35 Greatest Speeches in History

In any given year, there are thousands of speeches delivered by politicians and world leaders. Here are the 35 greatest speeches in history, from ancient Greece to recent times.

The “powerful speeches that changed the world” was a speech given by Winston Churchill in 1940. It is one of the most powerful speeches in history and it helped to change the course of WWII.

These famous speeches inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honored the dead, and changed the course of history by lifting hearts in dark times, giving hope in despair, refining men’s characters, inspiring brave feats, giving courage to the weary, honoring the dead, and changing the course of history.

What method did we use to build this list?

Style, content, and impact are the three components of great oratory.

A great speech must be carefully designed in terms of style. The finest orators are masters of both the written and spoken word, and they employ words to produce works that are both lovely to listen to and beautiful to read.

Content: A speech might be beautiful and charismatically delivered yet still lack substance. Great oratory must be focused on a worthwhile topic, appealing to and inspiring the audience’s highest beliefs and aspirations.

Impact: The goal of great oratory is to convince the audience of a truth or an idea. The finest speeches transform people’s ideas and appear as revelatory decades or centuries later as they did when they were first delivered.

Now it’s time for the speeches.

 

[hide] Contents

  • 1. “Duties of American Citizenship,” by Theodore Roosevelt
  • “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” Winston Churchill
  • 3. “Farewell to Baseball Address” by Lou Gehrig
  • “The Third Philippic,” Demosthenes
  • 5. “Surrender Speech” by Chief Joseph
  • 6. “Inauguration Address” by John F. Kennedy
  • 7. “Address to the Nation on the Challenger,” Ronald Reagan
  • 8. “Alexander the Great’s Speech”
  • 9. “Abolition Speech” by William Wilberforce
  • “The Man with the Muck-rake,” by Theodore Roosevelt.
  • “First Inaugural Address” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 11.
  • “The Appeal of 18 June,” by Charles de Gaulle.
  • 13. “Apology” by Socrates
  • 14. “Resignation Speech” by George Washington
  • “Quit India,” by Mahatma Gandhi.
  • “Their Finest Hour,” Winston Churchill
  • “Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,” by William Faulkner.
  • 18. “Farewell Address” by Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “The First Oration Against Catiline,” Marcus Tullius Cicero, 19.
  • “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate,” Ronald Reagan, 20.
  • Pericles’ “Funeral Oration” is number twenty-one.
  • “Farewell Address to Congress,” by General Douglas MacArthur, 22.
  • “Strength and Decency,” by Theodore Roosevelt, 23.
  • 24. “2nd Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln
  • “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” says Patrick Henry.
  • “40th Anniversary of D-Day,” Ronald Reagan, 26.
  • 27. “The Decision to Go to the Moon,” by John F. Kennedy
  • 28. Frederick Douglass, “What is the Fourth of July to the Slave?”
  • “Duty, Honor, Country,” by General Douglas MacArthur, 29.
  • “Citizenship in a Republic,” by Theodore Roosevelt, no. 30.
  • “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” Winston Churchill, 31.
  • “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32.
  • 33. “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Jesus Christ
  • “I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King Jr., 34.
  • “The Gettysburg Address,” by Abraham Lincoln, 35.

1. “Duties of American Citizenship,” by Theodore Roosevelt

Buffalo, New York, January 26, 1883

young theordore roosevelt mutton chops assemblyman

TR’s presentation on the “Duties of American Citizenship,” delivered while serving as a New York assemblyman, went into both the theoretical and practical reasons why every man should be active in politics. Roosevelt chastised individuals who excused themselves from politics because they were too busy, saying that it was everyone’s responsibility to contribute to effective governance.

Excerpt of Interest:

Of course, the presence of the domestic qualities that we think of when we name a man by the emphatic adjective of masculine is, in one sense, the first necessity for a man to be a decent citizen. 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 is someone who is ready and able to defend the flag with weapons, just as the ideal citizen is a father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and breeders; otherwise, its wisdom will be for naught, and its virtue ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, and no capacity for material prosperity can possibly compensate for the lack of the great virile virtues.

 

But that is not my topic; what I want to discuss is the American citizen’s attitude toward civic life. Every individual should spend a fair portion of his time to completing his responsibility in the political life of the society, which should be axiomatic in our nation. No one has the right to shirk his political responsibilities for any reason, whether for pleasure or business; and while such shirking may be forgiven in those of small means, it is entirely unforgivable in those among whom it is most common—those whose circumstances grant them freedom in the struggle for life. The society will learn to see the young man of means who shirks his responsibility to the State in times of peace as just one degree worse than the guy who shirks it in times of conflict as the community develops to think clearly. Many of our businessmen and young men who are bent on enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment) consider themselves to be good citizens if they vote; however, voting is the smallest of their responsibilities. Nothing worthwhile is ever gained without effort. You can’t have freedom without seeking and suffering for it, any more than you can succeed as a banker or a lawyer without hard work, self-denial in your youth, and the show of a ready and alert brain in your middle years. People who claim they don’t have time to engage in politics are merely demonstrating that they are unsuitable to live in a free society.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” Winston Churchill

House of Commons, London, June 4, 1940

winston churchill giving speech we shall fight on beaches

Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators of the twentieth century, was born with a speech impediment that he worked on until it no longer impeded him, much like Demosthenes and other great orators before him. Hearing Churchill’s powerful and soothing voice, a voice that would buoy Britain through some of her darkest hours, one would never think this.

Allied Forces were cut off from soldiers south of the German incursion during the Battle of France, and were severely stranded at the Dunkirk bridgehead. On May 26, “Operation Dynamo,” a mass evacuation of these soldiers, commenced. The evacuation was a remarkable achievement: the RAF held the Luftwaffe at bay while hundreds of ships, ranging from military destroyers to tiny fishing boats, ferried 338,000 French and British soldiers to safety, greatly beyond anyone’s expectations. On June 4, Churchill addressed the House of Commons, praising the “miraculous rescue” at Dunkirk but also attempting to moderate an overly optimistic assessment of what was a “colossal military calamity.”

Excerpt of Interest:

I am certain that if everyone does their part, if nothing is overlooked, and if the best preparations are made, as they are, we will once again be able to defend our Island home, to weather the storm of battle, and to outlast the threat of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. That is, at the very least, what we intend to accomplish. That is His Majesty’s Government’s resolve—every single one of them. That is Parliament’s and the nation’s will. The British Empire and the French Republic, united in their cause and in their necessity, will defend their homeland to the death, assisting one another as good comrades to the best of their abilities. We will not flag or fail, even if enormous swaths of Europe and many ancient and great states have fallen or may fall into the hands of the Gestapo and all the heinous machinery of Nazi power. We will fight until the end, we will fight in France, we will fight on the seas and oceans, we will fight with increasing confidence and strength in the air, we will defend our Island at all costs, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the landing grounds, we will fight in the fields and in the streets, we will fight in the hills; we will never surrender, even if this Island or a large part of it is lost.

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Check out my interview with Andrew Roberts, a Churchill biographer.

