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10 Modern Presidential Speeches Every American Should Know

By: Allison McNearney

Updated: October 18, 2023 | Original: February 16, 2018

The presidential podium.

Presidential speeches reveal the United States’ challenges, hopes, dreams and temperature of the nation, as much as they do the wisdom and perspective of the leader speaking them. Even in the age of Twitter, the formal, spoken word from the White House carries great weight and can move, anger or inspire at home and around the world.

Here are the 10 most important modern presidential speeches selected by scholars at the Miller Center —a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in presidential scholarship—and professors from other universities, as well.

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address

Franklin Delano Roosevelt making his inaugural address as 32nd President of the United States, 1933. (Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

When: 1933, during the Great Depression

What Roosevelt Said: “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war.”

Why It Was Important: Roosevelt is embarking on something audacious, proposing that the national government has an obligation to provide an economic safety net for its citizens to protect them from the unpredictability of the market. In making a case for bold intervention in markets, he’s also making a case for a stronger executive at the top. But for all the disruptive talk in this speech, Roosevelt delivers reassurance. I think a hallmark of the speeches that we remember the most by presidents from both parties are ones that not only address the circumstances at hand, but also give people some hope.

— Margaret O’Mara, professor of history, University of Washington

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat 'On Banking'

Franklin Roosevelt preparing for his first "fireside chat" in which he explained the measures he was taking to reform the nation's banking system. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: March 1933

What Roosevelt Said: “My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking…confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends. Your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”

Why It Was Important: Beginning with the simple phrase, “My friends,” the stage was set for the personalization of the presidency that continued throughout FDR’s administration. Roosevelt received an outpouring of support from the public and used the power of media to connect with his constituents. Recognizing publicity as essential to policymaking, he crafted a very intricate public relations plan for all of his New Deal legislation. The media allowed him to present a very carefully crafted message that was unfiltered and unchallenged by the press. Many newspapers were critical of his New Deal programs, so turning to radio and motion pictures allowed him to present his version of a particular policy directly to the people. Today, we see parallels in the use of Twitter to bypass opponents and critics of the administration to appeal directly to the American people. And that all started with FDR and his first fireside chat.

— Kathryn Cramer Brownell, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University

3. Dwight Eisenhower’s 'Atoms for Peace' Speech to the United Nations

President Eisenhower addressing the United Nations concerning the Atom Bomb Plan, 1953. (Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

What Eisenhower Said: “I feel impelled to speak today in a language that, in a sense, is new. One which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use: That new language is the language of atomic warfare…Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace. To the makers of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma. To devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

Why It Was Important: Eisenhower believed in the political power of nuclear weapons, but in this speech, he talks about their dangers. He speaks about the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and proposes that the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperate to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. Keep in mind that there were just 1,300 nuclear weapons in the world in 1953 compared with more than seven times that number today. But Eisenhower is also a realist. He understands the importance of nuclear deterrence and he reminds his audience that his proposal comes from a position of American strength, not weakness.

— Todd Sechser, Professor of Politics, University of Virginia and Senior Fellow, Miller Center

4. Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

President Dwight D. Eisenhower presenting his farewell address to the nation. (Credit: Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

What Eisenhower Said: “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportion…In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process.”

Why It Was Important: That speech gave a name to our modern era. Eisenhower was telling us that we now live in a time when government, the military and the corporate world all have joined together into a powerful alliance that shapes the basic democratic functioning of the country. Eisenhower understood that Americans wanted both security and liberty, and it’s a fundamental paradox of the American experiment. In order to have security, we need to have a large defense establishment. But he asks, who is going to be the guardian of our freedoms in a world where we have to have a permanent arms industry? What he was saying in the speech is that we have to learn how to live with it, and control it, rather than having it control us.

— Will Hitchcock, Randolph P. Compton Professor at the Miller Center and professor of history, University of Virginia

5. Lyndon B. Johnson’s 'Great Society' Speech at the University of Michigan

President Lyndon B. Johnson before his commencement address delivered to graduates of the University of Michigan. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: May 22, 1964

What Johnson Said: “For a century, we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century, we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people. The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization. Your imagination and your initiative and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For, in your time, we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. “

Why It Was Important: LBJ called on all Americans to move upward to a Great Society in which wealth is used for more than personal enrichment and is instead used to improve communities, protect the natural world, and allow all Americans, regardless of race or class, to fully develop their innate talents and abilities. The message of Johnson’s speech resonates today because we have lost not only that self-confidence and that idealism but also the vision to recognize that prosperity can be used for something greater than the self.

— Guian McKee, Associate Professor of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center

6. John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Space Effort

President Kennedy gives his 'Race for Space' speech at Houston's Rice University, 1962. (Credit: Corbis/Getty Images)

When: September 1962

What Kennedy Said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the Industrial Revolution, the first waves of modern invention and the first wave of nuclear power. And this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space, we mean to be a part of it, we mean to lead it.”

Why It Was Important: We were in a new age of technology and space exploration. President Kennedy made Americans feel that there was nothing that we couldn’t do, no challenge we couldn’t conquer. It was before Vietnam, before Watergate, before the deaths of our heroes like Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King —when we had a sense in this country that if we all joined together we could fulfill our loftiest goals.

— Barbara Perry, Director of Presidential Studies, the Miller Center

7. Ronald Reagan’s Speech Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day

One of two speeches U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the 1944 D-Day Invasion. (Credit: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

When: June 6, 1984

What Reagan Said: “The rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades, and the American rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs they began to seize back the continent of Europe… (to veterans) You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and Democracy is worth dying for because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.

Why It’s Important: That day in June of 1984, before  Band of Brothers  and  Saving Private Ryan  ever came to be, President Reagan paid tribute to the heroism of those we now call the Greatest Generation, the men and women who liberated Europe and ensured freedom for generations to come.  But for the first time, he also tied resistance to totalitarianism in World War II to opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War . President Reagan’s words at the end of that speech, again in the second person, to our Allies that “we were with you then, and we are with you now,” when he called upon the West to “renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it” kept the coalition in place that later defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War. The “boys of Pointe du Hoc” saved the world, and, in many ways, they did so more than once.

— Mary Kate Cary, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

8. Ronald Reagan’s Address on the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office addressing the nation on the space shuttle Challenger disaster. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

When: January 1986

What Reagan Said: “The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted but to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them…The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”

Why It Was Important: In our current era of political divisiveness, we tend to think of presidents as partisan leaders. But the president’s role as “comforter in chief” is one of the most important functions. The great presidents are distinguished by their ability to set aside partisanship in times of tragedy to speak words that comfort a nation and remind us that, despite our differences, we are all, in the end, Americans.

— Chris Lu, Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

9. George W. Bush’s 'Get On Board' Speech

US President George W. Bush waving to thousands of airline employees before his speech to announce expanded US aviation security procedures which include more Air Marshals, aircraft cockpit modifications and new standards for ground security operations at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. (Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

When: After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

What Bush Said: “When they struck they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear, and one of the great goals of this war is…to tell the traveling public: Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

Why It Was Important: In short, Bush was saying don’t let the terrorists deter you from spending—the economy needs you. More specifically, Bush’s remarks demonstrated the importance that consumption had come to play in the economy by the twenty-first century. He was carrying out what had become an essential responsibility of the 21st-century president. Even as Bush modeled what it meant to be a strong commander in chief, he juggled another role that had become almost as important: “consumer in chief.”

— Brian Balogh, Dorothy Compton Professor of History, the Miller Center

10. Barack Obama’s 'A More Perfect Union' Speech

Former President Barack Obama speaking during a major address on race and politics at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

What Obama Said: “Contrary to the claim of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve to think as to believe we can get beyond our racial divisions on a single election cycle or with a single candidate, particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction, a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people, that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice. We have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union…What we know, what we have seen, is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope, the audacity to hope, for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

Why It Was Important: Conventional wisdom wouldn’t recommend a speech on race. But Obama ran to the challenge, not away from it. Uniquely positioned to do so, he welcomed listeners to places many have never experienced—a predominantly black church, a cringe-worthy conversation with a beloved relative of a different race, the kitchen tables of white Americans who feel resentful and left behind—and he recounted Americans often divergent perspectives. He asked us to be honest about our past while connecting it to the structural barriers faced by African Americans and other people of color today…Direct, honest, but nuanced, Obama believed that most Americans were ready to hear the truth and make a choice, to move beyond racial stalemate, face our challenges, and act accordingly.

 — Melody Barnes, a Senior Fellow, the Miller Center

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The 15 most inspiring presidential speeches in american history.

  • By Tara Kibler
  • February 15, 2021
  • History , Political Science

Over the centuries, millions upon millions of words have been used by U.S. presidents to motivate, caution, reassure, and guide the American people. Whether written in the news, spoken at a podium, or shared on Twitter, all of these words have carried weight, each with the potential to impact the trajectory of our nation. Only a handful of times, however, has the particular arrangement and context of these words been considered truly inspiring.

This Presidents’ Day, join HeinOnline in rediscovering some of the greatest presidential speeches in American history using our   U.S. Presidential Library  and other sources.

1. Washington’s Farewell Address

Date:  September 17th, 1796

Context:  Toward the end of his second term as the first U.S. president, George Washington announced his retirement from office in a letter addressed to the American people. Though many feared for a United States without Washington, the address reassured the young nation that it no longer required his leadership. Washington also used the opportunity to offer advice for the prosperity of the country. After witnessing the growing division between the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties, much of his advice was to warn against political parties, factions, and other animosities (domestic and foreign) that would eventually undermine the integrity and efficacy of the American government.

Notable Quote:  “This spirit [of party], unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind … [but] the disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions … A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

2. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Date:  November 19, 1863

Context:  Four months after Union armies defeated Confederates at Gettysburg during the American Civil War, President Lincoln visited the site to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. In what were intended to be brief, appropriate remarks for the situation, Lincoln used the moment to offer his take on the war and its meaning. The ten sentences he spoke would ultimately become one of the most famous speeches in American history, an inspiration for notable remarks centuries later, and even a foundation for the wording of other countries’ constitutions.

Notable Quote:  “… from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they heregave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain; that the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address

Date:  March 4, 1933

Context:  The inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was held as the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and as such, America anxiously awaited what he had to say. Roosevelt did not disappoint, offering 20 minutes of reassurance, hope, and promises for urgent action.

Notable Quote:  “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat

Date:  March 12, 1933

Context:  Just a few days after his inauguration, Roosevelt instituted what he called “fireside chats,” using the relatively new technology of radio to enter the living rooms of Americans and discuss current issues. In these moments, he could speak at length, unfiltered and uninterrupted by the press, while also offering a reassuring, optimistic tone that might otherwise have been lost in the written word. In this first fireside chat, he crafted a message to explain the American banking process (and its current difficulties) in a way that the average listener could understand.

Notable Quote:  “Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends. Your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”

5. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” Speech

Date:  January 6, 1941

Context:  By 1941, many affected by the Great Depression had experienced economic recovery, but another world-changing phenomenon had reared its head—Hitler and his Nazi regime. World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific, but the United States had thus far remained largely neutral. In light of the atrocities occurring overseas, Roosevelt sought to change that. He crafted his State of the Union address that January to highlight four freedoms which are deserved by all humans everywhere. The “Four Freedoms” speech, as it was ultimately known, later became the basis for  America’s intervention in World War II  and significantly influenced American values, life, and politics moving forward.

Notable Quote:  “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peace of time life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction, armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”

6. Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” Speech

Date:  December 8, 1953

Context:  During World War II, Roosevelt formally authorized the Manhattan Project, a top-secret U.S. effort to weaponize nuclear energy. By 1945,  America had successfully created the atomic bomb , and President Truman had authorized its detonation in Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leveling the two cities and killing hundreds of thousands of people. Following the end of World War II, political and economic differences between the United States and Soviet Union drove the two countries to another war soon after, but this time, the Soviet Union had their own atomic bomb as well. The world was teetering on a frightening ledge built by access to nuclear power, causing President Eisenhower to launch an “emotion management” campaign with this speech to the United Nations about the very real risks but also peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Notable Quote:  “… the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build. It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreements, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom and in the confidence that the peoples of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life. … The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind.”

7. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

Date:  January 17, 1961

Context:  As he came to the end of his term, President Eisenhower found himself in a nation much stronger, much richer, and much more advanced than when he began. Prepared as early as two years in advance, his farewell address acknowledged the pride all should have in these achievements, but also served to ground the American people in sobering reality—that how the United States uses this power and standing will ultimately determine its fate. Like Washington, his address was one of caution against dangers such as massive spending, an overpowered military industry, and Federal domination of scientific progress (or vice versa, the scientific-technological domination of public policy). In all things, he stressed the need to maintain balance as the country moves forward, for the preservation of liberty.

Notable Quote:  “Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.”

8. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

Date:  January 20, 1961

Context:  A few days after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, he turned over his office to the youngest-ever elected president, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy now found himself faced with the monumental task of strengthening the United States while also quelling American anxieties about the Cold War and avoiding nuclear warfare. His speech thus focused on unity, togetherness, and collaboration both domestically and abroad.

