt, and what had been the massive Persian Empire.
That wasn't enough for Xander. He decided to continue his conquest into India. But after ten years of fighting and being away from home, his men lacked the will to take part in another battle, especially against an opponent like King Porus and his army. Alexander used the talent for oration he had developed while studying under Aristotle to infuse his men with the motivation they needed to continue on, to fight and to win.
I could not have blamed you for being the first to lose heart if I, your commander, had not shared in your exhausting marches and your perilous campaigns it would have been natural enough if you had done all the work merely for others to reap the reward. But it is not so. You and I, gentlemen, have shared the labour and shared the danger, and the rewards are for us all. The conquered territory belongs to you from your ranks the governors of it are chosen already the greater part of its treasure passes into your hands, and when all Asia is overrun, then indeed I will go further than the mere satisfaction of our ambitions: the utmost hopes of riches or power which each one of you cherishes will be far surpassed, and whoever wishes to return home will be allowed to go, either with me or without me. I will make those who stay the envy of those who return.
9. William Wilberforce, "Abolition Speech"
May 12, 1789 House of Commons, London
When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, converted to Christianity, he began to earnestly seek to reform the evils he found within himself and the world around him. One of the glaring moral issues of the day was slavery, and after reading up on the subject and meeting with anti-slavery activists, Wilberforce became convinced that God was calling him to be an abolitionist. Wilberforce decided to concentrate on ending the slave trade rather than slavery itself, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other. On May 12, 1789, Wilberforce made his first speech on the abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons. He passionately made his case for why the trade was reprehensible and needed to cease. Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the trade, but it failed, a result he would become quite familiar with in the ensuing years. Yet Wilberforce never gave up, reintroducing the bill year after year, and the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807.
When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House-a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause-when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours-when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end-when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage-I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.
10. Theodore Roosevelt, "The Man with the Muck-rake"
April 14, 1906 Washington, D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt was president during the Progressive Era, a time of great enthusiasm for reform in government, the economy, and society. TR himself held many progressive ideals, but he also called for moderation, not extremism. The "Man with a Muck-rake" in Pilgrim's Progress never looked heavenward but instead constantly raked the filth at his feet. TR thus dubbed the journalists and activists of the day who were intent on exposing the corruption in society as "muckrakers." He felt that they did a tremendous amount of good, but needed to mitigate their constant pessimism and alarmist tone. He worried that the sensationalism with which these exposes were often presented would make citizens overly cynical and too prone to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
To assail the great and admitted evils of our political and industrial life with such crude and sweeping generalizations as to include decent men in the general condemnation means the searing of the public conscience. There results a general attitude either of cynical belief in and indifference to public corruption or else of a distrustful inability to discriminate between the good and the bad. Either attitude is fraught with untold damage to the country as a whole. The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well-nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. There is nothing more distressing to every good patriot, to every good American, than the hard, scoffing spirit which treats the allegation of dishonesty in a public man as a cause for laughter.
Such laughter is worse than the crackling of thorns under a pot, for it denotes not merely the vacant mind, but the heart in which high emotions have been choked before they could grow to fruition.
11. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "First Inaugural Address"
March 4, 1933 Washington, D.C.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt handily beat incumbent Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. The country was deep into the Great Depression, and the public felt that Hoover did not fully sympathize with their plight and was not doing enough to alleviate it. No one was quite clear on what FDR's plan was, but as in today's election season, "change" was enough of an idea to power a campaign. In his First Inaugural Address, Roosevelt sought to buoy up the injured psyche of the American people and present his case for why he would need broad executive powers to tackle the Depression.
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
12. Charles de Gaulle, "The Appeal of 18 June"
June 18, 1940 London
In June of 1940, it was clear that France was losing their country to the German invasion. Refusing to sign an armistice, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Marshal Philippe Petain who made clear his intention to seek an accommodation with Germany. Disgusted with this decision, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, escaped to England on June 15. De Gaulle asked for, and obtained permission from Winston Churchill to make a speech on BBC radio. De Gaulle exhorted the French to not give up hope and to continue the fight against the German occupation and the Vichy Regime.
But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!
Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.
This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not over as a result of the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the mistakes, all the delays, all the suffering, do not alter the fact that there are, in the world, all the means necessary to crush our enemies one day. Vanquished today by mechanical force, in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force. The fate of the world depends on it.