3. “Farewell to Baseball Address” by Lou Gehrig

Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939

lou gehrig farewell speech yankee stadium luckiest man

Lou Gehrig’s illustrious career looked to go on indefinitely. The Iron Horse was the moniker given to the Yankees’ first baseman and prodigious slugger because of his tenacity and dedication to the game. Unfortunately, Gehrig’s record of 2,130 straight games was broken when he was diagnosed with the devastating illness that now bears his name at the age of 36. The Yankees staged a ceremony on July 4, 1939, to remember their comrade and buddy. They retired Gehrig’s number, talked of his glory, and bestowed presents, plaques, and trophies on him. When Gehrig eventually spoke to the throng, he didn’t waste time wallowing in self-pity. Instead, he focused on what he was thankful for and how fortunate he was.

The Address

Fans, you’ve been reading about a horrible break I had for the previous two weeks. Nonetheless, I believe myself to be the luckiest guy on the planet today. I’ve been working in ballparks for seventeen years and have never encountered anything except compassion and support from the spectators.

Take a look at these great guys. Which of you wouldn’t consider working with them for even a day the pinnacle of his career?

Sure, I’m fortunate. 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 – and then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that bright psychology student – the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure, I’m fortunate. That’s something when the New York Giants, a club you’d give your right arm to defeat and vice versa, send you a present! That’s something when everyone remembers you with trophies, even to the groundskeepers and those lads in white jackets.

That’s something when you have a beautiful mother-in-law who stands with you in squabbles with her own daughter. It’s a gift to have a father and mother who work their whole lives so that you may get an education and grow your physique. The best I know is having a woman who has been a rock of strength and demonstrated more bravery than you ever imagined existed.

So, to sum it up, I may have had a rough time, but I still have a lot to live for!

“The Third Philippic,” Demosthenes

Athens, Greece, 342 B.C.

demosthenes marble bust ancient greek

Demosthenes, a brilliant politician and orator, adored Athens, his city-state. He admired its manner of life and plenty of liberties. And he believed in fighting firm against anybody who attempted to take away these rights. Unfortunately, his fellow Athenians did not share his enthusiasm. The Athenian populace appeared to be locked in an indifferent trance while Philip the II of Macedon launched stronger and bolder excursions into the Greek peninsula. Demosthenes had been using his great oratorical abilities for years in an effort to rouse his fellow people from their slumber and to the impending threat that Philip represented. When Philip marched into Thrace, the Athenians summoned a meeting to discuss whether or not they should finally follow the counsel of the great orator. Demosthenes was fed up with his fellow Athenians taking liberty and the Athenian way of life for granted, so he openly called on them to stand up and take action. “To arms! To arms!” the crowd chanted after his spirited address.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

I fear this destiny for you, I firmly promise you, when the time comes for you to make your reckoning and understand that there is nothing more you can do. May you never find yourself in such a situation, Athenians! In any event, it would be preferable to suffer ten thousand deaths than to serve Philip in any way [or to sacrifice any of those who speak for your benefit]. The citizens of Oreus were rewarded handsomely for committing themselves to Philip’s associates and pushing Euphraeus aside! And a fitting reward for Eretria’s democracy for driving away your envoys and submitting to Cleitarchus! They’ve been scourged and murdered like slaves! He acted with admirable forbearance toward the Olynthians, who chose Lasthenes to head the cavalry and expelled Apollonides! It is stupidity and cowardice to have such hopes, to give in to wicked counsels, to refuse to do whatever you should do, to listen to the champions of the enemy’s cause, and to imagine that you live in such a large metropolis that you will be safe no matter what occurs.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

5. “Surrender Speech” by Chief Joseph

Montana Territory, October 5, 1877

chief joseph nez perce portrait native american

In 1877, the military ordered Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce tribe to relocate to an Idaho reservation or suffer retaliation. Chief Joseph called for peace and collaboration in order to prevent conflict. However, four white males were slaughtered by other natives. Knowing there would be a fast retaliation, Joseph and his followers started making their way to Canada in the hopes of finding pardon. The tribe trekked 1700 kilometers while fighting the pursuing US soldiers. On Oct. 5, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana Territory, about 40 miles from the Canadian border, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles following a five-day fight. The Chief knew he was the last of a fading species, and surrendering was a terrible experience.

The Address

I’ll tell General Howard that I know what’s on his mind. I have it in my heart what he said previously. I’m fed up with arguing. Our Chiefs have been slain; Looking Glass is no longer alive, and Ta Hool Hool Shute is no longer alive. All of the elderly guys had passed away. The young males are the ones who say yes or no. He who led the young men astray is no longer alive. It’s chilly outside, and we don’t have any blankets; the little children are shivering to death. Some of my folks have fled to the hills and are without blankets or food. Nobody knows where they are, and they may be frozen to death. I’d want to take some time to seek for my children and see how many I can locate. Perhaps I’ll come upon them amid the dead. My Chiefs, pay attention! I’m exhausted, and my heart feels ill and unhappy. I shall never battle again from where the sun presently stands.

 

6. “Inauguration Address” by John F. Kennedy

Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961

 

john f kennedy inauguration speech 1961 washington dc

John F. Kennedy, young, attractive, and with a dazzling family in tow, symbolized the postwar decade’s new hope. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. He was the first individual born in the twentieth century to occupy the position of President of the United States. The country believed a new age and “new frontier” was being ushered in as they listened to his inauguration speech.

Excerpt of Interest:

Can we form a vast and worldwide coalition against these foes, uniting North and South, East and West, to ensure a more abundant existence for all humanity? Will you be a part of this historic effort?

Only a few generations in the world’s lengthy history have been entrusted with the task of protecting freedom at its hour of greatest peril. I am not afraid of this duty; in fact, I look forward to it. I don’t think any of us would want to swap places with anybody else or any other generation. The zeal, faith, and dedication with which we approach this task will enlighten our nation and those who serve it, and the light from that fire may genuinely enlighten the globe.

So, my fellow Americans, ask yourself what you can do for your nation rather than what your country can do for you.

My fellow inhabitants of the globe, don’t ask what America will do for you; instead, ask what we can do together for human liberty.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

7. “Address to the Nation on the Challenger,” Ronald Reagan

Washington, D.C., January 28, 1986

ronald reagan address to nation on challenger explosion 1986

On January 28, 1986, millions of Americans tuned in to see seven Americans, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old schoolteacher and the first ever “civilian astronaut,” launch the space shuttle Challenger from their classroom seats. The spacecraft was destroyed in a blaze 73 seconds later. All seven people on board died. The tragedy stunned and devastated the country since these were the first fatalities of American astronauts while in flight. President Ronald Reagan went to the radio and airways within hours after the accident, praising these “pioneers” and providing comfort and confidence to a shaken public.

Excerpt of Interest:

In this century, we’ve become used to marvels. It’s difficult to impress us. However, the US space program has been doing precisely that for the last 25 years. We’ve become used to the concept of space, and we may forget that we’re just getting started. We’re still on the cutting edge. They were pioneers, the members of the Challenger crew.

And I’d want to say something to the American schoolchildren who were watching the shuttle lift off live on television. I know it’s difficult to comprehend, but horrible things like this really happen. It’s all part of the exploring and discovery process. It’s all part of the adventure of taking a risk and broadening one’s horizons. The future is not for the faint of heart; it is for the bold. The crew of the Challenger was dragging us into the future, and we’ll keep following them……

 

The crew of the Challenger space shuttle distinguished us by the way they spent their lives. We’ll never forget them, or the last time we saw them, this morning as they prepared for the voyage and waved farewell before slipping the treacherous bounds of earth to ‘touch the face of God.’