Notable Quote:  “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

9. Kennedy’s “We Choose to Go to the Moon” Speech

Date:  September 12, 1962

Context:  In the name of national security, the United States and USSR set their sights on spaceflight as a top priority during the Cold War. To the surprise (and fear) of people around the globe, the Soviet Union launched the first-ever artificial satellite in 1957, then sent the first human being into space in 1961, signaling to onlookers that its nation was a technological force to be reckoned with. Kennedy was determined to come up with a challenge in space technology that the United States actually stood a chance to win. In the early ’60s, he proposed that America focus on putting a man on the moon. In an uplifting speech at Rice University, Kennedy reminded his listeners of the country’s technological progress so far and of his administration’s determination to continue the pioneering spirit of early America into the new frontier of space.

Notable Quote:  “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Read about America’s successful moon landing in this blog post.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” Speech

Date:  May 22, 1964

Context:  Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President in 1963, immediately following  Kennedy’s assassination . Johnson vowed to continue the former president’s work on poverty, civil rights, and other issues. Inspired in part by FDR’s New Deal, he devised a set of programs intended to completely eliminate poverty and racial injustice. In 1964, he formally proposed some specific goals in a speech to the University of Michigan, where he coined the lofty ideal of a “Great Society.”

Notable Quote:  “Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

11. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” Speech

Date:  March 15, 1965

Context:  By the 1960s, blacks in areas of the Deep South found themselves disenfranchised by state voting laws, such as those requiring a poll tax, literacy tests, or knowledge of the U.S. constitution. Furthermore, these laws were sometimes applied subjectively, leading to the prevention of even educated blacks from voting or registering to vote. Inspired (and sometimes joined) by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., protests were planned throughout the region. Eight days after racial violence erupted around one of these protests in Selma, Alabama, President Johnson addressed Congress to declare that “every American citizen must have an equal right to vote” and that discriminatory policies were denying African-Americans that right.

Notable Quote:  “What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome …

“This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all, all black and white, all North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They’re our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too—poverty, disease, and ignorance: we shall overcome.”

12. Reagan’s D-Day Anniversary Address

Date:  June 6, 1984

Context:  During World War II, the Allied forces attacked German troops on the coast of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. A turning point for the war, the day came to be known as D-Day, and its anniversary is forever acknowledged. On its 40th anniversary, President Ronald Reagan honored the heroes of that day in a speech that also invoked a comparison of World War II’s Axis dictators to the Soviet Union during the ongoing Cold War. This reminder to the Allies that they once fought together against totalitarianism and must continue the fight now helped contribute to the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Notable Quote:  “We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action. We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it. We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.”

13. Reagan’s Berlin Wall Speech

Date:  June 12, 1987

Context:  With the fall of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, Western powers and the Soviet Union sought to establish systems of government in their respective occupied regions. West Germany developed into a Western capitalist country, with a democratic parliamentary government, while East Germany became a socialist workers’ state (though it was often referred to as communist in the English-speaking world). Many experiencing hunger, poverty, and repression in the Soviet-influenced East Germany attempted to move west, with the City of Berlin their main point of crossing. Ultimately, the Soviet Union advised East Germany to build a wall on the inner German border, restricting movement and emigration by threat of execution for attempted emigrants. Seen as a symbol of Communist tyranny by Western nations, the Berlin Wall persisted for nearly three decades. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin and called upon Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall as a symbol of moving forward.

Notable Quote:  “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

14. George W. Bush’s Post-9/11 Speech

Date:  September 11, 2001

Context:  On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced  the single worst terrorist attack in human history , where four American planes were hijacked and flown into American buildings, killing nearly 3,000 people. Viewers around the world watched the news as five stories of the Pentagon fell and the World Trade Center buildings collapsed entirely. Later that evening, President George W. Bush addressed the nation with a brief but powerful message that chose to focus not on fear, but on America’s strength in unity.

Notable Quote:

“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”

15. Obama’s “More Perfect Union” Speech

Date:  March 18, 2008

Context:  While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama came under fire for his relationship with pastor Jeremiah Wright, who had been heard to denounce the United States and accuse the government of racial crimes. To officially address the relationship and condemn Wright’s inflammatory remarks, Obama crafted a speech that discussed the history of racial inequality in America as well as the dissonance between that history and America’s ideals of human liberty. Importantly, however, he also highlighted the necessity for a unified American people to effectively combat those issues, rather than more racial division.

Notable Quote:  “[T]he remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America ….

“[These] comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems—two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all ….

“The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through—a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

Read about Barack Obama’s presidency in this blog post.

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12 Greatest Political Speeches in American History

best political speech

Pegging 12 of the most important speeches and moments in American politics is no easy feat. From Washington to Lincoln, from Kennedy to Reagan, these are the names, faces and moments that have changed the course of our nation. For good measure, we've included a few lesser-known — but equally significant — ones too.

1. Washington's Farewell Address

best political speech

The parting words of our first president have stood the test of time in just about every way. Washington forswore another term in office, setting the two-term precedent, and mused on policy fronts from factions and partisanship to foreign entanglements.

His words encompassed the early Federalist Party's credo and were cited in political discourse for years to come. By 1899, it was annually read on Washington's Birthday in both the House and Senate. Though the House had ceased doing so by 1984, the Senate continues the tradition to this day.

2. Andrew Jackson on Nullification

best political speech

Despite not originating in a speech, one of Andrew Jackson's comments on nullification stands out as one of the defining moments of the seventh president's legacy. At the annual Democratic Jefferson Day dinner on April 13, 1830, Jackson, countering Vice-President John C. Calhou's pronullification rationale that states could nullify whatever feder laws they saw fit, rosefrom his seat and in a thundering voice pronounced : "Our federal union — it must be preserved!"

Two years later, Jackson offered his Proclamation Regarding Nullfication . For many years to follow, the question remained a defining one leading up to the Civil War.

3. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

best political speech

There's little left to be said, but Abraham Lincoln's ten sentence missive at Gettysburg is remembered by many as the greatest speech in American political history. Though it was met with a decidedly mixed, even downright mocking, reception at the time, it's far and away outlived Edward Everett's two-hour oratory from the same day. It also recently spawned a very cool project in honor of its 150 year anniverary.

4. William Jennings Bryan's 'Cross of Gold' speech

best political speech

Three times he was the Democratic nominee for president, and three times he came up short. William Jennings Bryan's electoral legacy makes him the Buffalo Bills of American politics, but his influence stands the test of time. He was one of the first national candidates to actually be a national candidate, hitting the speaking circuit at a time when front porch campaigns were considered the more dignified move.

His 1896 address to the Democratic National Convention is what threw him into the national spotlight. Bryan thundered in support of the populist cause of the day, free silver, closing with a cry that "you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold" and holding his arms henceforth. It's remembered to this day as the speech that made him the de facto leader of the Democrats and coalesced populists within their ranks.

5. Calvin Coolidge's 1925 Inaugural Address

best political speech

It's easy to generalize Coolidge as the quiet man's president, after all, his nickname was "Silent Cal." But Coolidge remains one of the most consequential presidents in history when it comes to the conservative mindset, and his reputation at the time didn't quite fit the convention wisdom. He held 520 press conferences while in office, a number unmatched both before and since.

His 1925 inaugural address remains remarkably significant in American history because it was the first to be broadcast on radio, enabling more citizens than ever before to actually hear the words of their president.

6. Franklin Roosevelt's 1933 Inaugural Address

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he quipped, offering reassurances to a nation facing the bleakness of the Great Depression.

7. John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address

Much like FDR, JFK's inaugural address stands the test of time as one of the most iconic moments in American political history.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" remains a line cited on both sides of the political aisle, ushering in the era of Camelot and the remarkably consequential 1960s.

8. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' Speech

The only speech on this list not delivered by a president, King's address during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is remembered by many as the defining moment of the Civil Rights Movement, coming just shy of 100 years after Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He was subsequently named Time Magazine ’s Man of the Year, and the spot in which he stood has been enshrined at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

9. Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall

The Cold War wouldn't end for several more years, but Ronald Reagan's standing in front of the Berlin Wall and challenging Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down is assuredly in the annals of the most powerful moments in American history.

Much like King's "I Have A Dream" speech, the words speak for themselves more powerfully than I ever could. Reagan's policies encompassed the '80s and the years that were to come, and this was the iconic moment to define the resolve his presidency.

10. Bill Clinton's 1996 State of the Union

Although Bill Clinton may have become the first Democrat to reside in the White House since Jimmy Carter in 1992 by learning to talk like a Republican, the party's liberal agenda cost them heavily in the '94 midterms elections.

Perhaps recognizing that conservatism had won the Reagan Era, Clinton turned a corner with his '96 State of the Union by famously proclaiming: "The era of big government is over." The apparent policy shift may have only been politically motivated, as later that year major welfare reform was passed with his backing.

11. George W. Bush's Post-9/11 Bullhorn Speech

Much has been written, and will continue to be written, about George W. Bush's eight years in office, but it's undeniable that his remarks atop the rubble of Ground Zero are powerful to this day. Speaking from a bullhorn to workers and firefighters, with many of them unable to hear him at first, Bush 43 rallied the nation with the promise that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

12. Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address

Even though some might disagree with the policies pushed by President Obama, one can still appreciate the significance of his swearing-in. Coming 46 years after Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and just over 150 after Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the first inaugural address of the first African-American president in American history ranks as an iconic moment of the right kind of progress.

Correction: March 4, 2015

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The first amendment, looking at 10 great speeches in american history.

August 28, 2017 | by NCC Staff

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech certainly ranks highly in the pantheon of public speaking. Here is a look at the Dream speech and other addresses that moved people – and history.


King’s “Dream” speech from August 28, 1963 topped the list, followed by John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address and Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933. In fact, three of King’s speeches were included in the top 50 speeches listed by the experts.

The eclectic list included public speeches from Barbara Jordan, Richard Nixon, Malcom X and Ronald Reagan in the top 10 of the rankings.

Link : Read The List

Public speaking has played an important role in our country’s story. Here is a quick look at some of the landmark speeches that often pop up in the discussion about public rhetoric.

1. Patrick Henry. “ Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death .” In March 1775, Henry spoke to a Virginia convention considering a breakaway from British rule. “The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms,” said Henry, who spoke without notes. “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

2. George Washington’s first inaugural address . In 1789, the First President addressed the First Congress after his inauguration, setting the precedent for all inaugural speeches to follow. Washington enforced the need for the Constitution, concluding that “Parent of the Human Race  … has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness.”

3. Frederick Douglass. “ The Hypocrisy Of American Slavery .” In 1852, Douglass was invited to speak at a public Fourth of July celebration in Rochester, N.Y. Instead of talking about the celebration, Douglass addressed the issue that was dividing the nation. “I will, in the name of humanity, which is outraged, in the name of liberty, which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery,” he said.

4. Abraham Lincoln. “ The Gettysburg Address .” The best known of Lincoln’s speeches was one of his shortest. Lincoln was asked to make a few remarks in November 1863 after featured speaker Edward Everett spoke for about two hours. “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Lincoln said in his opening paragraph. He spoke for two minutes.

5. William Jennings Bryan. “ Cross of Gold Speech .” A lesser-known contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1896, Bryan created a sensation with his speech that condemned the gold standard and held the promise of debt relief for farmers. “We shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” Bryan said with his arms spread in a crucifix-like position.

6. FDR’s first inaugural address . In 1933, the new President faced a nation in the grips of a deep economic recession. “First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” Roosevelt said as he opened his powerful speech. The inaugural set the agenda for FDR’s 12 years in office.

7. Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech . Facing controversy as a vice presidential candidate, Nixon showed how television could be used as a powerful communications tool. In a stroke of political genius, Nixon spoke to the nation about his family finances, and then said the only gift he wouldn’t return was Checkers, the family dog.

8. JFK’s first inaugural address . The well-written 1961 speech is considered one of the best inaugural speeches ever. Rhetoric expert Dr. Max Atkinson told the BBC in 2011 what made the Kennedy speech special. “Tt was the first inaugural address by a U.S. president to follow the first rule of speech-preparation: analyze your audience - or, to be more precise at a time when mass access to television was in its infancy, analyze your audiences.”

9. Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech . King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, in front of 250,000 people, is also one of the most-analyzed speeches in modern history. But King hadn’t included the sequence about the “Dream” in his prepared remarks. Singer Mahalia Jackson yelled for King to speak about “the Dream,” and King improvised based on remarks he had made in earlier speeches.

10. Ronald Reagan in Berlin . President Reagan appeared at the 750 th birthday celebration for Berlin in 1987, speaking about 100 yards away from the Berlin Wall. Reagan first cited President Kennedy’s famous 1963 speech in Berlin, and then asked, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” A Reagan speech writer later said the State Department didn’t want Reagan to use the famous line, but Reagan decided to do it anyway.