13. Socrates, "Apology"
399 B.C. Athens
Socrates is perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of the Western world. He wandered around Athens engaging in dialogues with his fellow citizens that focused on discovering the truth of all things. He taught his pupils that the "unexamined life is not worth living."
The Athenians saw Socrates as a threat, especially to the Athenian youth. Socrates acquired quite a following among the young men of Athens. He taught these impressionable minds to question everything, even Athenian authority. Eventually, Socrates was arrested and put on trial for corrupting the youth, not believing the gods, and creating new deities.
The "Apology" is Socrates' defense to these charges. Instead of crying and pleading for mercy, Socrates accepts his charges and attempts to persuade the jury with reason. He argued that it was his calling from the gods to seek knowledge and that it was through his questions he uncovered truth. To not fulfill his calling would be blasphemy. In the end, Socrates lost and was sentenced to death by hemlock. Socrates accepted this fate willingly and without grudge against his condemners, thus dying as a martyr for free thinking.
Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me.
Check out our article on the philosophy of Plato.
14. George Washington, "Resignation Speech"
December 23, 1784 Annapolis, Maryland
As the Revolutionary War drew to a close, there was much speculation that George Washington, then Major General and Commander-in-Chief, would follow in the footsteps of former world leaders by making a grab for supreme power. Some even wished he would do so, hoping he would become the king of a new nation. Yet Washington knew that such a move would wither the fragile beginnings of the new republic. Looking to the Roman general Cincinnatus an exemplar, Washington rejected the temptations of power and resigned his position as Commander-in-Chief. Choosing the right is almost never easy, and as Washington read his speech in front of the Continental Congress, the great statesman trembled so much that he had to hold the parchment with two hands to keep it steady. "The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. His voice faltered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations." When finished, Washington bolted from the door of the Annapolis State House, mounted his horse, and galloped away into the sunset.
While I repeat my obligations
to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.
I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.
Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of Action and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.
15. Mahatma Gandhi, "Quit India"
August 8, 1942 India
While the battle for freedom and democracy raged across the world, the people of India were engaged in their own fight for liberty. For almost a century, India had been under the direct rule of the British crown, and many Indians had had enough. Mahatma Gandhi and the National Indian Congress pushed for a completely non-violent movement aimed at forcing Britain to "Quit India." Gandhi, pioneer of the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, called for their use on August 8, 1942 with the passing of the Quit India Resolution demanding complete independence from British rule.
I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle's French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.
16. Winston Churchill, "Their Finest Hour"
June 18, 1940 House of Commons, London
On May 10, 1940, the Germans began their invasion of France. On June 14 Paris fell. In a matter of days, France would surrender and England would stand as Europe's lone bulwark against the twin evils of Fascism and Nazism. At this critical moment, Churchill gave his third and final speech during the Battle of France, once again imparting words meant to bring hope in this dark hour.
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'
17. William Faulkner, "Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech"
December 10, 1950 Stockholm, Sweden
A true master of the written word, William Faulkner did not often make public his gift for the spoken variety. So there was some interest as to what he would say when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his "powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel." The year was 1950, the Soviet Union had tapped the potential of the atomic bomb, and the atmosphere in the the United States crackled with the fear of them using it. Faulkner challenged poets, authors, and all mankind to think beyond the questions of "When will I be blown up?" and instead continue to "create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
18. Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Farewell Address"
January 17, 1961 Washington, D.C.