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

Listen to Bob Sptiz, Ronald Regan’s biographer, in our podcast.

8. “Alexander the Great’s Speech”

Hydaspes River, India, 326 B.C.

alexander the great engraving color young alexander

Alexander the Great launched his battle to reclaim old Greek towns and extend his kingdom in 335 B.C. Alexander held an empire that spanned Greece, Egypt, and what had been the huge Persian Empire after 10 years of unbroken wars.

For Xander, it wasn’t enough. He made the decision to pursue his invasion of India. His warriors, however, lacked the will to fight another battle after ten years of warfare and being away from home, particularly against an opponent like King Porus and his army. Alexander utilized his oratory skills, which he honed while studying under Aristotle, to inspire his warriors to keep going, battle, and win.

Excerpt of Interest:

If I, your commander, had not joined in your laborious marches and risky campaigns, I could not have faulted you for being the first to lose heart; it would have been reasonable enough if you had done all the work for others to gain the benefits. However, this is not the case. You and I, guys, have shared the work and the risk, and the benefits are shared by all of us. The conquered territory is yours; governors are chosen from your ranks; the greater part of its treasure has already passed into your hands; and when all of Asia has been conquered, I will go far beyond mere satisfaction of our ambitions: the highest hopes of riches or power that each of you cherish will be far exceeded, and whoever wishes to return home will be allowed to do so, either with or without me. Those who remain will be envious of those who return.

Check out the AoM podcast about Alexander the Great’s life.

9. “Abolition Speech” by William Wilberforce

House of Commons, London, May 12, 1789

william wilberfoce black and white illustration abolition speech

When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, became a Christian, he set out to repair the injustices he saw in himself and in the world around him. Slavery was one of the most pressing moral concerns of the day, and Wilberforce felt persuaded that God was calling him to be an abolitionist after reading up on the matter and meeting with anti-slavery campaigners. Wilberforce chose to focus on eliminating the slave trade rather than abolishing slavery itself, thinking that abolishing one would logically lead to the abolition of the other. Wilberforce gave his first statement in the House of Commons on the abolition of the slave trade on May 12, 1789. He presented an impassioned argument for why the transaction was wrong and needed to be stopped. Wilberforce proposed a measure to ban the slave trade, but it was defeated, a result with which he would become all too familiar in the years to come. Despite this, Wilberforce persisted, submitting the bill year after year until it was ultimately enacted in 1807.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

When I consider the enormity of the subject I am about to present to the House—a subject in which the interests of not just this country or Europe, but the entire world and posterity are at stake—and when I consider the weakness of the advocate who has taken on this great cause—when these thoughts cross my mind, it is impossible for me not to be terrified and concerned about my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I consider the encouragement I’ve received over the course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I’ve experienced, and how conviction has grown within my own mind in proportion to my progress;-when I consider, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, we’ll all be of one mind in the end;-when I consider these thoughts, I take courage-I resolve.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“The Man with the Muck-rake,” by Theodore Roosevelt.

Washington, D.C., April 14, 1906

theodore roosevelt political cartoon muck raking scandal

Theodore Roosevelt served as president during the Progressive Era, a period marked by widespread excitement for political, economic, and social change. TR shared many progressive principles, yet he also advocated for moderation rather than extreme. In Pilgrim’s Progress, the “Man with a Muck-rake” never glanced up, preferring to rake the muck at his feet. TR used the term “muckraker” to describe journalists and activists of the time who were dedicated to uncovering societal wrongdoing. He thought they did a lot of good, but that they needed to tone down their pessimism and alarmist tone. He was concerned that the sensationalism with which these exposures were often presented would turn individuals cynical and lead them to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

Excerpt of Interest:

Assaulting the big and accepted faults of our political and economic life with such crude and broad generalizations as to include good folks in the general condemnation is a kind of public conscience scorching. As a consequence, there is a prevalent attitude of either cynical confidence in and indifference to governmental corruption, or a skeptical incapacity to distinguish between good and evil. Either approach risks causing irreparable harm to the nation as a whole. The idiot who lacks the ability to distinguish between good and evil is almost as harmful as the one who can discern but chooses the bad. Nothing irritates a decent citizen, a good American, more than a harsh, scoffing attitude that considers a charge of dishonesty in a public figure as a source of amusement.

 

Such laughing is worse than thorns beneath a pot, since it symbolizes not only a barren intellect, but also a heart in which strong emotions have been stifled before they could blossom.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“First Inaugural Address” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 11.

Washington, D.C., March 4, 1933

franklin delano roosevelt fdr inauguration speech 1933

In the 1932 presidential election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover. The nation was in the throes of the Great Depression, and the people believed that Hoover did not completely understand their suffering and was doing too little to help them. No one knew what FDR’s plan was, but “change,” as in today’s election season, was enough of a notion to fuel a campaign. Roosevelt attempted to bolster the American people’s shattered spirits in his First Inaugural Address, presenting his argument for why he would require strong executive powers to combat the Depression.

Excerpt of Interest:

I am certain that when I am sworn in as President, my fellow citizens expect me to speak to them with sincerity and resolve, as the current state of our country demands. This is the moment to tell it as it is: the truth, the entire truth, and nothing but the truth. We also don’t have to be afraid of confronting the current state of affairs in our nation. This magnificent nation will persevere, revive, and thrive as it has in the past. So, first and foremost, let me state unequivocally that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—an amorphous, irrational, and unjustified anxiety that paralyzes necessary attempts to turn retreat into progress. In every difficult hour of our country’s history, a leadership of candor and zeal has met with the understanding and support of the people that is necessary for triumph. In these important days, I am certain that you will once again provide your support to leadership.

The whole text may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

“The Appeal of 18 June,” by Charles de Gaulle.

London, June 18, 1940

charles de gaulle 1940 appeal of june 18

It was evident in June 1940 that France was losing its nation to the German onslaught. Prime Minister Paul Reynaud was forced to resign after refusing to sign an armistice. Marshal Philippe Petain replaced him, and he made it plain that he wanted to reach an agreement with Germany. General Charles de Gaulle, the head of the Free French Forces, was so disgusted by this decision that he fled to England on June 15. Winston Churchill granted De Gaulle permission to make a speech on BBC radio, which he did. De Gaulle urged the French not to lose hope and to keep fighting the German occupation and the Vichy Regime.

Excerpt of Interest:

Is it true, however, that the final word has been spoken? Is it necessary for hope to vanish? Is a loss irreversible? No!

Believe me when I say that nothing is lost for France. I am speaking to you with full awareness of the facts. The same tactics that defeated us may one day bring us success. Because France isn’t alone! She isn’t alone herself! She isn’t alone herself! She is backed by a massive Empire. She may join the British Empire, which controls the water, and fight with them. She, like England, has unrestricted access to the United States’ vast industrial base.

 

This conflict is not confined to our country’s terrible area. The Battle of France did not bring the conflict to an end. This is a global conflict. All the blunders, delays, and pain in the world do not change the reality that we have all the tools we need to smash our enemy one day. We shall be able to overcome a greater mechanical force in the future, having been defeated today by mechanical force. It determines the world’s destiny.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

13. “Apology” by Socrates

Athens, 399 B.C.

socrates apology greek painting debate

Socrates is often regarded as the greatest teacher in Western history. He toured the streets of Athens, engaging in philosophical debates with his fellow inhabitants in the hopes of uncovering the truth about everything. “An unexamined life is not worth living,” he advised his students.