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Biden’s Speech to Congress: Full Transcript

President Biden unveiled a major proposal to invest in education and families, describing it as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”

best political speech

President Biden delivered an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Because of the pandemic, Mr. Biden spoke to a socially distanced audience of less than 200 lawmakers and officials, a small fraction of the packed audience that typically attends such an address.

The following is a transcript of his remarks.

PRESIDENT BIDEN : Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s good to be back. As Mitch and Chuck will understand, it’s good to be almost home, down the hall. Anyway, thank you all.

Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium. No president has ever said those words. And it’s about time. The first lady, I’m her husband. Second gentleman. Chief justice. Members of the United States Congress and the cabinet, distinguished guests. My fellow Americans.

While the setting tonight is familiar, this gathering is just a little bit different. A reminder of the extraordinary times we’re in. Throughout our history, presidents have come to this chamber to speak to Congress, to the nation and to the world. To declare war, to celebrate peace, to announce new plans and possibilities.

Tonight, I come to talk about crisis and opportunity. About rebuilding the nation, revitalizing our democracy, and winning the future for America. I stand here tonight one day shy of the 100th day of my administration. A hundred days since I took the oath of office, lifted my hand off our family Bible and inherited a nation — we all did — that was in crisis. The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation, America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity, setbacks to strength.

We all know life can knock us down. But in America, we never, ever, ever stay down. Americans always get up. Today, that’s what we’re doing. America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear, truth over lies and light over darkness. After 100 days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for a takeoff, in my view. We’re working again, dreaming again, discovering again and leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world that there’s no quit in America. None.

One hundred days ago, America’s house was on fire. We had to act. Thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer and the overwhelming support of the American people — Democrats, Independents and Republicans — we did act. Together, we passed the American Rescue Plan, one of the most consequential rescue packages in American history. We’re already seeing the results.

We’re already seeing the results. After I promised we would get 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots into people’s arms in 100 days, we will have provided over 220 million Covid shots in those hundred days, thanks to all the help of all of you. We’re marshaling with your help, everyone’s help, we’re marshaling every federal resource. We’ve gotten vaccinations to nearly 40,000 pharmacies and over 700 community health centers where the poorest of the poor can be reached. We’re setting up community vaccination sites, developing mobile units to get to hard-to-reach communities. Today, 90 percent of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site. Everyone over the age of 16, everyone, is now eligible to get vaccinated right now, right away. Go get vaccinated, America. Go and get the vaccination. They’re available. You’re eligible now.

When I was sworn in on Jan. 20, less than 1 percent of the seniors in America were fully vaccinated against Covid-19. One hundred days later, 70 percent of seniors in America over 65 are protected, fully protected. Senior deaths from Covid-19 are down 80 percent since January, down 80 percent, because of all of you.

And more than half of all the adults in America have gotten at least one shot. The mass vaccination center in Glendale, Ariz., I asked the nurse, I said, “What’s it like?” She looked at me, she said, “It’s like every shot is giving a dose of hope” was her phrase, a dose of hope.

A dose of hope for an educator in Florida, who has a child suffering from an autoimmune disease, wrote to me, said she’s worried — that she was worried about bringing the virus home. She said she then got vaccinated at a large site, in her car. She said she sat in her car when she got vaccinated and just cried, cried out of joy, and cried out of relief.

Parents seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, for those who are able to go back to school because the teachers and the school bus drivers and the cafeteria workers have been vaccinated. Grandparents, hugging their children and grandchildren, instead of pressing hands against the window to say goodbye. It means everything. Those things mean everything.

You know, there’s still — you all know it, you know it better than any group of Americans — there’s still more work to do to beat this virus. We can’t let our guard down. But tonight, I can say, because of you, the American people, our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements, logistical achievements this country has ever seen. What else have we done in those first 100 days?

We kept our commitment, Democrats and Republicans, of sending $1,400 rescue checks to 85 percent of American households. We’ve already sent more than 160 million checks out the door. It’s making a difference. You all know it when you go home. For many people, it’s making all the difference in the world.

A single mom in Texas who wrote me, she said she couldn’t work. She said the relief check put food on the table and saved her and her son from eviction from their apartment. A grandmother in Virginia who told me she immediately took her granddaughter to the eye doctor, something she said she put off for months because she didn’t have the money. One of the defining images, at least from my perspective, in this crisis has been cars lined up, cars lined up for miles. And not people just barely able to start those cars. Nice cars, lined up for miles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t ever think I would see that in America. And all of this is through no fault of their own. No fault of their own, these people are in this position. That’s why the rescue plan is delivering food and nutrition assistance to millions of Americans facing hunger. And hunger is down sharply already.

We’re also providing rental assistance — you all know this, but the American people, I want to make sure they understand. Keeping people from being evicted from their homes. Providing loans to small businesses that reopen and keep their employees on the job. During these hundred days, an additional 800,000 Americans enrolled in the Affordable Care Act when I established a special sign-up period to do that — 800,000 in that period. We’re making one of the largest one-time-ever investments, ever, in improving health care for veterans. Critical investments to address the opioid crisis. And maybe most importantly, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we’re on track to cut child poverty in America in half this year.

And in the process, while this is all going on, the economy created more than 1,300,000 new jobs in 100 days. More jobs in the first — more jobs in the first 100 days than any president on record. The International Monetary Fund — the International Monetary Fund is now estimating our economy will grow at a rate of more than 6 percent this year. That will be the fastest pace of economic growth in this country in nearly four decades. America’s moving, moving forward. But we can’t stop now.

We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century. We’re at a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back better — than just build back, we have to build back better. We have to compete more strenuously than we have. Throughout our history, if you think about it, public investment in infrastructure has literally transformed America, our attitudes as well as our opportunities. The transcontinental railroad, interstate highways, united two oceans and brought a totally new age of progress to the United States of America.

Universal public schools and college aid opened wide the doors of opportunity. Scientific breakthroughs took us to the moon. Now we’re on Mars, discovering vaccines, gave us the internet and so much more. These are investments we made together as one country. And investments that only the government was in a position to make. Time and again, they propel us into the future. That’s why I propose the American Jobs Plan, a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself. This is the largest jobs plan since World War II.

It creates jobs to upgrade our transportation infrastructure. Jobs modernizing our roads, bridges, highways. Jobs building ports and airports, rail corridors, transit lines. It’s clean water. And today, up to 10 million homes in America and more than 400,000 schools and child care centers have pipes with lead in them, including drinking water, a clear and present danger to our children’s health. The American Jobs Plan creates jobs replacing 100 percent of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines so every American can drink clean water.

In the process it will create thousands and thousands of good-paying jobs. It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35 percent of the rural America that still doesn’t have it. This is going to help our kids and our businesses succeed in the 21st century economy. And I’m asking the vice president to lead this effort, if she would, because I know it will get done.

It creates jobs, building a modern power grid. Our grids are vulnerable to storms, hacks, catastrophic failures — with tragic results, as we saw in Texas and elsewhere during the winter storms. The American Jobs Plan will create jobs that lay thousands of miles of transmission lines needed to build a resilient and fully clean grid. We can do that.

Look, the American Jobs Plan will help millions of people get back to their jobs and back to their careers. Two million women have dropped out of the work force during this pandemic. Two million. And too often, because they couldn’t get the care they needed to care for their child or care for an elderly parent who needs help; 800,000 families are on the Medicare waiting list right now to get home care for their aging parent or loved one with disability. If you think it’s not important, check out in your own district, Democrat or Republican. Democrat or Republican voters.

Their great concern, almost as much as the children, is taking care of an elderly loved one who can’t be left alone. Medicaid contemplated it, but this plan is going to help those families and create jobs for our caregivers with better wages and better benefits, continuing a cycle of growth.

For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. For me, when I think climate change, I think jobs. The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes. Electrical workers, I.B.E.W. members, installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric car market. Farmers, farmers planting cover crops so they can reduce the carbon dioxide in the air and get paid for doing it.

Look, think about it. There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing. No reason. None. No reason. So folks, there’s no reason why Americans — American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries. There is no reason. We have the capacity. They’re best-trained people in the world. The American Jobs Plan is going to create millions of good-paying jobs, jobs Americans can raise a family on. As my dad would then say, with a little breathing room. And all the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: Buy American. Buy American.

And I might note parenthetically, that does not violate any trade agreement. It’s been the law since the ’30s, buy American. American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products, made in America, to create American jobs. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it will be in this administration. And I made it clear to all my cabinet people, their ability to give exemptions has been strenuously limited. It will be American products.

Now, I know some of you at home are wondering whether these jobs are for you. So many of you, so many of the folks I grew up with, feel left behind, forgotten, in an economy that’s so rapidly changing — it’s frightening. I want to speak directly to you, because if you think about it, that’s what people are most worried about. Can I fit in?

Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to economic growth in the years to come. It is an eight-year program. These are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. Nearly 90 percent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree. Seventy-five percent don’t require an associate’s degree. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America. That’s what it is.

And I recognize something I’ve always said, in this chamber and the other, good guys and women on Wall Street. But Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class. So that’s why I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act, the PRO Act, and send it to my desk so we can support the right to unionize.

And by the way, while you’re thinking about sending things to my desk, let’s raise the minimum wage to $15. No one, no one working 40 hours a week, no one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line. We need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. And while we’re doing this, let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk as well. Equal pay. It’s been much too long. And if you wonder whether it’s been too long, look behind me.

And finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in nondefense research and development on record. We’ll see more technological change — and some of you know more about this than I do — we’ll see more technological change this the next 10 years than we saw in the last 50. That’s how rapidly artificial intelligence, and so much more, is changing. And we’re falling behind the competition with the rest of the world.

Decades ago, we used to invest 2 percent of our gross domestic product in America, 2 percent of our gross domestic product in research and development. Today, Mr. Secretary, that’s less than 1 percent. China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future. Advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips, clean energy.

The secretary of defense can tell you — and those of you who work in national security issues know, the defense department has an agency called DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The people who set up before I came here — and that’s been a long time ago — to develop breakthroughs that enhance our national security. That’s their only job. And it’s a semi-separate agency, it’s under the Defense Department. It’s led to everything from the discovery of the internet to GPS and so much more. It’s enhanced our security.

The National Institutes of Health, the N.I.H, I believe, should create a similar advanced research projects agency for health. And that would — here’s what it would do: It would have a singular purpose, to develop breakthroughs to prevent, detect and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer. I’ll still never forget when we passed the cancer proposal in the last year as vice president, almost $9 million going to N.I.H. You’ll excuse the point of personal privilege. I’ll never forget you standing, Mitch, and saying, name it after my deceased son. It meant a lot.

But so many of us have deceased sons, daughters and relatives who died of cancer. I can think of no more worthy investment. I know of nothing that is more bipartisan. So let’s end cancer as we know it. It’s within our power. It’s within our power to do it.

Investments in jobs and infrastructure like the ones we’re talking about, have often had bipartisan support in the past. Vice President Harris and I meet regularly in the Oval Office with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the jobs plan. And I applaud a group of Republican senators who just put forward their own proposal. So let’s get to work. I wanted to lay out, before the Congress, my plan, before we go to into the deep discussions.

I would like to meet with those who have ideas that are different, that they think are better. I welcome those ideas. But the rest of the world is not waiting for us. I just want to be clear, from my perspective, doing nothing is not an option. Look, we can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition that we have with the rest of the world to win the 21st century.

Secretary Blinken can tell you, I spent a lot of time with President Xi — traveled over 17,000 miles with him, spent over 24 hours in private discussions with him. When he called congratulate, we had a two-hour discussion. He’s deadly earnest on becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world. He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies, because it takes too long to get consensus.

To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children. That’s why I introduced the American Families Plan tonight, which addresses four of the biggest challenges facing American families and, in turn, America. First is access to good education. This nation made 12 years of public education universal in the last century. It made us the best-educated, best-prepared nation in the world. It’s, I believe, the overwhelming reason that propelled us to where we got in the 20th century.

But the world’s caught up, or catching up. They’re not waiting. I would say parenthetically, if we were sitting down and put a bipartisan committee together and said, OK, we’re going to decide what we do in terms of government providing for free education, I wonder whether we’d think, as we did in the 20th century, that 12 years is enough in the 21st century. I doubt it. Twelve years is no longer enough today, to compete with the rest of the world in the 21st century. That’s why my American Families Plan guarantees four additional years of public education for every person in America, starting as early as we can.

The great universities in this country have conducted studies over the last 10 years. It shows that adding two years of universal, high-quality preschool for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old, no matter what background they come from, puts them in the position of being able to compete all the way through 12 years and increases exponentially their prospect of graduating and going on beyond graduation.

Research shows, when a young child goes to school — not day care — they’re far more likely to graduate from high school and go to college or something after high school. When you add two years of free community college on top of that, you begin to change the dynamic. We can do that. And we’ll increase Pell Grants and invest in historical Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, minority serving institutions. The reason is, they don’t have the endowments.

But their students are just as capable of learning about cybersecurity, just as capable of learning about metallurgy — all the things that are going on that provide those jobs of the future. Jill is a community college professor who teaches today as first lady. She’s long said — if I heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “Joe, any country that out-educates us is going to outcompete us.” She’ll be deeply involved in leading this effort. Thank you, Jill.