The 1950's were a time of ever increasing military spending, as the United States sought to fight communism abroad and prevent it at home. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office, more than half of the federal budget was allocated for defense purposes. Eisenhower, former General of the Army, was certainly not opposed to the use of military power to keep the peace. Still, he saw fit to use his "Farewell Address" to warn the nation of the dangers posed by the "military-industrial complex," referring to the relationship between the armed forces, the government, and the suppliers of war materials. Eisenhower was wary of the large role defense spending played in the economy, and understood the political and corporate corruption that could result if the public was not vigilant in checking it.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
19. Marcus Tullius Cicero, "The First Oration Against Catiline"
Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline to his friends) was a very jealous man. Having once run against Cicero for the position of consul and lost, he became determined to win the next election by any devious method necessary. Plan A was to bribe people to vote for him, and when that didn't work, he decided to go for bust and simply knock Cicero off on election day. This plan was ferreted out by the ever vigilant Cicero, the election was postponed, and the Senate established marital law. When the election finally was held, the murderer-cum-candidate was surprisingly trounced at the polls. Now it was time for Catiline's Plan C: raise an army of co-conspirators, create insurrection throughout Italy, overthrow the government, and slice and dice as many Senators as they could get their coo-ky hands on. But Cicero was again one step ahead and discovered the plan. He called the Senate together for a meeting at the Temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, an orifice only used in times of great crisis. Catiline, who seriously didn't know when he was not welcome, decided to crash the party. With his archenemy in attendance, Cicero began his Catiline Orations, a series of speeches covering how he saved Rome from rebellion, the guilt of Catiline, and the need to whack he and his cronies.
I wish, O conscript fathers, to be merciful I wish not to appear negligent amid such danger to the state but I do now accuse myself of remissness and culpable inactivity. A camp is pitched in Italy, at the entrance of Etruria, in hostility to the republic the number of the enemy increases every day and yet the general of that camp, the leader of those enemies, we see within the walls-aye, and even in the senate-planning every day some internal injury to the republic. If, O Catiline, I should now order you to be arrested, to be put to death, I should, I suppose, have to fear lest all good men should say that I had acted tardily, rather than that any one should affirm that I acted cruelly. But yet this, which ought to have been done long since, I have good reason for not doing as yet I will put you to death, then, when there shall be not one person possible to be found so wicked, so abandoned, so like yourself, as not to allow that it has been rightly done. As long as one person exists who can dare to defend you, you shall live but you shall live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusty guards, so that you shall not be able to stir one finger against the republic many eyes and ears shall still observe and watch you, as they have hitherto done, tho you shall not perceive them.
20. Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate"
June 12, 1987 Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Since the end of World War II, Germany had been a divided country, the West free and democratic, the East under authoritarian communist control. When President Reagan took office, he was committed not only to uniting that country, but to bringing down the entire "Evil Empire." While the importance of Reagan's role in successfully doing so is endlessly debated, it beyond dispute that he exerted some influence in bringing the Cold War to an end. There is no more memorable and symbolic moment of this influence then when Reagan stood at the Berlin wall, the most visible symbol of the "Iron Curtain," and challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"
We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
21. Pericles, "Funeral Oration"
431 BC Athens
Pericles, master statesman, orator, and general, was truly, as Thuciydies dubbed him, "the first citizen of Athens." Pericles was a product of the Sophists and had been personally tutored by the great philosopher Anaxagoras. His study with the Sophists made Pericles a highly persuasive orator. Through his speeches, he galvanized Athenians to undertake an enormous public works project that created hundreds of temples, including the Pantheon.
Pericles' gift of oration was put to the test during the epic battles of the Peloponnesian War, a civil war between Athens and Sparta. His speeches inspired Athenians to fight to become the number one power in Greece. In February of 431 B.C., Athens had their annual public funeral to honor all those who died in war. Pericles was asked to give the traditional funeral oration. Rather than focus his speech on enumerating the conquests of Athens' fallen heroes, Pericles instead used his funeral oration to laud the glory of Athens itself and inspire the living to make sure the soldiers had not died in vain.
Over 2,000 years later, Pericles' funeral oration inspired Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Like Pericles, Lincoln was a leader during a time of civil war. Like Pericles, Lincoln focused on exhorting the living to live their lives in a way that would make the sacrifice of fallen warriors worthwhile.
So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue. And not contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defense of your country, though these would furnish a valuable text to a speaker even before an audience so alive to them as the present, you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valor, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.
22. General Douglas MacArthur, "Farewell Address to Congress"
April 19, 1951, Washington D.C.
During the Korean War, General MacArthur and President Truman clashed over the threat posed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army and their incursion into Korea. MacArthur continually pressed Truman for permission to bomb bases in Manchuria, believing the war needed to be extended in area and scope. Truman refused the General's requests, arguing that directly drawing China into the war would arouse the Soviet Union to action. MacArthur continued to press his case, and Truman, accusing the General of insubordination, made the decision to relieve MacArthur of his command. After serving for 52 years and in three wars, the General's military career was over. MacArthur returned to the United States and gave this farewell address to Congress.