Socrates was seen as a menace by the Athenians, particularly the young. Socrates had a large following among Athens’ young men. He instilled in these susceptible minds the habit of questioning everything, even Athens’ authority. Socrates was eventually apprehended and tried for corrupting the young, refusing to believe in the gods, and inventing new gods.

Socrates’ “Apology” is his response to these accusations. Socrates accepts his allegations and tries to convince the jury with reason, rather than wailing and appealing for compassion. He said that the gods had called him to seek knowledge, and that it was through his questioning that he discovered truth. It would be heresy if he did not realize his destiny. Socrates lost in the end and was condemned to death by hemlock. Socrates readily accepted his destiny, bearing no animosity towards his tormentors, and therefore died as a martyr for free thought.

Excerpt of Interest:

Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but can’t you keep your mouth shut so you can travel to a strange place and no one will bother you? Now I’m having a hard time getting you to grasp what I’m saying. Because you will not believe me if I tell you that doing as you say would be disobedience to God, and that I cannot hold my tongue; and if I tell you again that daily discourse about virtue, and 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 will be even less likely to believe me.

Check out our essay on Plato’s philosophy. 

14. “Resignation Speech” by George Washington

Annapolis, Maryland, December 23, 1784

george washington resignation speech painting 1784

As the Revolutionary War came to a conclusion, there was widespread anticipation that George Washington, then Major General and Commander-in-Chief, would follow in the footsteps of previous global leaders by attempting to seize absolute power. Some even wished for him to do so in the hopes of becoming the king of a new country. Yet Washington was well aware that such a measure would suffocate the fledgling country. Washington, looking to the Roman commander Cincinnatus as an example, refused the temptations of power and resigned as Commander-in-Chief. Choosing the correct path is seldom simple, and when Washington read his statement in front of the Continental Congress, he trembled so much that he had to hold the paper in two hands to keep it firm. “The audience was overcome with emotion, and there was not a single member of Congress who did not shed a tear. His voice trembled and sank, and his distress was felt throughout the house.” When he was done, Washington rushed from the Annapolis State House’s entrance, mounted his horse, and raced off into the sunset.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

While I continue to fulfill my commitments,

I would be betraying my own sentiments if I did not recognise in this place the singular Services and remarkable qualities of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person throughout the War. It seemed unthinkable that my family’s choice of secret officers could have been more fortunate. Permit me, Sir, to propose in particular those who have remained in service till now as deserving of Congress’s attention and indulgence.

I believe it is an unavoidable responsibility for me to conclude this solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our beloved Country to Almighty God’s protection, and those who have charge of them to his holy care.

I now withdraw from the vast stage of action, having completed the job entrusted to me; and, tendering an affectionate goodbye to this august body under whose instructions I have so long performed, I here offer my Commission, and depart from all public employments.

The whole text may be found here.

Check out my podcast about George Washington’s self-education.

“Quit India,” by Mahatma Gandhi.

India, August 8, 1942

mahatma gandhi portrait smiling gandhi photo

While the global war for freedom and democracy raged, the people of India were fighting for their own independence. India had been under the direct dominion of the British crown for over a century, and many Indians had had enough. The National Indian Congress and Mahatma Gandhi urged for a wholly nonviolent struggle to force Britain to “Quit India.” With the passage of the Quit India Resolution seeking total independence from British control on August 8, 1942, Gandhi, a pioneer of nonviolent civil disobedience methods, urged for their deployment.

Excerpt of Interest:

I think there has never been a more authentically democratic battle for freedom than ours in the history of the globe. While in jail, I read Carlyle’s French Resolution, and Pandit Jawaharlal informed me about the Russian revolution. But, in my opinion, these movements failed to attain the democratic ideal because they were waged with the instrument of violence. There will be equal freedom for everyone in the democracy that I envision, a democracy founded on nonviolence. Everyone will be their own boss. Today, I ask you to join a battle for such democracy. When you grasp this, you’ll forget about the divisions between Hindus and Muslims and conceive of yourself just as Indians fighting for freedom.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“Their Finest Hour,” Winston Churchill

House of Commons, London, June 18, 1940

winston churchill head shot great speeches wwii

The German invasion of France commenced on May 10, 1940. On the 14th of June, Paris fell. France would capitulate in a matter of days, leaving England as Europe’s lone bastion against the twin evils of Fascism and Nazism. During the Battle of France, Churchill made his third and last address, once again imparting words designed to inspire hope in this dreadful hour.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

The Battle of France, as General Weygand dubbed it, is now ended. The Battle of Britain, I believe, is about to commence. The survival of Christian culture is dependent on this war. It determines our personal British existence, as well as the long-term viability of our institutions and Empire. The enemy’s wrath and power must be turned against us as quickly as possible.

Hitler realizes that if he doesn’t break us on this island, he will lose the war. If we can stand up to Hitler, all of Europe will be free, and the world’s life will progress into vast, sunny uplands. But if we fail, the whole globe, including the United States, as well as all we have known and cared about, will descend into the depths of a new Dark Age, made more ominous and maybe longer by the lights of corrupted technology.

Let us then prepare ourselves for our responsibilities, and carry ourselves in such a way that, even if the British Empire and Commonwealth continue a thousand years, mankind will still remark, “This was their best hour.”

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

Listen to my podcast discussing Churchill’s leadership during the Blitz.

“Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,” by William Faulkner.

Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950

william faulkner nobel prize acceptance speech 1950

William Faulkner, a great master of the written word, did not frequently make his talent for the spoken version public. So it was anticipated that he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his “strong and aesthetically distinctive contribution to the contemporary American book” with a speech. The year was 1950, the Soviet Union had harnessed the power of the atomic bomb, and the United States was paralyzed by dread of their using it. Faulkner pushed poets, novelists, and the rest of humanity to look beyond the issue of “When will I be blown up?” and instead “build something new out of the resources of the human spirit.”

Excerpt of Interest:

I refuse to accept man’s demise. It’s simple to declare that man is eternal because he will last: that even after the final ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded off the last useless rock hanging tideless in the last crimson and fading twilight, there will still be one more sound: his pitiful endless voice, still talking. This is something I will not tolerate. I think that man will not only survive, but will triumph. He is everlasting not because he possesses the only limitless voice among things, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice, and perseverance. It is the poet’s, or the writer’s, responsibility to write on these topics. It is his job to assist man in enduring by elevating his spirits and reminding him of the bravery, honor, hope, pride, compassion, sympathy, and sacrifice that have characterized his previous glories. The poet’s voice does not have to be only a record of man; it may also be one of the supports, one of the pillars, that aids in his endurance and triumph.

 

18. “Farewell Address” by Dwight D. Eisenhower

Washington, D.C., January 17, 1961

dwight d eisenhower farewell address 1961

The 1950s were a period of ever-increasing military expenditure as the US attempted to combat communism both overseas and at home. More over half of the federal budget was earmarked for military reasons when President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office. Former Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower was not opposed to the use of military force to maintain peace. Nonetheless, he felt compelled to use his “Farewell Address” to warn the country about the risks presented by the “military-industrial complex,” a term referring to the link between the armed services, the government, and war material suppliers. Eisenhower was concerned about the huge role that military expenditure had in the economy, and he saw the potential for political and corporate corruption if the public was not attentive in preventing it.