Second thing we need, American Families Plan will provide access to quality, affordable child care. It will guarantee — what I’m proposing in legislation, it will guarantee that low- to middle-income families will pay no more than 7 percent of their income for high-quality care for children up to the age of 5. The most hard-pressed working families won’t have to spend a dime.

Third, the American Families Plan will finally provide up to 12 weeks of medical leave, paid medical leave. We’re one of the few industrial countries in the world — no one should have to choose between a job and a paycheck or taking care of themselves or their loved ones, or their parent or spouse or child.

And fourth, the American Family Plan puts directly into the pockets of millions of Americans. In March, we expanded a tax credit for every child in a family, up to $3,000 per child if they’re under 6 years of age — excuse me, under, over 6 years of age — and $3,600 for children over 6 years of age. With two parents, two kids, that’s $7,200 in their pockets they’re getting to help taking care of your family.

And that will help more than 65 million children and help cut child care poverty in half. We can afford it. We did that in the last piece of legislation we passed. Let’s extend that child care tax credit at least through the end of 2025. The American Rescue Plan lowered health care premiums for nine million Americans who buy their coverage under the Affordable Care Act. I know that’s really popular on this side of the aisle. But let’s make that provision permanent so their premiums don’t go back up.

In addition to my families plan, I’m going to work with Congress to address this year other critical priorities for American families. The Affordable Care Act has been a lifeline for millions of Americans, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, protecting women’s health. The pandemic has demonstrated how badly, how badly it’s needed. Let’s lower deductibles for working families in the Affordable Care Act and let’s lower prescription drug costs.

We know how to do this. The last president had that as an objective. We all know how outrageously expensive drugs are in America. In fact, we pay the highest prescription drug prices of anywhere in the world right here in America. Nearly three times, for the same drug nearly three times what other countries pay. We have to change that. And we can. Let’s do what we talked about for all the years I was down here in this body, in Congress. Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices.

By the way, it won’t just — it won’t just help people on Medicare. It will lower prescription drug costs for everyone. And the money we save, which is billions of dollars, can go to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare coverage benefits without costing taxpayers an additional penny. It’s within our power to do it. Let’s do it now. We talked about it long enough, Democrats and Republicans. Let’s get it done this year.

This is all about a simple premise: Health care should be a right, not a privilege, in America. So how do we pay for my jobs and family plan? I made it clear, we can do it without increasing the deficit. Let’s start with what I will not do. I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000. But it’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to just begin to pay their fair share. Just their fair share.

Sometimes I have arguments with my friends in the Democratic Party. I think you should be able to become a billionaire or a millionaire. But pay your fair share. Recent studies show that 55 of the nation’s biggest corporations paid zero federal tax last year. Those 55 corporations made in excess of $40 billion in profit. A lot of companies also evade taxes through tax havens in Switzerland and Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. And they benefit from tax loopholes and deductions for offshoring jobs and shifting profits overseas. It’s not right.

We’re going to reform corporate taxes so they pay their fair share and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from as well. We’re going to reward work, not just wealth. We take the top tax bracket for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, those making over $400,000 or more, back up to where it was when George W. Bush was president, when he started, 39.6 percent. That’s where it was when George W. was president.

We’re going to get rid of the loopholes that allow Americans to make more than $1 million a year and pay a lower tax rate on their capital gains than Americans who receive a paycheck. We’re only going to affect three-tenths of 1 percent of all Americans by that action. Three-tenths of 1 percent. The I.R.S. is going to crack down on millionaires and billionaires who cheat on their taxes. It’s estimated to be billions of dollars by think tanks left, right and center.

I’m not looking to punish anybody. But I will not add a tax burden, additional tax burden on the middle class of this country. They’re already paying enough. I believe what I propose is fair, fiscally responsible, and it raises revenue to pay for the plans I propose and will create millions of jobs that will grow the economy and enhance our financial standing in the country. And here some would say they don’t want to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent, or corporate America. Ask them, whose taxes do you want to raise? Instead, whose are you going to cut?

Look, the big tax cut of 2017. Remember, it was supposed to pay for itself — that was how it was sold — and generate vast economic growth. Instead, it added $2 trillion to the deficit. It was a huge windfall for corporate America and those at the very top. Instead of using the tax saving to raise wages and invest in research and development, it poured billions of dollars into the pockets of C.E.O.s. In fact the pay gap between C.E.O.s and their workers is now among the largest in history. According to one study, C.E.O.s make 320 times what the average worker in a corporation makes. It used to be below 100.

The pandemic has only made things worse. Twenty million Americans lost their job in the pandemic, working- and middle-class Americans. At the same time, roughly 650 billionaires in America saw their net worth increase by more than $1 trillion, in the same exact period. Let me say it again. 650 people increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion during this pandemic and they’re now worth more than $4 trillion. My fellow Americans, trickle-down, trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out.

You know, there’s a broad consensus of economists left, right and center, and they agree what I’m proposing will create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth. These are among the highest-value investments we can make as a nation. I’ve often said our greatest strength is the power of our example, not just the example of our power. My conversations with world leaders — and I’ve spoken to 38, 40 of them now — I’ve made it known, I’ve made it known, that America is back.

You know what they say? The comment I hear most of all from them? They say: “We see America’s back, but for how long? But for how long?” My fellow Americans, we have to show not just that we’re back, but that we’re back to stay, and that we aren’t going to go alone. We’re going to do it by leading with our allies. No one nation can deal with all the crises of our time, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change, as well as what we’re experiencing now, pandemics.

There’s no wall high enough to keep any virus out. And our own vaccine supply, as it grows to meet our needs — and we’re meeting them — will become an arsenal for vaccines for other countries, just as America was the arsenal for democracy for the world. And in consequence, influenced the world. Every American will have access before that occurs, every American will have access to be fully covered by Covid-19 from the vaccines we have.

Look, the climate crisis is not our fight alone. It’s a global fight. The United States accounts, as all of you know, for less than 15 percent of carbon emissions. The rest of the world accounts for 85 percent. That’s why I kept my commitment to rejoin the Paris Accord, because if we do everything perfectly, it’s not going to matter. I kept my commitment to convene a climate summit right here in America with all the major economies of the world: China, Russia, India, European Union. I said I would do it in my first hundred days.

I want to be very blunt about it. I had — my intent was to make sure that the world could see that there was a consensus, that we are at an inflection point in history. The consensus is, if we act to save the planet, we can create millions of jobs and economic growth and opportunity to raise the standard of living of almost everyone around the world. If you’ve watched any of it — and you were all busy, I’m sure you didn’t have much time — that’s what virtually every nation said, even the ones who aren’t doing their fair share.

The investments I propose tonight also advance a foreign policy, in my view, that benefits the middle class. That means making sure that every nation plays by the same rules in the global economy, including China. In my discussions with President Xi, I told him we welcome the competition. We’re not looking for conflict.

But I made absolutely clear that we’ll defend America’s interests across the board. America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut workers and American industries like subsidies from state to state-owned operations and enterprises and the theft of American technology and intellectual property. I also told President Xi that we’ll maintain a strong relationship in the Indo-Pacific, just as we do for NATO and Europe. Not to start a conflict, but to prevent one.

I told him what I said to many world leaders, that America will not back away from our commitments, our commitments to human rights and our fundamental freedom and our alliances. I pointed out to him, no responsible American president could remain silent when basic human rights are being so blatantly violated. An American president has to represent the essence of what our country stands for.

America is an idea, the most unique idea in history. We are created, all of us equal. It is who we are. And we cannot walk away from that principle and in fact say we are dealing with the American idea. With regards to Russia, I know it concerns some of you. I made it clear to Putin that we are not going to seek — excuse me — escalation but their actions will have consequences if they turned out to be true. And they turned out to be true. So I responded directly and proportionally to Russia’s interference to our elections and the cyberattacks on our government and our business.

They did both of these things, and I told them we would respond, and we have. We’ll also cooperate when it is our mutual interest. We did it when we extended the New Start Treaty on nuclear arms and we are working on climate change. But he understands, we will respond. On Iran and North Korea, nuclear programs present serious threats to American security and the security of the world. We’re going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.

And American leadership meaning ending the forever war in Afghanistan. We have — we have, without hyperbole, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. I am the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a son serving in a war zone. Today we have service members serving in the same war zone as their parents did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11. The war in Afghanistan, as we remember the debates here, were never meant to be multigenerational undertakings of nation building.

We want Afghanistan to get terrorists, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. And we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do it. And if you’ve been to the Upper Kunar Valley, you’ve kind of seen the gates of hell. And we delivered justice to bin Laden. We degraded the terrorist threat in Afghanistan. And after 20 years of value — valor and sacrifice, it is time to bring those troops home.

Look, even as we do, we’ll maintain over the horizon the capacity to suppress future threats to the homeland. Make no mistake, in 20 years, terrorists — terrorism has been metastasized. The threat evolved way beyond Afghanistan. Those in the intelligence committees, the foreign relations committee, defense committees, you know well we have to remain vigilant against the threats to the United States wherever they come from. Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa and the Middle East and beyond.

And we won’t ignore what our intelligence agents have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism. We are not going to ignore that either. My fellow Americans, look, we have to come together to heal the soul of this nation. It was nearly a year ago before her father’s funeral when I spoke to Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter.

She’s a little tyke, so I was kneeling down to talk to her, so I can look at her in the eye. She looked at me, she said, “My daddy changed the world.” Well, after the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was — if, if we have the courage to act as a Congress. We have all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans. Now is our opportunity to make some real progress.

The vast majority, men and women wearing the uniform and a badge, serve our communities and they serve them honorably. I know them, I know they want — I know they want to help meet this moment as well. My fellow Americans, we have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systematic racism in our criminal justice system and enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already.

I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate. We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The country supports this reform and Congress should act. We have the giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, real justice.

And with the plans outlined tonight, we have a real chance to root out systematic racism that plagues America and American lives in other ways. A chance to deliver real equity: good jobs, good schools, affordable housing, clean air, clean water, the ability to generate wealth and pass it down to generations because you have an access to purchase a house. Real opportunities in the lives of more Americans — Black, white, Latino, Asian-Americans, Native Americans.

Look, I also want to thank the United States Senate for voting 94-1 to pass Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. You acted decisively. You can see on television the viciousness of the hate crimes we’ve have seen over the past year and for too long. I urge the House to do the same and send that legislation to my desk, which I will glad, anxiously sign.

I also hope that Congress will get to my desk the Equality Act, to protect L.G.B.T.Q. Americans. To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people, who are so brave, I want you to know, your president has your back. Another thing, let’s reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which has been law for 27 years. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote it.

It will close — the act that has to be authorized now — will close the boyfriend loophole to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. The court order said this is an abuser, you can’t own a gun. It’s to close that loophole that exists. You know it is estimated that 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month in America, 50 a month. Let’s pass it and save some lives.

Now I need not tell anyone this, but gun violence is becoming an epidemic in America. The flag at the White House was still flying at half-mast for the eight victims of the mass shooting in Georgia when 10 more lives were taken in a mass shooting in Colorado. And in the weekend between those two events, 250 other Americans were shot dead in the streets of America. 250 shot dead. I know how hard it is to make progress in this issue. In the ’90s we passed universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that hold 100 rounds that can be fired off in seconds. We beat the N.R.A. Mass shootings and gun violence declined, check out the report, over 10 years.

But in the early 2000s, the law expired. We have seen daily bloodshed since then. I’m not saying that if the law had continued, we wouldn’t have seen bloodshed. More than two weeks ago in the Rose Garden, surrounded by some of the bravest people I know, the survivors and families who lost loved ones to gun violence, I laid out several of the Department of Justice actions that being taken to impact this epidemic. One of them is banning so-called ghost guns.

These are homemade guns built from a kit including directions how to finish the firearm. The parts have no serial numbers. So they show up at crime scenes and they can’t be traced. The buyers of those ghost kits are not required to pass any background checks. Anyone, from a criminal or terrorist, could buy this kit and within 30 minutes have a weapon that’s lethal. But no more. And I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence, but it’s time for Congress to act as well.

Look. I don’t want to be become confrontational. We need more Senate Republicans to join the overall majority of Senate Democrat colleagues and close the loopholes required in background check purchases of guns. We need a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And don’t tell me it can’t be done. We did it before and it worked. Talk to most responsible hunters and gun owners. They’ll tell you there’s no possible justification for having 100 rounds in a weapon. You think they’re wearing Kevlar vests?

These kinds of reasonable reforms have overwhelming support from the American people, including many gun owners. The country supports reform, and Congress should act. This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue. And no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. From the very beginning, there were certain guns, weapons that could not be owned by Americans. Certain people could not own those weapons, ever. We’re not changing the Constitution. We’re being reasonable. I think this is not a Democrat or Republican issue, I think it’s a Republican issue.

And here’s what else we can do. Immigration has always been essential to America. Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration. For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and we’ve done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it. On Day 1 of my presidency, I kept my commitment and sent a comprehensive immigration bill to the United States Congress.

