Throughout the course of world history, great speeches have influenced and changed the trajectory of our past. From Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount to the inaugural speeches of modern leaders, their words have become an inspiration to millions of people, especially in their darkest hours. Let us take a look at 25 speeches that changed the world.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
In the middle of the largest war in history, for his first speech to the House of Commons as Britain’s Prime Minister on May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill proved that England was in more capable hands. He wasted no time in calling the people to arms as he echoed Theodore Roosevelt’s famous phrase of “blood, sweat, and tears.
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
Frederick Douglass was a former slave and an “engineer” for the underground railroad who became an abolitionist. He was disillusioned by the effects of the Fugitive Slave Act, so when he was asked to speak on the Fourth of July celebration in 1852 in Rochester, New York, he took the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the nation in celebrating the ideals of freedom when it is mired by slavery.
The Decision to Go to the Moon
When the Soviet Union launched the first man into space, its government flaunted this as an evidence that communism is far superior over corrupt capitalism. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy boldly declared its decision in Houston, TX to put the first man on the moon, which was accomplished by the end of 1960.
40th Anniversary of D-Day
A moving tribute to the Army rangers who perished in Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, this famous speech was delivered by President Ronald Reagan on June 6, 1984 to honor the original 225 rangers, only 90 of which survived and of whom almost all were in attendance. These soldiers fended off German attackers for two days without reinforcements.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
A true master of written words, it was seldom that William Faulkner publicly displayed his talent for spoken word until he gave this famous speech on December 10, 1950 in Stockholm, Sweden for his contribution to American literature. As both the United States and the Soviet Union raced to develop more advanced nuclear weapons he gave a very scared nation hope with his inspirational speech.
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The resignation speech delivered by George Washington on December 23, 1784 in Annapolis, Maryland at the end of the Revolutionary War supposedly brought tears to the eyes of the members of the Congress and to all the spectators present. As Major General and Commander in Chief, he had the possibility of retaining power but instead chose to do the right thing by tendering his resignation. It was so emotional and Washington trembled so much that he had to hold on to the parchment with both of his hands to keep it steady while delivering the speech.
The Man with the Muck-rake
Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man With the Muckrake”; address summed up the social and economic situation of the country on the historic day in 1906, when it was delivered. One of Roosevelt’s most important speeches, it is of inestimable value as a guide to the man and his era.
Address to the Nation on the Challenger
On January 28, 1986, millions of Americans were glued to their television sets as they watched seven Americans including the first-ever civilian astronaut, the 37-year-old school teacher Christa McAuliffe, lift off aboard the space shuttle Challenger. After just 73 seconds, the shuttle was consumed in a fireball sending everyone watching it into shock in what became known as the first death of astronauts in flight. A few hours after the disaster, President Ronald Reagan delivered a comforting speech from Washington, DC honoring the pioneers and providing comfort to the distressed citizens.
The Third Phillippic
Known as one of the greatest orators of all time, Demosthenes loved his city-state of Athens. However, while Philip II of Macedon became more daring in his incursions in the Greek peninsula, the Athenians were stuck in an apathetic stupor. He then employed his influential oratorical skills to awaken his fellow Athenians. Sick of his brethren’s apathy, he rallied them in 342 BC just as Philip was advancing on Thrace and boldly called them to action. After hearing his inspiring speech, they all cried out “To arms! To arms!”
We Shall Fight on the Beaches
Given at the House of Commons, London on June 4, 1940, this famous speech was given by one of the greatest orators of the 20th century despite being born with a speech impediment just like Demosthenes and the other greats before him. With his strong, reassuring voice, Winston Churchill boldly stated the following:
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
Duties of American Citizenship
A speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in Buffalo, New York on January 26, 1883, it probed into the theoretical reasons why every citizen must be involved in politics and the practicality of serving in that capacity. People must not excuse themselves from politics just because they are too busy and then blame the government for its ineptitude.
Farewell to Baseball Address
The famous speech delivered by Lou Gehrig at the Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 would go on forever as a tribute to his luminous career. Stricken with the crippling disease that now bears his name at a young age of 36, he spoke of things that he was grateful for rather than his declining health at a tribute given him where he was presented with plaques, gifts and trophies for his dedication to his record 2,130 consecutive games.
Chief Joseph’s surrender speech
Image SourceThis famous speech was given during a dark moment in American history when the military declared that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe had to move onto a reservation in Idaho or face retribution. Though Chief Joseph tried to avoid violence, some of his tribesmen dissented and killed four white men. To avoid the backlash of the military, they all set out for Canada to find amnesty. They were just a mere 40 miles from the border, however, when they were defeated after a five-day battle. As they were in dire conditions, they had no choice but to surrender and Chief Joseph’s surrender speech on October 5, 1877 has been marked as one of the greatest moments of that period.
Incoming presidents around the world give their inaugural addresses, but there has never been anything more gripping than the one delivered by a very young, ambitious John F. Kennedy. As the 35th president of the United States, he embodied the fresh optimism of a nation that had just risen out of decades of war. As the citizens listened to his inaugural speech, they felt that the nation was headed towards a new frontier.