Excerpt of Interest:

We must protect against the military-industrial complex gaining undue influence in government councils, whether sought or unsought. The risk of a calamitous ascent of misdirected power exists and will continue to exist. We must never allow the combined weight of these factors to jeopardize our rights or democratic procedures. Nothing should be taken for granted. Only a vigilant and informed public can force the correct integration of defense’s massive industrial and military equipment with our peaceful means and ideals, allowing security and liberty to coexist.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

“The First Oration Against Catiline,” Marcus Tullius Cicero, 19.

Rome, 63 BC

cicero speech first oration against cataline 63 bc

Lucius Sergius Catilina (better known as Catiline) was a vengeful man. After losing a previous election to Cicero for the office of consul, he became determined to win the next election by any means necessary. Plan A was to pay people to vote for him, but when it failed, he decided to go on broke and just knock Cicero off the ballot box on election day. Cicero, ever attentive, discovered this plot, the election was postponed, and the Senate enacted marital law. When the election was ultimately conducted, the murderer-turned-candidate was soundly defeated. Catiline’s Plan C was now in effect: gather an army of conspirators, foment insurgency throughout Italy, overturn the government, and slice and dice as many Senators as they could lay their hands on. Cicero, on the other hand, was one step ahead of the game and figured out the strategy. He convened a conference of the Senate in the Capitol’s Temple of Jupiter, an orifice reserved for times of extreme distress. Catiline chose to crash the party since he had no idea when he wasn’t welcome. Cicero launched his Catiline Orations, a series of lectures on how he rescued Rome from revolt, Catiline’s guilt, and the necessity to whack him and his friends, with his archenemy in attendance.

Excerpt of Interest:

I desire to be kind, O conscript fathers; I wish not to look careless in the face of such peril to the state; yet I now accuse myself of negligence and guilty inaction. A camp has been set up in Italy, at the entrance to Etruria, in opposition to the republic; the number of the enemy is growing by the day; and yet the general of that camp, the leader of those enemies, is planning some internal injury to the republic every day within the walls-aye, even in the senate. If I were to order you to be arrested and put to death right now, O Catiline, I believe I would be afraid that all decent men would say that I had acted late rather than that I had done cruelly. But I have a solid reason for not doing this, which should have been done a long time ago; I will put you to death when there isn’t a single person who is as vile, as abandoned, as you are, as to deny that it has been done properly. You will live as long as one person can dare to defend you; but you will live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusted guards, so that you will not be able to raise a finger against the republic; many eyes and ears will continue to observe and watch you, as they have done previously, even if you will not notice them.

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate,” Ronald Reagan, 20.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, June 12, 1987

ronald reagan speech 1987 berlin wall brandenburg gate

Germany has been a split nation since World War II ended, with the West free and democratic and the East under totalitarian communist authority. When President Ronald Reagan assumed office, he pledged to bring down the whole “Evil Empire,” not just the United States. While the significance of Reagan’s contribution in achieving this goal is debatable, there is little doubt that he had some effect in ending the Cold War. There was no more iconic and emblematic event of this effect than when Reagan asked Gorbachev to “take down this wall!” as he stood at the Berlin Wall, the most visible symbol of the “Iron Curtain.”

Excerpt of Interest:

We encourage change and openness because we think that freedom and security are inextricably linked, and that progress in human liberty can only help the cause of international peace. There is one obvious gesture the Soviets can make that would significantly promote the cause of freedom and peace. Come here to this gate, General Secretary Gorbachev, if you wish peace, prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and liberalization. Open this gate, Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev, demolish this barrier!

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to what is being said.

Pericles’ “Funeral Oration” is number twenty-one.

Athens, 431 BC

pericles funeral oration 431 bc marble bust

Pericles, master politician, orator, and general, was certainly “the first citizen of Athens,” as Thuciydies named him. Pericles was a Sophist and had been personally trained by Anaxagoras, the famous philosopher. Pericles became a very compelling orator as a result of his studies with the Sophists. His words inspired Athenians to embark on a massive public works project that resulted in the construction of hundreds of temples, including the Pantheon.

The epic conflicts of the Peloponnesian War, a civil war between Athens and Sparta, put Pericles’ talent of oration to the test. His words enthused Athenians to battle to become Greece’s dominant power. Athens held their yearly public burial in February 431 B.C. to memorialize all those who perished in battle. Pericles was tasked with delivering the customary funeral oration. Rather than listing the victories of Athens’ dead heroes, Pericles used his funeral oration to praise the greatness of Athens itself and exhort the living to ensure that the soldiers’ sacrifices were not in vain.

Pericles’ funeral oration influenced Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” over 2,000 years later. Lincoln, like Pericles, was a leader during the Civil War. Lincoln, like Pericles, concentrated on exhorting the living to act in such a manner that the sacrifice of fallen soldiers would be justified.

Excerpt of Interest:

As a result, these guys died and became Athenians. You, their survivors, must resolve to have as firm a resolve on the field as possible, even if you hope for a brighter outcome. You must realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, until 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 determination that you were able to defend your country; and you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and determination that you were able to defend your country.

 

The whole text may be found here.

“Farewell Address to Congress,” by General Douglas MacArthur, 22.

Washington, D.C., April 19, 1951

general douglas macarthur saluting troops

General MacArthur and President Truman argued during the Korean War about the danger presented by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and their entrance into Korea. MacArthur urged Truman for authorization to attack Manchurian sites, saying that the war needed to be expanded in scope and region. Truman turned down the General’s suggestion, claiming that bringing China into the conflict would enrage the Soviet Union. Truman, charging MacArthur of insubordination, decided to dismiss MacArthur of his command when he persisted to push his cause. The General’s military career was done after 52 years of service and three wars. When MacArthur returned to the United States, he delivered Congress this parting message.

Excerpt of Interest:

My 52-year military career is coming to an end. It was the culmination of all of my youthful ambitions and fantasies when I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century. Since I took the oath on theplain at West Point, the globe has changed many times, and the aspirations and dreams have faded away, but I vividly remember the chorus of one of the most famous barrack songs of the day, which boldly declared that “old warriors never die; they simply fade away.”

And, like the elderly soldier in the song, I’ve decided to retire from the military and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to perform his job as God gave him the light to see it.