I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on theplain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die they just fade away."
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
23. Theodore Roosevelt, "Strength and Decency"
Roosevelt was an advocate of having many children and making sure the next generation would continue to uphold the great virtues of civilization. He was always concerned that young men not be coddled or cowardly, and grow up to live rugged, strenuous, and thoroughly manly lives. But he also strongly believed that being ruggedly manly and being refined in mind and spirit were not incompatible and should in fact go hand and hand. In this speech, he exhorts young men to pursue virtuous manliness. Amen, brother, amen.
It is peculiarly incumbent upon you who have strength to set a right example to others. I ask you to remember that you cannot retain your self-respect if you are loose and foul of tongue, that a man who is to lead a clean and honorable life must inevitably suffer if his speech likewise is not clean and honorable. Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of us in this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuine and sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and in deed. As I said at the outset, I hail the work of this society as typifying one of those forces which tend to the betterment and uplifting of our social system. Our whole effort should be toward securing a combination of the strong qualities with those qualities which we term virtues. I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to see Christianity professed only by weaklings I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent. On the contrary, I should hope to see each man who is a member of this society, from his membership in it become all the fitter to do the rough work of the world all the fitter to work in time of peace and if, which may Heaven forfend, war should come, all the fitter to fight in time of war. I desire to see in this country the decent men strong and the strong men decent, and until we get that combination in pretty good shape we are not going to be by any means as successful as we should be. There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to "see life," meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remain unseen!
24. Abraham Lincoln, "2nd Inaugural Address"
March 4, 1865 Washington, D.C.
The Union's victory was but a month away as Abraham Lincoln began his second term as president of a bitterly ruptured United States. Like the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln keeps this speech only as long as needful. While there are those who still debate whether the Civil War was truly fought over slavery or not, Lincoln certainly believed so. To him, slavery was a great national sin, and the blood shed during the war was the atoning sacrifice for that evil.
He does not relish the prospect of coming victory instead, he appeals to his countrymen to remember that the war was truly fought between brothers. When the war was over and the Confederacy forced to return to the Union, Lincoln was prepared to treat the South with relative leniency. He did not believe secession was truly possible, and thus the South had never truly left the Union. Reconstruction would not mean vengeance, but the return home of a terribly errant son.
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
25. Patrick Henry, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!"
March 23, 1775 Richmond, VA
For a decade, revolutionary sentiments had been brewing in Virginia and Patrick Henry had always been in the thick of it, stirring the pot. Henry became particularly enflamed by the Stamp Act of 1764, which prompted him to give his so-called "treason speech," spurring the Burgesses to pass the Virginia Resolves banning the act. Tensions between the colonies and the Crown continued to build, and in 1775, Massachusetts patriots began making preparations for war. Henry believed that Virginia should follow suit. At a meeting held in St. John's Church in Richmond, Henry presented resolutions to make ready Virginia's defenses. Seeking to persuade his fellow delegates of the urgency of his message, he gave a rousing and memorable speech, climaxing is that now famous line, "Give me liberty of give me death!"
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable -- and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come!
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
26. Ronald Reagan, "40th Anniversary of D-Day"
June 6, 1984 Pointe du Hoc, France
What the Army Rangers did on D-Day at Pointe Du Hoc is a tale every man worth his salt should be familiar with. Pointe du Hoc was a sheer 100 foot cliff located in-between Omaha and Utah beaches. Perched atop the cliff sat six casemates capable of being manned, armed, and taking out the men on the beaches. As the Germans fired upon them, the Rangers scaled the cliff using ropes and ladders, found the guns (which had been moved from the casemates) and destroyed them. Without reinforcements for two days, the Rangers alone held their position and fended off German counterattacks. These skirmishes proved deadly only 90 of the original 225 Ranger landing force survived.