If you believe we need a secure border, pass it, because it has a lot of money for high-tech border security. If you believe in a pathway to citizenship, pass it. There’s over 11 million undocumented folks, the vast majority here overstayed visas. Pass it. We can actually — if you actually want to solve the problem, I have sent a bill to you, take a close look at it.

We also have to get at the root of the problem of why people are fleeing particularly to our southern border from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. The violence. The corruption. The gangs. The political instability. Hunger. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Natural disasters.

When I was president, my president — when I was vice president, the president asked me to focus on providing help needed to address the root causes of migration. And it helped keep people in their own countries instead of being forced to leave. And the plan was working, but the last administration decided it was not worth it. I’m restoring the program and asked Vice President Harris to lead our diplomatic effort to take care of this. I have absolute confidence she will get the job done.

Now look, if you don’t like my plan, let’s at least pass what we all agree on. Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for Dreamers, the young people who have only known America as their home. And, permanent protection for immigrants who are here on temporary protective status who came from countries beset by man-made and natural-made violence and disaster. As well as a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers who put food on our tables.

Look, immigrants have done so much for America during this pandemic and throughout our history. The country supports immigration reform. We should act. Let’s argue over it. Let’s debate over it. But let’s act.

And if we are to truly restore the soul of America, we need to protect the sacred right to vote. Most people — more people voted in the last presidential election than any time in American history, in the middle of the worst pandemic ever. That should be celebrated. Instead, it’s being attacked. Congress should pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and send them to my desk right away. The country supports it. And Congress should act now.

Look, in conclusion, as we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol — desecrating our democracy — remain vivid in all our minds. Lives were put at risk, many of your lives. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis, a test of whether our democracy could survive. And it did.

But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent, as old as our republic, still vital today? Can our democracy deliver on its promise that all of us — created equal in the image of God — have a chance to lead lives of dignity, respect and possibility? Can our democracy deliver on the most pressing needs of our people? Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate and fears that have pulled us apart?

America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting we can’t. And I promise you, they’re betting we can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. But they are wrong. You know it, I know it. But we have to prove them wrong. We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works, and we can deliver for our people.

In our first 100 days together, we have acted to restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver. We’re vaccinating the nation, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. We’re delivering real results, people, they can see it, feel in their own lives. Opening doors of opportunity. Guaranteeing some more fairness and justice. That’s the essence of America. That’s democracy in action.

Our Constitution opens to the words, as trite as it sounds, “We the people.” It’s time we remembered that “We the people” are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force that we have no control over. It’s us. It’s “We the people.”

In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us, in America, we do our part. We all do our part. That’s all I’m asking. That we do our part, all of us. If we do that, we’ll meet the central challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong. Autocrats will not win the future. We will. America will. And the future belongs to America.

As I stand here tonight before you in a new and vital hour of life in democracy of our nation, and I can say with absolute confidence: I have never been more confident or optimistic about America. Not because I am president. Because of what’s happening with the American people. We’ve stared into the abyss of insurrection and autocracy, pandemic and pain, and “We the people” did not flinch.

At the very moment our adversaries were certain we would pull apart and fail, we came together. We united, with light and hope, we summoned a new strength, new resolve to position us to win the competition of the 21st century. On our way forward to a union, more perfect, more prosperous and more just, as one people, one nation and one America.

Folks — as I’ve told every world leader I’ve met with over the years — it’s never, ever, ever been a good bet to bet against America and it still isn’t. We are the United States of America. There is not a single thing — nothing, nothing beyond our capacity. We can do whatever we set our mind to if we do it together. So let’s begin to get together.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you for your patience.

Inside the Biden Administration

Here’s the latest news and analysis from washington..

Trade War With China:  President Biden increased tariffs  on Chinese goods, building on former President Donald Trump’s crackdown on trade with China. The move aims to increase jobs, but consumers might not like the costs .

Marijuana Restrictions:  The Biden administration moved to downgrade marijuana from the most restrictive category of drugs , signaling a significant shift in how the federal government views the substance.

Documents Case:  Biden has asserted executive privilege  to deny House Republicans access to recordings of his interview with a special counsel investigating his handling of government documents.

Israel-Hamas War:  The White House has told Congress that it intends to move forward with a plan for the United States to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel .

Student Loans:  After a deadline passed for federal loan borrowers seeking debt relief, the Education Department has extended the offer until June 30 .

presidential speeches

Photo via NASA on the Commons/Flickr

Celebrate Presidents Day with these 10 historic speeches

Reflecting back on our nation's greatest leaders..

Photo of Kristen Hubby

Kristen Hubby

Posted on Feb 20, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 11:27 pm CDT

Presidents Day is time to reflect and show appreciation for our nation’s greatest leaders, those who have led the country and lifted the people up with their inspiring words and courageous actions.  Acast , the Swedish podcast platform, recently released a new series, Presidents’ Day Collection , highlighting the most influential presidential speeches. The collection, which was done in collaboration with the National Archives, dates back to JFK’s memorable inaugural address in 1961.

“We thought, let’s do something political, but what everyone can feel good about, which is reminding people how powerful the U.S. presidents and the presidential post is,” said Caitlin Thompson, Acast’s U.S. director of content. “That this can be a clarion call to be optimistic and get people to work together.”

Listed below are Acast’s 10 most influential speeches from former U.S. presidents in the past 50 years to rouse inspiration and positivity that is sometimes forgotten.

1) John F. Kennedy

best political speech

Screengrab via Presidents’ Day Collection/Acast

Former President John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president Jan. 20, 1961, as the 35th president of the United States. His inaugural address was memorable for many reasons, including his use of the phrase “my fellow citizens,” which was last issued by George Washington and rejected by former presidents due to its informal nature.

Here’s the final thrust of the address .

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

2) Richard Nixon

best political speech

President Richard Nixon delivered his first inauguration address Jan. 20, 1969. Nixon’s presidency was, of course, one of the most controversial, resulting in resignation. Despite the Nixon administration continuing the war in Vietnam in 1973, his inauguration address talked of peace and solidarity.

We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity. We see around us empty lives, wanting fulfillment. We see tasks that need doing, waiting for hands to do them. To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit. And to find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.

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3) Jimmy Carter

best political speech

Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 1977. However, his inaugural address was not the pick for the podcast series. Instead, they chose his famous “Crisis of Confidence” address to the nation that was televised on July 15, 1979.

Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources — America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence. I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy secure nation.

4) George H.W. Bush

best political speech

President George H.W. Bush’s inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1989, carried on his campaign’s promise for a “kinder, gentler” nation and also emphasized the need to tackle the federal budget deficit.

Some see leadership as high drama and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity — shared, and written, together.

5) George W. Bush

best political speech

President George W. Bush gave one of the most memorable speeches at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a failed hijacking that resulting in a deadly crash in Pennsylvania.

In his speech, Bush stated “Islam is peace,” that the millions of Muslims in the U.S. are an “incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” and that American’s should treat each other with respect. In a time of crisis, Bush gave the speech to comfort the wounded country and bring the people together.

Jenna Bush, his daughter, recently shared the text of the speech  after President Trump issued his controversial travel ban.

“This is not the America I know…” just a reminder this am to teach acceptance and love to our kids for all races, all religions.. — Jenna Bush Hager (@JennaBushHager) January 31, 2017

6) Lyndon B. Johnson

best political speech

President Lydon B. Johnson, or LBJ, was the 36th president of the United States. His speech on the Voting Rights Act before Congress on March 15, 1965, was one week after Bloody Sunday, where peaceful protestors were beaten in the famous walk from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. His speech stated there “is only an American problem” when it comes to segregation and racism, delivering notes of unity, stating all Americans have the right to vote.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal”—”government by consent of the governed”—”give me liberty or give me death.” Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives. Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.

7) Gerald Ford

best political speech

Gerald Ford was the 38th president of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977. His inaugural remarks speech on Aug. 9, 1974, was impactful in the way he addressed the nation as “a straight talk among friends.”

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

8) Ronald Reagan

best political speech

The 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, made iconic remarks at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987.  Reagan addressed the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open up the Berlin Wall in 1987 saying, “Tear down this wall! “Tear down this wall!”

9) Bill Clinton

best political speech

The 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, became the first Democrat to serve as president in more than a decade when he took the oath of office. Clinton delivered his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1993, focusing on “American renewal.” Maya Angelou recited a poem, becoming the first poet at an inauguration address since Robert Frost spoke during John F. Kennedy’s address in 1961.

Today we do more than celebrate America. We rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America, an idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries of challenge; an idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate, we, the fortunate, and the unfortunate might have been each other; an idea ennobled by the faith that our Nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity; an idea infused with the conviction that America’s long, heroic journey must go forever upward.

10) Barack Obama

best political speech

President Barack Obama made history as the first black president of the United States, and his first inaugural address on Jan.ry 20, 2009, recognized the financial crisis the nation was facing.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

“Whether you like any one of those presidents or not, you can’t deny the fact that their words were sort of filled with hope and optimism, and some leadership,” said Thompson. “I think, you know, we felt like it was a good time to remember that this Presidents Day.”

Kristen Hubby is a tech and lifestyle reporter. Her writing focuses on sex, pop culture, streaming entertainment, and social media, with an emphasis on major platforms like Snapchat, YouTube, and Spotify. Her work has also appeared in Austin Monthly and the Austin American-Statesman, where she covered local news and the dining scene in Austin, Texas.

Kristen Hubby


40 famous persuasive speeches you need to hear.

best political speech

Written by Kai Xin Koh

famous persuasive speeches highspark cover image

Across eras of calamity and peace in our world’s history, a great many leaders, writers, politicians, theorists, scientists, activists and other revolutionaries have unveiled powerful rousing speeches in their bids for change. In reviewing the plethora of orators across tides of social, political and economic change, we found some truly rousing speeches that brought the world to their feet or to a startling, necessary halt. We’ve chosen 40 of the most impactful speeches we managed to find from agents of change all over the world – a diversity of political campaigns, genders, positionalities and periods of history. You’re sure to find at least a few speeches in this list which will capture you with the sheer power of their words and meaning!

1. I have a dream by MLK

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification – one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

Unsurprisingly, Martin Luther King’s speech comes up top as the most inspiring speech of all time, especially given the harrowing conditions of African Americans in America at the time. In the post-abolition era when slavery was outlawed constitutionally, African Americans experienced an intense period of backlash from white supremacists who supported slavery where various institutional means were sought to subordinate African American people to positions similar to that of the slavery era. This later came to be known as the times of Jim Crow and segregation, which Martin Luther King powerfully voiced his vision for a day when racial discrimination would be a mere figment, where equality would reign.

2. Tilbury Speech by Queen Elizabeth I

“My loving people, We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

While at war with Spain, Queen Elizabeth I was most renowned for her noble speech rallying the English troops against their comparatively formidable opponent. Using brilliant rhetorical devices like metonymy, meronymy, and other potent metaphors, she voiced her deeply-held commitment as a leader to the battle against the Spanish Armada – convincing the English army to keep holding their ground and upholding the sacrifice of war for the good of their people. Eventually against all odds, she led England to victory despite their underdog status in the conflict with her confident and masterful oratory.

3. Woodrow Wilson, address to Congress (April 2, 1917)

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for. … It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity toward a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us—however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts. We have borne with their present government through all these bitter months because of that friendship—exercising a patience and forbearance which would otherwise have been impossible. We shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions toward the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy who live among us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it toward all who are in fact loyal to their neighbors and to the government in the hour of test. They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance. They will be prompt to stand with us in rebuking and restraining the few who may be of a different mind and purpose. If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm hand of stern repression; but, if it lifts its head at all, it will lift it only here and there and without countenance except from a lawless and malignant few. It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson of the USA delivered his address to Congress, calling for declaration of war against what was at the time, a belligerent and aggressive Germany in WWI. Despite his isolationism and anti-war position earlier in his tenure as president, he convinced Congress that America had a moral duty to the world to step out of their neutral observer status into an active role of world leadership and stewardship in order to liberate attacked nations from their German aggressors. The idealistic values he preached in his speech left an indelible imprint upon the American spirit and self-conception, forming the moral basis for the country’s people and aspirational visions to this very day.

4. Ain’t I A Woman by Sojourner Truth

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? … If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

Hailing from a background of slavery and oppression, Sojourner Truth was one of the most revolutionary advocates for women’s human rights in the 1800s. In spite of the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, her slavemaster refused to free her. As such, she fled, became an itinerant preacher and leading figure in the anti-slavery movement. By the 1850s, she became involved in the women’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, she delivered her illuminating, forceful speech against discrimination of women and African Americans in the post-Civil War era, entrenching her status as one of the most revolutionary abolitionists and women’s rights activists across history.

5. The Gettsyburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

President Abraham Lincoln had left the most lasting legacy upon American history for good reason, as one of the presidents with the moral courage to denounce slavery for the national atrocity it was. However, more difficult than standing up for the anti-slavery cause was the task of unifying the country post-abolition despite the looming shadows of a time when white Americans could own and subjugate slaves with impunity over the thousands of Americans who stood for liberation of African Americans from discrimination. He urged Americans to remember their common roots, heritage and the importance of “charity for all”, to ensure a “just and lasting peace” among within the country despite throes of racial division and self-determination.