Good Bye.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

“Strength and Decency,” by Theodore Roosevelt, 23.

theodore roosvelt portrait with eyeglasses

Roosevelt was a proponent of having a large family in order to ensure that the following generation would continue to sustain civilization’s great ideals. He was extremely anxious that young men not be coddled or timid, but instead grow up to be tough, strenuous, and completely masculine. But he also felt that being ruggedly macho and cultured in mind and soul were not mutually exclusive and, in fact, should go hand in hand. He encourages young men to strive ethical manliness in this speech. Yes, brother, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes

Excerpt of Interest:

It is especially obligatory upon those of you who have strength to lead by example. I beg you to remember that if you have a free and dirty tongue, you will lose your self-respect, and that a man who wants to live a clean and honorable life will definitely suffer if his speech is not clean and honorable as well. Every individual in this room is aware of the temptations that we all face in this world. Any guy, at times, will make a mistake. I don’t demand perfection, but I do want a true and honest attempt to think, speak, and act in a respectable and clean manner. As I said at the opening, I see this society’s efforts as exemplifying one of the forces working to improve and elevate our social order. Our whole effort should be focused on achieving a balance of strong traits and those attributes that we call virtues. I’m counting on you to be tough. If you weren’t, I wouldn’t respect you. I don’t want to see Christianity practiced just by weaklings; I want to see it as a powerful force among men. I don’t expect you to lose any of your bravery or power by being decent. On the contrary, I would want to see each man who is a part of our society grow all the more fit to perform the hard labor of the world; all the more fit to work in times of peace; and all the more fit to fight in times of war, if, God forbid, war should come. I want to see decent men become powerful and strong men become decent in our country, and until we have that combination in excellent form, we will not be as successful as we should be. There’s a propensity among very young guys and boys who aren’t quite young men yet to believe that being evil is clever; that it proves that they are men. Oh, how frequently do you see a young man boasting that he is going to “see life,” meaning that he is going to see that part of life that is a thousand times better left unseen!

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

24. “2nd Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln

Washington, D.C., March 4, 1865

abraham lincoln 2nd inauguration address 1865 photo

As Abraham Lincoln started his second term as president of a deeply divided United States, the Union’s triumph was just a month away. This speech, like the Gettysburg Address, is only as long as it is necessary. While some argue whether the Civil War was genuinely fought for slavery or not, Lincoln firmly thought that it was. Slavery was a tremendous national sin in his eyes, and the blood poured throughout the conflict was the atonement for that sin.

He is not excited about the impending triumph; instead, he urges his compatriots to remember that the battle was fought between brothers. When the war was done and the Confederacy was compelled to rejoin the Union, Lincoln was willing to be lenient with the South. Because he didn’t think secession was genuinely conceivable, the South never completely left the Union. Reconstruction would not imply retribution, but rather the return of a badly misbehaving son to his family.

Excerpt of Interest:

We ardently hope and pray that this tremendous scourge of war may soon be extinguished. Yet, if God wills it to continue until all the wealth accumulated by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil is sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash is paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” it must still be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for those who have borne the battle and their widows and orphans, to do all that we can to achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations, with malice toward none, charity for all, firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” says Patrick Henry.

Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775

patrick henry give me liberty or give me death speech

Revolutionary passions had been simmering in Virginia for a decade, and Patrick Henry had always been there in the middle of it, stirring the pot. The Stamp Act of 1764 enraged Henry, prompting him to deliver his infamous “treason speech,” which caused the House of Burgesses to approve the Virginia Resolves prohibiting the act. As tensions between the colonies and the Crown grew, Massachusetts patriots started planning military preparations in 1775. Virginia, Henry argued, should follow suit. Henry delivered motions to prepare Virginia’s defenses during a conference convened at St. John’s Church in Richmond. He presented a stirring and unforgettable address to convince his fellow delegates of the importance of his message, culminating in the now famous statement, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Excerpt of Interest:

The war, sir, isn’t only for the strong; it’s also for the alert, active, and fearless. We don’t have an election, sir. It is now too late to withdraw from the competition if we were base enough to wish it. There is only obedience and enslavement as a way out! Our links have been forged! Their clanking may be heard in Boston’s plains! The conflict is unavoidable — welcome it! Sir, I say again, let it come!

 

Extenuating the situation is futile, sir. “Peace! Peace!” gentlemen may exclaim, yet there is no peace. The conflict has officially started! The next gale from the north will bring the clash of thundering weapons to our ears! Our comrades are already in the battlefield! Why are we standing around doing nothing? What exactly do males desire? What do you think they’d have? Is life so valuable, or serenity so delicious, that it must be bought with shackles and slavery? Almighty God, forbid it! I’m not sure what path others may follow, but give me liberty or give me death!

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“40th Anniversary of D-Day,” Ronald Reagan, 26.

Pointe du Hoc, France, June 6, 1984

ronald reagan 40th anniversary of d-day speech 1984

What the Army Rangers performed at Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day should be known to every soldier worth his salt. Between Omaha and Utah beaches, there stood a 100-foot vertical bluff known as Pointe du Hoc. Six casemates waited above the bluff, ready to be manned, equipped, and dispatch the soldiers on the beaches. As the Germans opened fire, the Rangers used ropes and ladders to mount the cliff, locate the guns (which had been relocated from the casemates), and destroy them. Without reinforcements for two days, the Rangers maintained their ground and repelled German counterattacks on their own. Only 90 out of the initial 225 Ranger landing force survived these engagements.

President Ronald Reagan paid a poignant homage to these heroes on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, many of whom were there.

Excerpt of Interest:

These are the Pointe du Hoc lads. These are the guys that threw themselves from the cliffs. These are the heroes who aided in the liberation of a continent. These are the heroes who contributed to the conclusion of a conflict.

Gentlemen, When I look at you, I’m reminded of Stephen Spender’s poetry. You are guys who have “fought for life…and left a vibrant air marked with your honor” throughout their lives…

It’s been forty summers since the fight you fought here. You were young when you climbed these cliffs; some of you were barely older than boys, with life’s greatest delights ahead of you. Nonetheless, you put everything on the line here. Why? What was your motivation for doing it? What drove you to set your survival instincts aside and endanger your life by jumping over these cliffs? What drew the soldiers of the armies that gathered here? When we look at you, we feel like we already know the answer. It was a matter of faith and belief, as well as loyalty and love.

The troops of Normandy believed that what they were doing was right, that they were fighting for all mankind, and that a righteous God would show pity to them on this or the next beachhead. It was the deep understanding that there is a fundamental moral difference between the use of force for freedom and the use of force for conquest, which we prayed God we would never lose. You and the others didn’t question your cause since you were here to free, not to conquer. And you were correct in not having any doubts.

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

27. “The Decision to Go to the Moon,” by John F. Kennedy

Houston, Texas, May 25, 1961

john f kennedy moon announcement speech 1961

The Soviet Union launched the first man into space on April 12, 1961. This victory was cited by Khrushchev as proof of communism’s supremacy over decrepit capitalism. The United States felt embarrassed, and it thought it was lagging behind the Soviet Union and losing the “space race.” Kennedy concluded that it was time for America to boldly go where no man had gone before by placing a man on the moon after speaking with political and NASA authorities. The achievement would not only put the United States ahead of the Soviet Union, but it would also enable man to delve further into the secrets of space. And by the end of the 1960s, the mission would be completed. When was the last time a president had the guts to publicly announce a bold, ambitious objective and a timetable for achieving it?

Excerpt of Interest:

There is now no war, discrimination, or national conflict in outer space. Its dangers are dangerous to all of us. Its triumph is deserving of all humanity’s finest, and its chance for peaceful collaboration may never come again. But, others argue, why the moon? Why did we chose this as our objective? They may also wonder why they should climb the tallest peak. Why did you fly the Atlantic 35 years ago? Rice plays Texas for a reason.