On the 40 th anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan gave a moving tribute to these men, many of whom were present at the occasion.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life. and left the vivid air signed with your honor'.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
27. John F. Kennedy, "The Decision to Go to the Moon"
May 25, 1961 Houston, TX
On April 12, 1961, the Soviets launched the first man into space. Khrushchev used this triumph as prime evidence of communism's superiority over decadent capitalism. Embarrassed, the United States feared it was falling behind the Soviet Union and losing the "space race." After consulting with political and NASA officials, Kennedy decided it was time for America to boldly go where no man had gone before by putting a man on the moon. The feat would not only catapult the nation over the Soviet Union, but also allow man to more fully explore the mysteries of space. And this mission would be accomplished by the end of the 1960's. When was the last time a president had the cajones to publicly issue a straightforward, ambitious goal and set a timeline for its success?
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
28. Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
July 5, 1852 Rochester, NY
Frederick Douglass, former slave, abolitionist, and engineer on the underground railroad, was a popular speaker on the anti-slavery circuit. He traveled thousands of miles each year, giving hundreds of speeches. Yet the money he earned from lecturing was not enough to become financially comfortable, and he and his family struggled. Douglass was disillusioned by the repercussions of the Fugitive Slave Act, and his abolitionist leanings grew more strident and bold. If the citizens of Rochester, New York had expected to be flattered by Douglass when they asked him to speak on the Fourth, they were soon disavowed of that idea. Douglass took the opportunity to defiantly point out the ripe hypocrisy of a nation celebrating their ideals of freedom and equality while simultaneously mired in the evil of slavery. While the speech surely made even the most liberal audience members squirm nonetheless, the crowed let loose in "universal applause" when Douglass finished.
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. Youmay rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
29. General Douglas MacArthur, "Duty, Honor, Country"
May 12, 1962 West Point, New York
General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army and a man who fought in three wars, knew something of "Duty, Honor, Country." In 1962, MacArthur was in the twilight of his life and came to West Point to accept the Sylvanus Thayer Award and participate in his final cadet roll call. His address reflects upon and celebrates the brave and courageous men who came before, men he personally led, men who embodied "Duty, Honor, Country."
There are many great speeches in this list, but I hope you will pause to read the entirety of this one. Picking an excerpt was quite difficult, as so many of the passages are inspiring. A must read for all men.
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.
This does not mean that you are war mongers.
On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.
But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.
Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
30. Theodore Roosevelt, "Citizenship in a Republic"
April 23, 1910 Paris, France
At the end of Theodore Roosevelt's second term in office, he set out to tour Africa and Europe, hoping to allow his successor, President Taft, to step into the enormous shoes TR had left and become his own man. After a safari in Africa, he traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he was invited to speak at the historic University of Paris. Roosevelt used the opportunity to deliver a powerful address on the requirements of citizenship, the characteristics which would keep democracies like France and the United States robust and strong. This speech is famous for the "man in the arena" quote, but the entire speech is an absolute must read.
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rÃ´le is easy there is none easier, save only the rÃ´le of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.
It is not the critic who counts not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood who strives valiantly who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but who does actually strive to do the deeds who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions who spends himself in a worthy cause who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
31. Winston Churchill, "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"
May 13, 1940 House of Commons, London
Winston Churchill's first speech to the House of Commons as Britain's new Prime Minister got off to an auspicious start. His welcome to that assembly was quite tepid, while outgoing PM Neville Chamberlain was enthusiastically applauded (the world did not yet know just how disastrous his appeasement policies would prove and did not trust Churchill). But Churchill's first speech, the first of three powerful oratories he gave during the Battle of France, would prove that England was in more than capable hands. A seemingly unstoppable Hitler was advancing rapidly across Europe, and Churchill wasted no time in calling his people to arms. While TR had actually been the first to utter the phrase, "blood, sweat and tears," it was Churchill's use of these words that would leave an inedible and inspiring impression upon the world's mind.
I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.
You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation"
December 8, 1941 Washington, D.C.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, shocked the United States to its core, outraging a nation that had hoped to stay out of the mounting turmoil in Asia and Europe. Overnight, the country united in desire to enter the war. The day after the attacks, FDR addressed the nation in a brief, but electrifying speech, declaring war on Japan and giving assurance that the United States would attain victory.
Be sure to listen to the audio of the speech. Imagine every American family, rattled and worried, listening around the radio to what their president would say. They knew their whole world was about to change forever. Listen to the reaction of Congress as they applaud and cheer FDR's words. The emotion is so very real and palatable it truly transports you back to that critical moment in time.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounding determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God.