Speech of Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was known for his great conquests but only a few knew of his oratory prowess. His talent for oration was developed while he was studying under Aristotle and he made used of it at the latter end of his conquests to motivate his men. After lording it over the Persian Empire for 10 years, Alexander decided to continue his conquest into India where they faced defeat against King Porus and his army. His men were weary from ten years of battle and they longed to go home. He then delivered a speech in 326 BC to inspire his men to continue on to fight and win which was just the motivation they needed.
William Wilberforce was a member of the British Parliament who converted to Christianity and later became an abolitionist. As a Christian, he sought to reform the evils within himself and the world and since one of the glaring moral issues of his day was slavery, he read up on the subject and met some anti-slavery activists. On May 12, 1789, he delivered his Abolition Speech before the House of Commons where he passionately made his case as to why the slave trade must be abolished. He also introduced a bill to abolish the trade and though it failed, it did not stop him from attempting to pass the bill year after year until finally, the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807.
Duty, Honor, Country
General Douglas MacArthur was the now famous commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. His chivalry, his experience in the battlefield, and his selfless sacrifice were all done for the sake of “Duty, Country, Honor”. This famous inspirational speech was given in 1962 while accepting the Sylvanus Thayer Award for outstanding service to the nation. His address was intended for the soldiers who would tread the same course he did, reminding them of their purpose in becoming soldiers.
Image SourceMahatma Gandhi has become popular for pioneering non-violent civil disobedience tactics in gaining independence. As wars raged all over the world, India was fighting for its liberty as well from the rule of the British crown, which ruled the country for over a century. Quit India was delivered by Gandhi on August 8, 1942 as he espoused a completely non-violent movement to oust the British with the help of the National Indian Congress. This led to the passing of the Quit India Resolution, which gave the country independence from British rule.
Their Finest Hour
Delivered by Winston Churchill on June 18, 1940 in the House of Commons, it was his third and final speech during the Battle of France. The Germans invaded France on May 10, 1940, but France’s darkest hours came when Paris fell on the 14th of June, which led to its surrender. This left England as a lone bastion of democracy in Europe against Germany’s fascism. Churchill’s speech was very critical in boosting the morale of England’s citizens and soldiers to make that dark hour their shining moment.
Pericles, which was dubbed by Thuciydies as “the first citizen of Athens,” delivered this oratory piece in Athens in 431 BC. A statesman, general and an orator, he was a product of Sophistas, tutored personally by the great philosopher Anaxagoras. He was a highly persuasive orator who influenced Athenians to build hundreds of temples, including the famous Pantheon. His speeches also inspired Athenians to become the most powerful in Greece. However, his skills in rhetoric were put to the test on February 431 BC during the annual public funeral for those who were slain in the war. He stood to the occasion to laud the glory of Athens and in inspiring the Athenians that their fallen heroes have not died in vain, like what Abraham Lincoln did during the Gettysburg Address, two thousand years later.
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
One of the most famous speeches in recent history, this was delivered by Patrick Henry in Richmond, Virginia on March 23, 1775. Henry had always been in the center of the brewing revolutionary sentiments in Virginia, but was particularly embroiled in the Stamp Act of 1764. He delivered his alleged “treason speech” for the Virginians to ban the act. As the tensions between the colonies and the Crown escalated with Massachusetts patriots preparing for war, he also persuaded his fellow Virginians to strengthen their defenses with this famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Citizenship in a Republic
Theodore Roosevelt was at the end of his term and to give his successor, President Taft, time to adjust to the position, he traveled to Africa and Europe. In Paris, France, he was invited to speak at the University of Paris where he delivered this famous speech on April 23, 1910. This powerful address delved on the requirements of citizenship and how democratic countries like the United States and France can stay tough and forceful amidst the fascist ideals of other nations. It was made famous by the “man in the arena” quote.
I Have a Dream
A speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 in Washington DC, it is also considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. A century after the Gettysburg Address and the emancipation proclamation, the promise of full equality was not yet fulfilled. Black Americans still experienced racial discrimination, but amidst all these, the voice of Dr. King sent out a message of hope.
The Gettysburg Address
Delivered on November 19, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by former US President Abraham Lincoln, this was considered one of the greatest speeches in the history of American rhetoric. One of the three founding documents of American freedom along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, it was made up of 272 words and was 3 minutes long. After the Battle of Gettysburg where 8,000 soldiers died and were buried in shallow graves, the community decided to build a cemetery for them. In the inauguration of the cemetery, Lincoln was asked to deliver a short speech as a causal afterthought and he penned this on the back of an envelope on the train, but the product of pure inspiration has resounded even into the future generation.
Sermon on the Mount
Given by Jesus Christ in 33 AD, believers and non-believers alike often consider the Sermon on the Mount to be one of the most famous inspirational speeches ever given. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more quoted, discussed, or revered piece of oration in all of history.