We have decided to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon and do the other things in this decade not because they are easy, but because they are difficult, because that goal will help us organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one that we intend to win, as well as the others.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

28. Frederick Douglass, “What is the Fourth of July to the Slave?”

Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

frederick douglass portrait photo later years goatee

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, abolitionist, and underground railroad engineer, was a well-known anti-slavery speaker. Every year, he traveled thousands of miles and gave hundreds of presentations. However, the money he made from speaking was insufficient to put him and his family in a comfortable financial position. The consequences of the Fugitive Slave Act disillusioned Douglass, and his abolitionist views became more vociferous and brazen. If the inhabitants of Rochester, New York had anticipated Douglass to be pleased when they invited him to speak on July 4, they were quickly disabused of that notion. Douglass seizes the occasion to aggressively bring out the blatant irony of a country celebrating its principles of liberty and equality while remaining enslaved. Despite the fact that Douglass’ speech made even the most liberal audience members uncomfortable, the crowd erupted in “universal acclaim” after he ended.

Excerpt of Interest:

I am not included in this lovely anniversary’s pale! Your great level of independence just emphasizes the insurmountable chasm that exists between us. The benefits that you are celebrating today are not shared by everyone. You, not I, are the beneficiaries of your predecessors’ magnificent legacy of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence. The same sunshine that gave you life and healing has given me stripes and death. This Fourth of July belongs to you, not to me. You may be happy, but I must be sad. It was horrible farce and sacrilegious irony to take a man in fetters into the magnificent lit temple of liberty and ask him to join you in joyful songs. Do you intend to ridicule me by asking me to speak today, citizens?

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Find out which books influenced Frederick Douglass the most.

“Duty, Honor, Country,” by General Douglas MacArthur, 29.

West Point, New York, May 12, 1962

General Douglas MacArthur Duty, Honor, Country west point

General Douglas MacArthur, the Army’s chief of staff and a veteran of three wars, understood the meaning of “Duty, Honor, and Country.” In 1962, as he neared the end of his life, MacArthur returned to West Point to receive the Sylvanus Thayer Award and take part in his last cadet roll call. His speech honors and remembers the valiant and courageous soldiers who came before him, individuals he personally commanded and who represented “Duty, Honor, Country.”

There are many excellent speeches on this list, but I hope you will take the time to read this one in its full. It was tough to choose a sample since so many of the sections are uplifting. All males should read this book.

Excerpt of Interest:

You are the leaven that holds the whole fabric of our national defense system together. The great leaders who have the nation’s future in their hands the minute the war tocsin sounds emerge from your ranks. We’ve never had a problem with the Long Gray Line. A million ghosts in olive drab, brown khaki, blue and gray would rise from their white crosses, chanting those mystical words: Duty, Honor, Country, if you did so.

This does not imply that you advocate for war.

The soldier, on the other hand, prays for peace above all others since he must endure and carry the deepest wounds and scars of battle.

But the frightening words of Plato, the greatest of all philosophers, ring in our ears all the time: “Only the dead have seen the end of battle.”

For me, the shadows are becoming longer. The hour of twilight has arrived. Tone and tint have departed from my past. They’ve glimmering through the memories of things that once were. Their recollection is one of exquisite beauty, tinged with tears and encouraged and caressed by yesterday’s smiles. I listen vainly, but thirstily, for the witching melody of far bugles blowing reveille and distance drummers pounding the long roll. The boom of cannons, the clatter of musketry, and the weird, sorrowful mumble of the battlefield return to me in my nightmares.

But I constantly return to West Point in the evenings of my memories.

Duty, Honor, and Country are always echoed and re-echoed.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

“Citizenship in a Republic,” by Theodore Roosevelt, no. 30.

Paris, France, April 23, 1910

theodore roosvelt portrait full body next to giant globe

At the close of his second term in office, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on a tour of Africa and Europe in the hopes of allowing his successor, President William Howard Taft, to fill the large shoes TR had left behind and become his own man. He went around Europe after a safari in Africa. He was asked to talk at the famous University of Paris while in France. Roosevelt took advantage of the occasion to offer a compelling speech on the attributes of citizenship that would maintain democracies like France and the United States healthy and strong. The remark “man in the arena” is renowned from this lecture, but the full speech is worth reading.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

Let the man of study, the man of lettered leisure, beware of the odd and cheap desire to portray himself and others as a cynic, as someone who has outgrown feelings and convictions, as someone who sees good and evil as one. Sneering at life is the worst way to approach it. Many guys take pleasure in their cynicism; many limit themselves to criticizing the way others accomplish what they themselves would never do. There is no more sick creature, no man less deserving of respect, than one who either really believes, or pretends to believe, in contemptuous skepticism toward everything that is great and lofty, whether in success or in that heroic endeavor that, even if it fails, leads to second achievement. A cynical way of thinking and speaking, a willingness to criticize work that the critic himself has never attempted, and an intellectual aloofness that refuses to accept touch with life’s reality are all signs of weakness, not superiority, as the possessor would like to believe. They identify men who are unqualified to participate in the arduous struggle of life, who strive to conceal their own inadequacy from others and from themselves by harboring a disdain for others’ accomplishments. The role is simple; none is simpler than the role of the guy who sneers at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who matters; it is not the one who points out the weak man’s flaws or where the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who falls 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, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows the triumph of high achievement in the end, and who, at the worst

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

“Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” Winston Churchill, 31.

House of Commons, London, 13 May 1940

winston churchill blood sweat and tears 1940

Winston Churchill’s first address to the House of Commons as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom got off to a good start. His reception in that chamber was chilly, although departing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was greeted with rapturous applause (the world did not yet know just how disastrous his appeasement policies would prove and did not trust Churchill). However, Churchill’s first address, the first of three great oratories he delivered during the Battle of France, would demonstrate that England was in good hands. Hitler, who seemed to be unstoppable, was fast moving throughout Europe, and Churchill lost no time in rallying his people to arms. While TR was the first to say “blood, sweat, and tears,” it was Churchill’s usage of the term that would make an indelible and inspirational impact on the minds of the world.

 

Excerpt Worthy

I say to the House, as I have stated to the ministers who have joined this administration, that I have nothing to give except my blood, sweat, and tears. We are about to face the most harrowing struggle of our lives. We have many months of effort and pain ahead of us.

What is our policy, you inquire? It is, in my opinion, to fight war on land, sea, and air. War with all of our might and all of the might that God has bestowed upon us, and to wage war against a hideous tyranny that has never been equaled in the dark and heinous history of human evil. That is how we operate.

What is our goal, you may wonder? In a single word, I can respond. It is a triumph. Triumph at all costs – Victory in the face of every adversity – Victory, no matter how long or difficult the journey, for there is no survival without victory.

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

“Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32.

Washington, D.C., December 8, 1941

franklin delano roosevelt fdr pearl harbor speech 1941

The assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, rocked the United States to its core, enraged a country that had hoped to avoid the growing chaos in Asia and Europe. The nation became unified in its desire to join the war almost overnight. The day after the bombings, FDR delivered a short but powerful speech to the country, declaring war on Japan and assuring the public that the US would triumph.

Make careful to listen to the speech’s audio. Imagine every American family, jittery and concerned, listening to their president’s remarks on the radio. They were well aware that their whole world was going to alter forever. Listen to Congress’s applause and applause as FDR’s statements are applauded and cheered. The feeling is so strong and palpable that it carries you right back to that pivotal moment.