33. Jesus Christ, "The Sermon on the Mount"
33 A.D. Jerusalem
Whether one believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God or simply a wise teacher, it is impossible to deny the impact of perhaps the world's most famous speech: The Sermon on the Mount. No speech has been more pondered, more influential, or more quoted. It introduced a prayer now familiar the world over and uttered in trenches, churches, and bedsides around the globe. It introduced a code of conduct billions of believers have adopted as their lofty, if not not always attainable, goal. While much of the sermon has roots in Jewish law, the advice given in the Beatitudes represented a dramatic and radical departure from the eye for an eye system of justice known in the ancient world. The standards of behavior outlined in the sermon have given believers and non-believers alike plenty to contemplate and discuss in the two thousand years since it was given.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after
righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the
children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
See Matthew Chapter 5-7 for full text.
34. Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream"
August 28, 1963 Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" is hands down one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pieces of oratory in American history. King's charisma, skills in rhetoric, and passion, place him in a league of his own. A century after slavery ended, a century after African-Americans were promised full equality, black children were being hosed down in the streets, spat upon, bused to separate schools, turned away from restaurants, and denied treatment as full human beings. In this midst of this egregious track record, Dr. King voiced a clear, compelling message of hope, a dream that things would not always be as they were, and that a new day was coming.
Many people have seen excerpts of the speech, but a surprisingly number of adults my age I have never sat down and watched the speech in its entirety. I challenge you to do just that. It is just as electrifying and moving today as it was in 1963.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
35. Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address"
November 19, 1863 Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
272 words. 3 minutes long. Yet, the Gettysburg Address is unarguably one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric in American history. Dr. J Rufus Fears (one of the great modern orators) argues that the Gettysburg Address, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, form the three founding documents of American freedom. And I have to agree.
The Battle of Gettysburg left 8,000 men dead. The bodies were too numerous to bury properly and many were at first placed in shallow graves. Weeks after the battle, heads and arms were sticking up through the ground and the smell of rotting flesh was sickening.
Money was raised for a proper reburial, and it was decided that the new cemetery should be dedicated, to sweeten the air of Gettysburg, to solemnize this place of death. As was traditional, a great orator, in this case, Edward Everett, was asked to give a solemn and grand speech as a memorial to the fallen men. Lincoln was asked 2 months later, almost as a causal afterthought. He was to add a few remarks to Everett's, a function much like the man with the ceremonial scissors who cuts the ribbon. Legends has it that Lincoln's remarks were the product of pure inspiration, penned on the back of an envelope on the train chugging its way to the soon-to-be hallowed grounds of Gettysburg.
On the day of the dedication, Everett kept the crowd enthralled for a full two hours. Lincoln got up, gave his speech, and sat down even before the photographer had finished setting up for a picture. There was a long pause before anyone applauded, and then the applause was scattered and polite.
Not everyone immediately realized the magnificence of Lincoln's address. But some did. In a letter to Lincoln, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
And of course, in time, we have come to fully appreciate the genius and beauty of the words spoken that day. Dr. Fears argues that Lincoln's address did more than memorialize the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg it accomplished nothing short of transforming the entire meaning of the Civil War. There were no details of the battle mentioned in the speech, no mentioning of soldier's names, of Gettysburg itself, of the South nor the Union, states rights nor secession. Rather, Lincoln meant the speech to be something far larger, a discourse on the experiment testing whether government can maintain the proposition of equality. At Gettysburg, the Constitution experienced a transformation. The first birth has been tainted by slavery. The men, of both North and South, lying in the graves at Gettysburg had made an atoning sacrifice for this great evil. And the Constitution would be reborn, this time living up to its promises of freedom and equality for all.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech
Shortly after Kennedy’s civil rights address, King gave his most famous speech as the keynote address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963. King’s wife, Coretta, later remarked that “at that moment, it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared. But it only lasted for a moment.”
King had written a speech beforehand but deviated from his prepared remarks. The most powerful part of King’s speech--beginning with the refrain of “I have a dream”--was entirely unplanned. He had used similar words at previous civil rights gatherings, but his words resounded deeply with the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial and viewers watching live coverage from their televisions at home. Kennedy was impressed, and when they met afterward, Kennedy greeted King with the words, “I have a dream.”