6. Woman’s Rights to the Suffrage by Susan B Anthony

“For any State to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people is to pass a bill of attainder, or an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are for ever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the right govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters of every household–which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord and rebellion into every home of the nation. Webster, Worcester and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office. The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no State has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several States is today null and void, precisely as in every one against Negroes.”

Susan B. Anthony was a pivotal leader in the women’s suffrage movement who helped to found the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and fight for the constitutional right for women to vote. She courageously and relentlessly advocated for women’s rights, giving speeches all over the USA to convince people of women’s human rights to choice and the ballot. She is most well known for her act of righteous rebellion in 1872 when she voted in the presidential election illegally, for which she was arrested and tried unsuccessfully. She refused to pay the $100 fine in a bid to reject the demands of the American system she denounced as a ‘hateful oligarchy of sex’, sparking change with her righteous oratory and inspiring many others in the women’s suffrage movement within and beyond America.

7. Vladimir Lenin’s Speech at an International Meeting in Berne, February 8, 1916

“It may sound incredible, especially to Swiss comrades, but it is nevertheless true that in Russia, also, not only bloody tsarism, not only the capitalists, but also a section of the so-called or ex-Socialists say that Russia is fighting a “war of defence,” that Russia is only fighting against German invasion. The whole world knows, however, that for decades tsarism has been oppressing more than a hundred million people belonging to other nationalities in Russia; that for decades Russia has been pursuing a predatory policy towards China, Persia, Armenia and Galicia. Neither Russia, nor Germany, nor any other Great Power has the right to claim that it is waging a “war of defence”; all the Great Powers are waging an imperialist, capitalist war, a predatory war, a war for the oppression of small and foreign nations, a war for the sake of the profits of the capitalists, who are coining golden profits amounting to billions out of the appalling sufferings of the masses, out of the blood of the proletariat. … This again shows you, comrades, that in all countries of the world real preparations are being made to rally the forces of the working class. The horrors of war and the sufferings of the people are incredible. But we must not, and we have no reason whatever, to view the future with despair. The millions of victims who will fall in the war, and as a consequence of the war, will not fall in vain. The millions who are starving, the millions who are sacrificing their lives in the trenches, are not only suffering, they are also gathering strength, are pondering over the real cause of the war, are becoming more determined and are acquiring a clearer revolutionary understanding. Rising discontent of the masses, growing ferment, strikes, demonstrations, protests against the war—all this is taking place in all countries of the world. And this is the guarantee that the European War will be followed by the proletarian revolution against capitalism”

Vladimir Lenin remains to this day one of the most lauded communist revolutionaries in the world who brought the dangers of imperialism and capitalism to light with his rousing speeches condemning capitalist structures of power which inevitably enslave people to lives of misery and class stratification. In his genuine passion for the rights of the working class, he urged fellow comrades to turn the “imperialist war” into a “civil” or class war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. He encouraged the development of new revolutionary socialist organisations, solidarity across places in society so people could unite against their capitalist overlords, and criticised nationalism for its divisive effect on the socialist movement. In this speech especially, he lambasts “bloody Tsarism” for its oppression of millions of people of other nationalities in Russia, calling for the working class people to revolt against the Tsarist authority for the proletariat revolution to succeed and liberate them from class oppression.

8. I Have A Dream Speech by Mary Wollstonecraft

“If, I say, for I would not impress by declamation when Reason offers her sober light, if they be really capable of acting like rational creatures, let them not be treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man, when they associate with him; but cultivate their minds, give them the salutary, sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. Teach them, in common with man, to submit to necessity, instead of giving, to render them more pleasing, a sex to morals. Further, should experience prove that they cannot attain the same degree of strength of mind, perseverance, and fortitude, let their virtues be the same in kind, though they may vainly struggle for the same degree; and the superiority of man will be equally clear, if not clearer; and truth, as it is a simple principle, which admits of no modification, would be common to both. Nay, the order of society as it is at present regulated would not be inverted, for woman would then only have the rank that reason assigned her, and arts could not be practised to bring the balance even, much less to turn it.”

In her vindication of the rights of women, Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the pioneers of the feminist movement back in 1792 who not only theorised and advocated revolutionarily, but gave speeches that voiced these challenges against a dominantly sexist society intent on classifying women as irrational less-than-human creatures to be enslaved as they were. In this landmark speech, she pronounces her ‘dream’ of a day when women would be treated as the rational, deserving humans they are, who are equal to man in strength and capability. With this speech setting an effective precedent for her call to equalize women before the law, she also went on to champion the provision of equal educational opportunities to women and girls, and persuasively argued against the patriarchal gender norms which prevented women from finding their own lot in life through their being locked into traditional institutions of marriage and motherhood against their will.

9. First Inaugural Speech by Franklin D Roosevelt

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. … More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly. … I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken Nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”

Roosevelt’s famous inaugural speech was delivered in the midst of a period of immense tension and strain under the Great Depression, where he highlighted the need for ‘quick action’ by Congress to prepare for government expansion in his pursuit of reforms to lift the American people out of devastating poverty. In a landslide victory, he certainly consolidated the hopes and will of the American people through this compelling speech.

10. The Hypocrisy of American Slavery by Frederick Douglass

“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

On 4 July 1852, Frederick Douglass gave this speech in Rochester, New York, highlighting the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while slavery continues. He exposed the ‘revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy’ of slavery which had gone unabolished amidst the comparatively obscene celebration of independence and liberty with his potent speech and passion for the anti-abolition cause. After escaping from slavery, he went on to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York with his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. To this day, his fierce activism and devotion to exposing virulent racism for what it was has left a lasting legacy upon pro-Black social movements and the overall sociopolitical landscape of America.

11. Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

“You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.”

With her iconic poem Still I Rise , Maya Angelou is well-known for uplifting fellow African American women through her empowering novels and poetry and her work as a civil rights activist. Every bit as lyrical on the page, her recitation of Still I Rise continues to give poetry audiences shivers all over the world, inspiring women of colour everywhere to keep the good faith in striving for equality and peace, while radically believing in and empowering themselves to be agents of change. A dramatic reading of the poem will easily showcase the self-belief, strength and punch that it packs in the last stanza on the power of resisting marginalization.

12. Their Finest Hour by Winston Churchill

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.””

In the darkest shadows cast by war, few leaders have been able to step up to the mantle and effectively unify millions of citizens for truly sacrificial causes. Winston Churchill was the extraordinary exception – lifting 1940 Britain out of the darkness with his hopeful, convicted rhetoric to galvanise the English amidst bleak, dreary days of war and loss. Through Britain’s standalone position in WWII against the Nazis, he left his legacy by unifying the nation under shared sacrifices of the army and commemorating their courage.

13. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“Life for both sexes – and I looked at them (through a restaurant window while waiting for my lunch to be served), shouldering their way along the pavement – is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority – it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney – for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination – over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the great sources of his power….Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be on the remains of mutton bones and bartering flints for sheepskins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn their crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilised societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism. For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness in life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgment, civilising natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?”

In this transformational speech , Virginia Woolf pronounces her vision that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. She calls out the years in which women have been deprived of their own space for individual development through being chained to traditional arrangements or men’s prescriptions – demanding ‘gigantic courage’ and ‘confidence in oneself’ to brave through the onerous struggle of creating change for women’s rights. With her steadfast, stolid rhetoric and radical theorization, she paved the way for many women’s rights activists and writers to forge their own paths against patriarchal authority.

14. Inaugural Address by John F Kennedy

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

For what is probably the most historically groundbreaking use of parallelism in speech across American history, President JFK placed the weighty task of ‘asking what one can do for their country’ onto the shoulders of each American citizen. Using an air of firmness in his rhetoric by declaring his commitment to his countrymen, he urges each American to do the same for the broader, noble ideal of freedom for all. With his crucial interrogation of a citizen’s moral duty to his nation, President JFK truly made history.

15. Atoms for Peace Speech by Dwight Eisenhower

“To pause there would be to confirm the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world. To stop there would be to accept helplessly the probability of civilization destroyed, the annihilation of the irreplaceable heritage of mankind handed down to us from generation to generation, and the condemnation of mankind to begin all over again the age-old struggle upward from savagery towards decency, and right, and justice. Surely no sane member of the human race could discover victory in such desolation. Could anyone wish his name to be coupled by history with such human degradation and destruction?Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the “great destroyers”, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build. It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive,not destructive. It wants agreements, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom and in the confidence that the peoples of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life. So my country’s purpose is to help us to move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere, can move forward towards peace and happiness and well-being.”

On a possibility as frightful and tense as nuclear war, President Eisenhower managed to convey the gravity of the world’s plight in his measured and persuasive speech centred on the greater good of mankind. Using rhetorical devices such as the three-part paratactical syntax which most world leaders are fond of for ingraining their words in the minds of their audience, he centers the discourse of the atomic bomb on those affected by such a world-changing decision in ‘the minds, hopes and souls of men everywhere’ – effectively putting the vivid image of millions of people’s fates at stake in the minds of his audience. Being able to make a topic as heavy and fraught with moral conflict as this as eloquent as he did, Eisenhower definitely ranks among some of the most skilled orators to date.

16. The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde

“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am myself, a black woman warrior poet doing my work, come to ask you, are you doing yours?”

Revolutionary writer, feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde first delivered this phenomenal speech at Lesbian and Literature panel of the Modern Language Association’s December 28, 1977 meeting, which went on to feature permanently in her writings for its sheer wisdom and truth. Her powerful writing and speech about living on the margins of society has enlightened millions of people discriminated across various intersections, confronting them with the reality that they must speak – since their ‘silence will not protect’ them from further marginalization. Through her illuminating words and oratory, she has reminded marginalized persons of the importance of their selfhood and the radical capacity for change they have in a world blighted by prejudice and division.

17. 1965 Cambridge Union Hall Speech by James Baldwin

“What is dangerous here is the turning away from – the turning away from – anything any white American says. The reason for the political hesitation, in spite of the Johnson landslide is that one has been betrayed by American politicians for so long. And I am a grown man and perhaps I can be reasoned with. I certainly hope I can be. But I don’t know, and neither does Martin Luther King, none of us know how to deal with those other people whom the white world has so long ignored, who don’t believe anything the white world says and don’t entirely believe anything I or Martin is saying. And one can’t blame them. You watch what has happened to them in less than twenty years.”

Baldwin’s invitation to the Cambridge Union Hall is best remembered for foregrounding the unflinching differences in white and African Americans’ ‘system of reality’ in everyday life. Raising uncomfortable truths about the insidious nature of racism post-civil war, he provides several nuggets of thought-provoking wisdom on the state of relations between the oppressed and their oppressors, and what is necessary to mediate such relations and destroy the exploitative thread of racist hatred. With great frankness, he admits to not having all the answers but provides hard-hitting wisdom on engagement to guide activists through confounding times nonetheless.

18. I Am Prepared to Die by Nelson Mandela

“Above all, My Lord, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy. This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Apartheid is still considered one of these most devastating events of world history, and it would not have ended without the crucial effort and words of Nelson Mandela during his courageous political leadership. In this heartbreaking speech , he voices his utter devotion to the fight against institutionalised racism in African society – an ideal for which he was ‘prepared to die for’. Mandela continues to remind us today of his moral conviction in leading, wherein the world would likely to be a better place if all politicians had the same resolve and genuine commitment to human rights and the abolition of oppression as he did.

19. Critique on British Imperialism by General Aung San

“Do they form their observations by seeing the attendances at not very many cinemas and theatres of Rangoon? Do they judge this question of money circulation by paying a stray visit to a local bazaar? Do they know that cinemas and theatres are not true indicators, at least in Burma, of the people’s conditions? Do they know that there are many in this country who cannot think of going to these places by having to struggle for their bare existence from day to day? Do they know that those who nowadays patronise or frequent cinemas and theatres which exist only in Rangoon and a few big towns, belong generally to middle and upper classes and the very few of the many poor who can attend at all are doing so as a desperate form of relaxation just to make them forget their unsupportable existences for the while whatever may be the tomorrow that awaits them?”

Under British colonial rule, one of the most legendary nationalist leaders emerged from the ranks of the thousands of Burmese to boldly lead them towards independence, out of the exploitation and control under the British. General Aung San’s speech criticising British social, political and economic control of Burma continues to be scathing, articulate, and relevant – especially given his necessary goal of uniting the Burmese natives against their common oppressor. He successfully galvanised his people against the British, taking endless risks through nationalist speeches and demonstrations which gradually bore fruit in Burma’s independence.

20. Nobel Lecture by Mother Teresa

“I believe that we are not real social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of the people, but we are really contemplatives in the heart of the world. For we are touching the Body Of Christ 24 hours. We have 24 hours in this presence, and so you and I. You too try to bring that presence of God in your family, for the family that prays together stays together. And I think that we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace–just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world. There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty–how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.”