Excerpt of Interest:

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date that will live in infamy—a date that will live in infamy—a date that will live in infamy—a date that will live in infamy—a date that will live in infamy—a date that will live in in

But the nature of the attack against us will live on in the minds of our whole country. No matter how long it takes to defeat this deliberate invasion, the American people, with their rightful force, will triumph in the end.

I think I am expressing the will of the Congress and the people when I say that we will not only defend ourselves to the utmost extent possible, but also make certain that this kind of betrayal will never befall us again.

There are squabbles. There is no denying that our people, our land, and our interests are under severe jeopardy.

With faith in our military forces and unwavering commitment on the part of our people, we shall achieve the unavoidable victory—so help us God.

The whole text may be found here.

Pay attention to the discourse.

33. “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Jesus Christ

Jerusalem, 33 A.D.

jesus christ sermon on the mount painting

Whether or whether one believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God or merely a wise teacher, the influence of possibly the world’s most renowned discourse, The Sermon on the Mount, cannot be denied. There has never been a speech that has been more discussed, impactful, or quoted. It popularized a prayer that is now said in trenches, churches, and bedsides all across the world. It established a rule of behavior that billions of Christians have chosen as a noble, though not always achievable, objective. While most of the lecture is based on Jewish law, the guidance offered in the Beatitudes was a drastic and fundamental break from the old world’s eye for an eye system of justice. In the two thousand years after it was delivered, the sermon’s norms of conduct have given believers and non-believers alike something to think about and debate.

 

Excerpt of Interest:

The poor in spirit are blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who weep, because they will be consoled.

The humble are blessed, since they will inherit the planet.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

The compassionate will be blessed, since mercy will come to them.

Blessed are those who have a pure heart, because they will see God.

Peacemakers are blessed, for they will be considered God’s offspring.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the cause of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

The whole passage may be found in Matthew Chapters 5-7.

“I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King Jr., 34.

Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963

martin luther king jr i have a dream speech 1963

The “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is without a doubt one of the best, if not the greatest, feats of oratory in American history. King’s charm, rhetorical talents, and enthusiasm put him in a class by himself. Black youngsters were being hosed down in the streets, spit at, bused to separate schools, turned away from restaurants, and refused treatment as complete human beings a century after slavery ended and African-Americans were promised full equality. Despite this heinous track record, Dr. King delivered a powerful message of hope, a dream that things would not always be as they were, and that a new day was on the way.

Many people have heard clips from the speech, but a surprising amount of folks my age have never sat down and watched the whole thing. That is exactly what I challenge you to accomplish. It’s still as enthralling and touching as it was in 1963.

Excerpt of Interest:

I have a fantasy that one day, in Alabama, with its violent racists and a governor dripping with interposition and nullification, small black boys and girls will be allowed to clasp hands as sisters and brothers with tiny white boys and girls.

Today I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day every valley will be elevated, every hill and mountain will be brought low, the rough spots will be made plain, and the crooked places will be straightened, and the Lord’s glory will be exposed to all humanity.

This is our fervent wish. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this trust, we shall be able to carve a stone of hope from the mountain of despair. We shall be able to change our nation’s jangling discords into a lovely symphony of brotherhood if we have this confidence. We shall be able to labor together, pray together, struggle together, go to prison together, and fight for freedom together with this faith, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, when all of God’s children will be able to sing with fresh significance. “My nation is thee, dear land of liberty, and I sing for thee. Let freedom resound from every mountaintop in the country where my father died, the home of the Pilgrims’ pride!”

 

The complete text of the speech may be found here.

Here is a link to the speech.

“The Gettysburg Address,” by Abraham Lincoln, 35.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

abraham lincoln portrait photo 1860s

There are 272 words in all. This video is 3 minutes long. Nonetheless, the Gettysburg Address is unquestionably one of the finest speeches in American history. Dr. J Rufus Fears (one of America’s greatest orators) contends that the Gettysburg Address, together with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, are the three fundamental texts of American liberty. And I have to agree with you.

The Battle of Gettysburg claimed the lives of 8,000 troops. Because there were too many dead to properly bury, many were first buried in shallow graves. Heads and limbs protruded from the ground weeks after the conflict, and the stench of decaying flesh was horrible.

To sweeten the air of Gettysburg and solemnize this site of death, money was donated for a suitable reburial, and it was determined that the new cemetery should be consecrated. A renowned orator, in this instance Edward Everett, was requested to deliver a sad and majestic address as a monument to the slain comrades, as was customary. Two months later, Lincoln was asked, almost as an afterthought. He was supposed to add a few words to Everett’s speech, similar to how the guy with the ceremonial scissors cuts the ribbon. Legend has it that Lincoln’s statements were scrawled on the back of an envelope on the train grinding its way to the soon-to-be hallowed sites of Gettysburg as a result of pure inspiration.

Everett captivated the audience for two hours on the day of the dedication. Even before the photographer had completed setting up for a portrait, Lincoln stood up, delivered his speech, and sat down. Before anybody cheered, there was a lengthy wait, and then the clapping was sparse and courteous.

The magnitude of Lincoln’s speech was not immediately recognized. However, some did. “I should be happy if I could believe myself that I got as close to the basic concept of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes,” Everett said in a letter to Lincoln, praising the President’s eloquent and short address.

And, of course, we’ve grown to appreciate the brilliance and beauty of the words said that day over time. Dr. Fears contends that Lincoln’s eulogy did more than just commemorate the dead troops at Gettysburg; it transformed the Civil War’s fundamental meaning. The address made no mention of the combat, of soldier names, of Gettysburg itself, of the South or the Union, of states rights or secession. Rather, Lincoln intended the speech to be something far bigger, a discussion of the experiment to see whether government could keep the promise of equality. The Constitution underwent a makeover at Gettysburg. Slavery has stained the very first birth. The soldiers who lay in the Gettysburg cemeteries, both North and South, had made an atonement for this tremendous sin. And the Constitution would be recreated, this time fulfilling its promises of equality and freedom for everyone.

 

The Address

Our forefathers founded a new country on this continent four hundred and seven years ago, formed in liberty and devoted to the belief that all men are created equal.

Now we are in the midst of a major civil war, which will determine whether that country, or any other nation thus conceived and devoted, can survive for a long time. We’ve met on a massive battleground from the conflict. We’ve decided to devote a section of the field as a last resting place for those who lost their life here so that this country may survive. It is quite appropriate and right that we do so.

But, in a broader sense, we are unable to dedicate, consecrate, or hallow this place. The valiant soldiers who fought here, both alive and dead, have sanctified it far beyond our meager ability to add or subtract. What we say here will be forgotten quickly, but what they accomplished here will be remembered forever. It is for us, the living, to commit ourselves here to the unfinished job that those who fought here have so valiantly progressed so far. It is more important for us to be here dedicated to the great task still ahead of us – that we take increased devotion to the cause for which these honored dead gave their 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.

 

The “famous speeches by women” is a list of the 35 greatest speeches in history. The list includes speeches from people such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Winston Churchill.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered the greatest speech in history?

A: The Gettysburg Address is an American speech given by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863.

Who gave the greatest speech in history?

A: Winston Churchill

What is the best speech ever written?

A: I am the most high-strung person Ive ever met. The slightest thing sets me off. by Charles Bukowski

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