'Nattering Nabobs of Negativism'
Wally McNamee / Getty Images
The term "nattering nabobs of negativism" is used often by politicians to describe the so-called "jackals" of the media who are persistent in writing about their every gaffe and misdeed. But the phrase originated with a White House speechwriter for Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew used the phrase at a California GOP convention in 1970:
7 of the Most Profound and Famous Short Speeches Ever Heard
There are many famous short speeches that have been a turning point in history. Here is a list of some of the most notable speeches ever.
There are many famous short speeches that have been a turning point in history. Here is a list of some of the most notable speeches ever.
Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote brilliantly summarizes the power of a good speech. There is no dearth of famous short speeches that have irrevocably influenced mankind and history.
Although the list may seem endless, and there will always be some or the other disagreement of which of these should figure in the list of popular speeches of all time, given below is a compilation of famous speeches by famous people including former presidents, politicians, a great visionary, and a world-renowned dramatist.These have gone down in history as something that people find relevant and influential even today. It is not necessary for a speech to be long to be famous, even a short one can be great, if it has an ability to mesmerize and inspire the audience. What follows, is a list of some of the most notable short speeches of all time. These were given at historical junctions, and had a significant impact at that time, and hold true even today. As these speeches continue to inspire many, they will go down in the annals of time.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address
One of the most famous speeches given by a sitting American President, although it lasted just a little over seven and a half minutes, it managed to stir a nation’s patriotism to the very bone and was a significant point in American history. President Roosevelt gave the famous speech to a joint session of Congress, the day after the Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. An excerpt from the speech is as follows:
December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy… No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory… I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
Ronald Reagan’s Speech Following the Challenger Disaster
American President Ronald Reagan made his famous short speech on national television following the disastrous explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle. On 26 January, 1986 after only 73 seconds into its flight, the space shuttle broke apart, causing the death of all the seven crew members on board, including a classroom teacher who had been chosen to be the first ever non-astronaut classroom teacher to travel into space. President Reagan spoke of the traumatic accident saying:
Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all people of our country. This is truly a national loss… Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight. We’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.
One of President John F. Kennedy’s most famous speech, was given on 26 June, 1963, to consolidate United States’ support for West Germany a little less than two years after the Communist East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. One of the most famous phrases in history “Ich bin ein Berliner“, was in fact a last-minute brain child of Kennedy, who came up with the idea of saying it in German, while he was walking up the stairs at the Rathaus (City Hall). It was a great motivational speech for West Berliners, who lived in the constant fear of a possible East German occupation. Given below is an excerpt from this historic speech:
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘Civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]’. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’
Bill Clinton’s “I Have Sinned” Speech
The famous, or rather infamous “I have sinned” speech, was delivered by President Bill Clinton at the annual White House prayer breakfast on September 11, 1998, in the presence of several ministers, priests and his wife, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was hand-written by the President Clinton himself and was delivered on the day of the publication of the first report by Independent Counsel Ken Starr, which threatened to impeach the President Clinton on the grounds of perjury and his sexual affair with former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness… But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required – at least two more things. First, genuine repentance – a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making. I have repented. Second, what my bible calls a ”broken spirit” an understanding that I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek a renunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain…
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech
“I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr., which was delivered on 28 August, 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was a path-breaking moment for the Civil Rights Movement in America. Given to an audience of more than 200,000 people, this speech was ranked as the top American speech by a 1999 poll of scholars.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
William Shakespeare’s Speeches
The Bard has left behind his legacy in ways more than one. Most of the non-political popular speeches have been written by William Shakespeare. While there are many, like Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…”, and Portia’s speech in Merchant of Venice “The quality of mercy is not strain’d…” to name a few, the Bard’s most famous speech till date is the speech by Jaques in “As You Like It”, which goes as…
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Steve Jobs ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ Speech
One of my personal favorites, and a speech that today’s youth identify themselves with, is the Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ commencement speech on 12 June, 2005 at Stanford, which was replete with inspirational quotes. His last words in the address “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is one of the most famous quotes and is echoed the world over even today, and spurred on a bestselling book of the same name. It summed up his life in three parts, which he narrated in the form of three stories. This is a small excerpt from this notable short inspirational speech:
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories… When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s’, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.