In contemporary culture, most people understand Mother Teresa to be the epitome of compassion and kindness. However, if one were to look closer at her speeches from the past, one would discover not merely her altruistic contributions, but her keen heart for social justice and the downtrodden. She wisely and gracefully remarks that ‘love begins at home’ from the individual actions of each person within their private lives, which accumulate into a life of goodness and charity. For this, her speeches served not just consolatory value or momentary relevance, as they still inform the present on how we can live lives worth living.

21. June 9 Speech to Martial Law Units by Deng Xiaoping

“This army still maintains the traditions of our old Red Army. What they crossed this time was in the true sense of the expression a political barrier, a threshold of life and death. This was not easy. This shows that the People’s Army is truly a great wall of iron and steel of the party and state. This shows that no matter how heavy our losses, the army, under the leadership of the party, will always remain the defender of the country, the defender of socialism, and the defender of the public interest. They are a most lovable people. At the same time, we should never forget how cruel our enemies are. We should have not one bit of forgiveness for them. The fact that this incident broke out as it did is very worthy of our pondering. It prompts us cool-headedly to consider the past and the future. Perhaps this bad thing will enable us to go ahead with reform and the open policy at a steadier and better — even a faster — pace, more speedily correct our mistakes, and better develop our strong points.”

Mere days before the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping sat with six party elders (senior officials) and the three remaining members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the paramount decision-making body in China’s government. The meeting was organised to discuss the best course of action for restoring social and political order to China, given the sweeping economic reforms that had taken place in the past decade that inevitably resulted in some social resistance from the populace. Deng then gave this astute and well-regarded speech, outlining the political complexities in shutting down student protests given the context of reforms encouraging economic liberalization already taking place, as aligned with the students’ desires. It may not be the most rousing or inflammatory of speeches, but it was certainly persuasive in voicing the importance of taking a strong stand for the economic reforms Deng was implementing to benefit Chinese citizens in the long run. Today, China is an economic superpower, far from its war-torn developing country status before Deng’s leadership – thanks to his foresight in ensuring political stability would allow China to enjoy the fruits of the massive changes they adapted to.

22. Freedom or Death by Emmeline Pankhurst

“You won your freedom in America when you had the revolution, by bloodshed, by sacrificing human life. You won the civil war by the sacrifice of human life when you decided to emancipate the negro. You have left it to women in your land, the men of all civilised countries have left it to women, to work out their own salvation. That is the way in which we women of England are doing. Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won’t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death. Now whether you approve of us or whether you do not, you must see that we have brought the question of women’s suffrage into a position where it is of first rate importance, where it can be ignored no longer. Even the most hardened politician will hesitate to take upon himself directly the responsibility of sacrificing the lives of women of undoubted honour, of undoubted earnestness of purpose. That is the political situation as I lay it before you today.”

In 1913 after Suffragette Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby and suffered fatal injuries, Emmeline Pankhurst delivered her speech to Connecticut as a call to action for people to support the suffragette movement. Her fortitude in delivering such a sobering speech on the state of women’s rights is worth remembering for its invaluable impact and contributions to the rights we enjoy in today’s world.

23. Quit India by Mahatma Gandhi

“We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or woman will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. Let that be your pledge. Keep jails out of your consideration. If the Government keep me free, I will not put on the Government the strain of maintaining a large number of prisoners at a time, when it is in trouble. Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain that goal. Take a pledge, with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.”

Naturally, the revolutionary activist Gandhi had to appear in this list for his impassioned anti-colonial speeches which rallied Indians towards independence. Famous for leading non-violent demonstrations, his speeches were a key element in gathering Indians of all backgrounds together for the common cause of eliminating their colonial masters. His speeches were resolute, eloquent, and courageous, inspiring the hope and admiration of many not just within India, but around the world.

24. 1974 National Book Award Speech by Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde

“The statement I am going to read was prepared by three of the women nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, with the agreement that it would be read by whichever of us, if any, was chosen.We, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain. We believe that we can enrich ourselves more in supporting and giving to each other than by competing against each other; and that poetry—if it is poetry—exists in a realm beyond ranking and comparison. We symbolically join together here in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women. We appreciate the good faith of the judges for this award, but none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification, or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teen-ager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.”

Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker wrote this joint speech to be delivered by Adrienne Rich at the 1974 National Book Awards, based on their suspicions that the first few African American lesbian women to be nominated for the awards would be snubbed in favour of a white woman nominee. Their suspicions were confirmed, and Adrienne Rich delivered this socially significant speech in solidarity with her fellow nominees, upholding the voices of the ‘silent women whose voices have been denied’.

25. Speech to 20th Congress of the CPSU by Nikita Khruschev

“Considering the question of the cult of an individual, we must first of all show everyone what harm this caused to the interests of our Party. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had always stressed the Party’s role and significance in the direction of the socialist government of workers and peasants; he saw in this the chief precondition for a successful building of socialism in our country. Pointing to the great responsibility of the Bolshevik Party, as ruling Party of the Soviet state, Lenin called for the most meticulous observance of all norms of Party life; he called for the realization of the principles of collegiality in the direction of the Party and the state. Collegiality of leadership flows from the very nature of our Party, a Party built on the principles of democratic centralism. “This means,” said Lenin, “that all Party matters are accomplished by all Party members – directly or through representatives – who, without any exceptions, are subject to the same rules; in addition, all administrative members, all directing collegia, all holders of Party positions are elective, they must account for their activities and are recallable.””

This speech is possibly the most famed Russian speech for its status as a ‘secret’ speech delivered only to the CPSU at the time, which was eventually revealed to the public. Given the unchallenged political legacy and cult of personality which Stalin left in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev’s speech condemning the authoritarian means Stalin had resorted to to consolidate power as un-socialist was an important mark in Russian history.

26. The Struggle for Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt

“It is my belief, and I am sure it is also yours, that the struggle for democracy and freedom is a critical struggle, for their preservation is essential to the great objective of the United Nations to maintain international peace and security. Among free men the end cannot justify the means. We know the patterns of totalitarianism — the single political party, the control of schools, press, radio, the arts, the sciences, and the church to support autocratic authority; these are the age-old patterns against which men have struggled for three thousand years. These are the signs of reaction, retreat, and retrogression. The United Nations must hold fast to the heritage of freedom won by the struggle of its people; it must help us to pass it on to generations to come. The development of the ideal of freedom and its translation into the everyday life of the people in great areas of the earth is the product of the efforts of many peoples. It is the fruit of a long tradition of vigorous thinking and courageous action. No one race and on one people can claim to have done all the work to achieve greater dignity for human beings and great freedom to develop human personality. In each generation and in each country there must be a continuation of the struggle and new steps forward must be taken since this is preeminently a field in which to stand still is to retreat.”

Eleanor Roosevelt has been among the most well-loved First Ladies for good reason – her eloquence and gravitas in delivering every speech convinced everyone of her suitability for the oval office. In this determined and articulate speech , she outlines the fundamental values that form the bedrock of democracy, urging the rest of the world to uphold human rights regardless of national ideology and interests.

27. The Ballot or The Bullet by Malcolm X

“And in this manner, the organizations will increase in number and in quantity and in quality, and by August, it is then our intention to have a black nationalist convention which will consist of delegates from all over the country who are interested in the political, economic and social philosophy of black nationalism. After these delegates convene, we will hold a seminar; we will hold discussions; we will listen to everyone. We want to hear new ideas and new solutions and new answers. And at that time, if we see fit then to form a black nationalist party, we’ll form a black nationalist party. If it’s necessary to form a black nationalist army, we’ll form a black nationalist army. It’ll be the ballot or the bullet. It’ll be liberty or it’ll be death.”

Inarguably, the revolutionary impact Malcolm X’s fearless oratory had was substantial in his time as a radical anti-racist civil rights activist. His speeches’ emancipatory potential put forth his ‘theory of rhetorical action’ where he urges Black Americans to employ both the ballot and the bullet, strategically without being dependent on the other should the conditions of oppression change. A crucial leader in the fight for civil rights, he opened the eyes of thousands of Black Americans, politicising and convincing them of the necessity of fighting for their democratic rights against white supremacists.

28. Living the Revolution by Gloria Steinem

“The challenge to all of us, and to you men and women who are graduating today, is to live a revolution, not to die for one. There has been too much killing, and the weapons are now far too terrible. This revolution has to change consciousness, to upset the injustice of our current hierarchy by refusing to honor it, and to live a life that enforces a new social justice. Because the truth is none of us can be liberated if other groups are not.”

In an unexpected commencement speech delivered at Vassar College in 1970, Gloria Steinem boldly makes a call to action on behalf of marginalized groups in need of liberation to newly graduated students. She proclaimed it the year of Women’s Liberation and forcefully highlighted the need for a social revolution to ‘upset the injustice of the current hierarchy’ in favour of human rights – echoing the hard-hitting motto on social justice, ‘until all of us are free, none of us are free’.

29. The Last Words of Harvey Milk by Harvey Milk

“I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad in response to my death, but I hope they will take the frustration and madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights. … All I ask is for the movement to continue, and if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door…”

As the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, Harvey Milk’s entire political candidature was in itself a radical statement against the homophobic status quo at the time. Given the dangerous times he was in as an openly gay man, he anticipated that he would be assassinated eventually in his political career. As such, these are some of his last words which show the utter devotion he had to campaigning against homophobia while representing the American people, voicing his heartbreaking wish for the bullet that would eventually kill him to ‘destroy every closet door’.

30. Black Power Address at UC Berkeley by Stokely Carmichael

“Now we are now engaged in a psychological struggle in this country, and that is whether or not black people will have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction to it; and that we maintain, whether they like it or not, we gonna use the word “Black Power” — and let them address themselves to that; but that we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power. We’re tired waiting; every time black people move in this country, they’re forced to defend their position before they move. It’s time that the people who are supposed to be defending their position do that. That’s white people. They ought to start defending themselves as to why they have oppressed and exploited us.”

A forceful and impressive orator, Stokely Carmichael was among those at the forefront of the civil rights movement, who was a vigorous socialist organizer as well. He led the Black Power movement wherein he gave this urgent, influential speech that propelled Black Americans forward in their fight for constitutional rights in the 1960s.

31. Speech on Vietnam by Lyndon Johnson

“The true peace-keepers are those men who stand out there on the DMZ at this very hour, taking the worst that the enemy can give. The true peace-keepers are the soldiers who are breaking the terrorist’s grip around the villages of Vietnam—the civilians who are bringing medical care and food and education to people who have already suffered a generation of war. And so I report to you that we are going to continue to press forward. Two things we must do. Two things we shall do. First, we must not mislead the enemy. Let him not think that debate and dissent will produce wavering and withdrawal. For I can assure you they won’t. Let him not think that protests will produce surrender. Because they won’t. Let him not think that he will wait us out. For he won’t. Second, we will provide all that our brave men require to do the job that must be done. And that job is going to be done. These gallant men have our prayers-have our thanks—have our heart-felt praise—and our deepest gratitude. Let the world know that the keepers of peace will endure through every trial—and that with the full backing of their countrymen, they are going to prevail.”

During some of the most harrowing periods of human history, the Vietnam War, American soldiers were getting soundly defeated by the Vietnamese in guerrilla warfare. President Lyndon Johnson then issued this dignified, consolatory speech to encourage patriotism and support for the soldiers putting their lives on the line for the nation.

32. A Whisper of AIDS by Mary Fisher

“We may take refuge in our stereotypes, but we cannot hide there long, because HIV asks only one thing of those it attacks. Are you human? And this is the right question. Are you human? Because people with HIV have not entered some alien state of being. They are human. They have not earned cruelty, and they do not deserve meanness. They don’t benefit from being isolated or treated as outcasts. Each of them is exactly what God made: a person; not evil, deserving of our judgment; not victims, longing for our pity ­­ people, ready for  support and worthy of compassion. We must be consistent if we are to be believed. We cannot love justice and ignore prejudice, love our children and fear to teach them. Whatever our role as parent or policymaker, we must act as eloquently as we speak ­­ else we have no integrity. My call to the nation is a plea for awareness. If you believe you are safe, you are in danger. Because I was not hemophiliac, I was not at risk. Because I was not gay, I was not at risk. Because I did not inject drugs, I was not at risk. The lesson history teaches is this: If you believe you are safe, you are at risk. If you do not see this killer stalking your children, look again. There is no family or community, no race or religion, no place left in America that is safe. Until we genuinely embrace this message, we are a nation at risk.”

Back when AIDS research was still undeveloped, the stigma of contracting HIV was even more immense than it is today. A celebrated artist, author and speaker, Mary Fisher became an outspoken activist for those with HIV/AIDS, persuading people to extend compassion to the population with HIV instead of stigmatizing them – as injustice has a way of coming around to people eventually. Her bold act of speaking out for the community regardless of the way they contracted the disease, their sexual orientation or social group, was an influential move in advancing the human rights of those with HIV and spreading awareness on the discrimination they face.

33. Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi

“The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear. Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.”

Famous for her resoluteness and fortitude in campaigning for democracy in Burma despite being put under house arrest by the military government, Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches have been widely touted as inspirational. In this renowned speech of hers, she delivers a potent message to Burmese to ‘liberate their minds from apathy and fear’ in the struggle for freedom and human rights in the country. To this day, she continues to tirelessly champion the welfare and freedom of Burmese in a state still overcome by vestiges of authoritarian rule.

34. This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

“Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

Esteemed writer David Foster Wallace gave a remarkably casual yet wise commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005 on the importance of learning to think beyond attaining a formal education. He encouraged hundreds of students to develop freedom of thought, a heart of sacrificial care for those in need of justice, and a consciousness that would serve them in discerning the right choices to make within a status quo that is easy to fall in line with. His captivating speech on what it meant to truly be ‘educated’ tugged at the hearts of many young and critical minds striving to achieve their dreams and change the world.

35. Questioning the Universe by Stephen Hawking

“This brings me to the last of the big questions: the future of the human race. If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space. The answers to these big questions show that we have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I am in favor of manned — or should I say, personned — space flight.”

Extraordinary theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking was a considerable influence upon modern physics and scientific research at large, inspiring people regardless of physical ability to aspire towards expanding knowledge in the world. In his speech on Questioning the Universe, he speaks of the emerging currents and issues in the scientific world like that of outer space, raising and answering big questions that have stumped great thinkers for years.

36. 2008 Democratic National Convention Speech by Michelle Obama

“I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I’ve met all across this country: People who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift — without disappointment, without regret — that goodnight kiss a reminder of everything they’re working for. The military families who say grace each night with an empty seat at the table. The servicemen and women who love this country so much, they leave those they love most to defend it. The young people across America serving our communities — teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day. People like Hillary Clinton, who put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, so that our daughters — and sons — can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher. People like Joe Biden, who’s never forgotten where he came from and never stopped fighting for folks who work long hours and face long odds and need someone on their side again. All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be. That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack’s journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope. That is why I love this country.”

Ever the favourite modern First Lady of America, Michelle Obama has delivered an abundance of iconic speeches in her political capacity, never forgetting to foreground the indomitable human spirit embodied in American citizens’ everyday lives and efforts towards a better world. The Obamas might just have been the most articulate couple of rhetoricians of their time, making waves as the first African American president and First Lady while introducing important policies in their period of governance.

37. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

“I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”

Now published into a book, Barack Obama’s heart-capturing personal story of transformational hope was first delivered as a speech on the merits of patriotic optimism and determination put to the mission of concrete change. He has come to be known as one of the most favoured and inspiring presidents in American history, and arguably the most skilled orators ever.

38. “Be Your Own Story” by Toni Morrison

“But I’m not going to talk anymore about the future because I’m hesitant to describe or predict because I’m not even certain that it exists. That is to say, I’m not certain that somehow, perhaps, a burgeoning ménage a trois of political interests, corporate interests and military interests will not prevail and literally annihilate an inhabitable, humane future. Because I don’t think we can any longer rely on separation of powers, free speech, religious tolerance or unchallengeable civil liberties as a matter of course. That is, not while finite humans in the flux of time make decisions of infinite damage. Not while finite humans make infinite claims of virtue and unassailable power that are beyond their competence, if not their reach. So, no happy talk about the future. … Because the past is already in debt to the mismanaged present. And besides, contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets.”

Venerated author and professor Toni Morrison delivered an impressively articulate speech at Wellesley College in 2004 to new graduates, bucking the trend by discussing the importance of the past in informing current and future ways of living. With her brilliance and eloquence, she blew the crowd away and renewed in them the capacity for reflection upon using the past as a talisman to guide oneself along the journey of life.

39. Nobel Speech by Malala Yousafzai

“Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult? As we are living in the modern age, the 21st century and we all believe that nothing is impossible. We can reach the moon and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this, the 21st century, we must be determined that our dream of quality education for all will also come true. So let us bring equality, justice and peace for all. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty. So we must work … and not wait. I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world. Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last. The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential-let these things end with us.”

At a mere 16 years of age, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech on the severity of the state of human rights across the world, and wowed the world with her passion for justice at her tender age. She displayed tenacity and fearlessness speaking about her survival of an assassination attempt for her activism for gender equality in the field of education. A model of courage to us all, her speech remains an essential one in the fight for human rights in the 21st century.

40. Final Commencement Speech by Michelle Obama

“If you are a person of faith, know that religious diversity is a great American tradition, too. In fact, that’s why people first came to this country — to worship freely. And whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh — these religions are teaching our young people about justice, and compassion, and honesty. So I want our young people to continue to learn and practice those values with pride. You see, our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are. So the young people here and the young people out there: Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story — because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are. But I also want to be very clear: This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. … It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves.”

Finally, we have yet another speech by Michelle Obama given in her final remarks as First Lady – a tear-inducing event for many Americans and even people around the world. In this emotional end to her political tenure, she gives an empowering, hopeful, expressive speech to young Americans, exhorting them to take hold of its future in all their diversity and work hard at being their best possible selves.

Amidst the bleak era of our current time with Trump as president of the USA, not only Michelle Obama, but all 40 of these amazing speeches can serve as sources of inspiration and hope to everyone – regardless of their identity or ambitions. After hearing these speeches, which one’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Article Written By: Kai Xin Koh

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The Best Presidential Speeches of All Time

Mike Rothschild

Presidential speeches are often remembered for one great phrase, memorable line, or rhetorical flourish that makes its way into the history books. But they should be seen as more than collections of memorable words - in fact, as documents of their time and place. Great presidential speeches are made in the context of crises, challenges, and times of great peril. But they can also inspire, uplift, and encourage. The truly great speeches manage to do both at once.

What's less well-known about many of the great addresses by presidents that they're short. Maybe the most famous speech in American history, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, is just over two minutes long. Many others, rather than being long rambles of adjectives and superlatives, are fewer than one thousand words, and lasted just 10 minutes. They didn't need thousands and thousands of words to make their point, just a few well-chosen ones given by a dynamic speaker.

The Gettysburg Address

The Gettysburg Address

President Lincoln delivered his most famous speech just five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, at the dedication of the site's military cemetery. There is no existing final copy, and the five surviving manuscripts of the speech all have slightly different word choices. The speech was just 10 sentences long, and took two and a half minutes to deliver.

Kennedy's Inaugural Address

Kennedy's Inaugural Address

President Kennedy's only inaugural address was one of the shortest on record, fewer than 1,400 words and taking only 13 minutes and 42 seconds. But it perfectly encapsulated the social change, economic prosperity, and political upheaval Kennedy was walking into.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

President Lincoln gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, as the Civil War was reaching its bloody conclusion. With reconstruction between the North and South looming, Lincoln paused to take stock of what had been lost, and what could be gained. It was just 700 words long, and took around five minutes to deliver.

Washington's Farewell Address

Washington's Farewell Address

President Washington actually wrote a version of his farewell to the American people after his first term, but decided to run for a second given the precarious state of the country. It was first published in the American Daily Advertiser newspaper, then in papers and pamphlets around the country. Washington never actually gave the address as a speech.

Kennedy's "We Choose to Go to the Moon" Speech

Kennedy's "We Choose to Go to the Moon" Speech

While President Kennedy had declared the United States's intention to put a man on the Moon in May 1961, the idea didn't truly resonate with the American people until his speech in September of the next year. In front of a massive crowd at Rice University, Kennedy managed to make Americans enthusiastic about spending billions of dollars on a prospect with no guarantee of success.

FDR's Infamy Speech

FDR's Infamy Speech

President Roosevelt's speech to a Joint Session of Congress the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor served to emphasize the idea of America as the victim of a cowardly sneak attack, rather than as a player in a complicated geopolitical struggle. Lasting just seven minutes, the speech let it be known that isolationism was no longer an option - and less than an hour later, the US declared war on Japan.

Reagan's Brandenburg Gate Speech

Reagan's Brandenburg Gate Speech

President Reagan's speech at an event commemorating the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin was little noticed in the American press, and hotly criticized by Communist media outlets, who found it inflammatory. Even Reagan's staff were divided on the speech's tone and call to disarmament, but one key phrase in the middle of the speech stuck out, and became a rallying cry for Reagan's final year in office.

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

Upon leaving office in January 1961, President Eisenhower cautioned against the growing influence of the defense industry. He warned the American people that the vast ratcheting up of defense spending and arms production could one day become a threat to our own liberty. Eisenhower deemed this the "military-industrial complex," a phrase now in the common vernacular.

FDR’s First Inaugural Address

FDR’s First Inaugural Address

Having won a landslide victory over Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt took the opportunity to deliver a fairly short speech of around 20 minutes, meant to reassure the nation. The address became famous for its optimistic tone, in spite of the raging Great Depression.

Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech

Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech

Given a few months before the Republican nominating convention, historians believe Lincoln's speech at New York City's Cooper Union sealed his winning of the nomination. The speech, one of Lincoln's longest, laid out his views on what seemed to be the only important issues of the time - slavery and secession. He forcefully and clearly laid out his views, juxtaposing them with the Founding Fathers'.

Teddy Roosevelt's "Man with the Muck-Rake" Speech

Teddy Roosevelt's "Man with the Muck-Rake" Speech

Roosevelt had been the first president to actively interface with the press, holding conferences and elevating the position of Press Secretary to his cabinet. In his April 1906 speech , the progressive president outlined his support of the crusading journalists who were bringing to light the abuses and exploitation of America's rapidly industrializing society. In doing so, he introduced the term "muckraker" into the popular vernacular.

Jefferson's First Inaugural

Jefferson's First Inaugural

Thomas Jefferson was sworn in under a cloud of controversy, as, when he and Aaron Burr tied in the Electoral College, the election of 1800 had to be decided in the House of Representatives. With Jefferson finally emerging victorious, and the nation teetering on the edge, he spoke of the need to find common ground between the two parties controlling American politics at the time. 

George W. Bush's Post 9/11 Speech

George W. Bush's Post 9/11 Speech

With the nation reeling in the wake of the September 11th attacks, President Bush addressed the country with a short but powerful message . Since the culprits behind the attacks were still unknown, Bush spoke to the resoluteness of the American spirit, and encouraged the people not to be overtaken by fear of what was ahead.

FDR's 1941 State of the Union

FDR's 1941 State of the Union

Roosevelt spoke to a nation girding for war in 1941, reminding the people of what was at stake in the Second World War. The speech became known as the " Four Freedoms Speech," as Roosevelt advocated for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. The speech was criticized by anti-war contingents, but came to be seen as a kind of shorthand for why the United States was fighting.

Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural

Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural

Reagan strode into office declaring his intention to sweep away the growing bureaucracy and economic stagnation that had plagued previous administrations. And while Reagan's address never directly mentions the American hostages being held in Iran, the tough message of the speech was clear, and the hostages were released while Reagan was speaking.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" Speech

Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" Speech

On March 15, 1965, President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress on behalf of the Voting Rights Act and to denounce the violence attacks on marchers in Selma, Alabama. While many questioned Johnson's motives in giving the speech (he'd been on the other side of the civil rights debate until late into the 1950s), nobody could question his sincerity after hearing it.

"Truman Doctrine" Speech

"Truman Doctrine" Speech

On March 12, 1947, President Truman addressed a Joint Session of Congress on the recent crises in Greece and the Turkish Straits. Truman made it clear that the US would attempt to contain the spread of Communism in both countries, as one falling would lead to the other falling - the "Domino Theory" that became used as a justification for the Cold War. Truman espoused the dangers the world was facing, and the cost of inaction. Historians point to this speech as the beginning of the Cold War that would dominate US foreign policy for the next 40 years.

Obama's "A More Perfect Union" Speech

Obama's "A More Perfect Union" Speech

In the throes of the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama had become embroiled in a controversy over his previous association with an inflammatory pastor named Jeremiah Wright. At a campaign event in March, Obama spoke of race relations in America in general, and of his association with Wright in particular, in a fiery speech that some pundits believe won him the Democratic nomination.

Famous quote: " I can no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the Black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of Black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

Nixon's "Silent Majority" Speech

Nixon's "Silent Majority" Speech

President Nixon used this term in a November 1969 speech prevailing upon the American people to support the Vietnam War. He was referencing the great mass of blue collar and suburban conservatives who weren't joining anti-war protest marches, weren't participating in the counterculture, and preferred to not speak up. Nixon didn't invent the phrase, though, as several other prominent figures had used it, including Nixon's own vice president, Spiro Agnew.

Woodrow Wilson's Second Inaugural

Woodrow Wilson's Second Inaugural

While Wilson ran on the slogan, "He Kept Us Out of War," by the time of his second inauguration in March 1917, it was clear that US neutrality couldn't last. German attacks on merchant shipping had increased, and a number of American citizens had been killed on ships flying neutral flags. Wilson's speech prepared the nation to enter a war it was still divided about.

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The Most Important U.N. Speeches This Year

Fp columnists and contributors break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 76th u.n. general assembly..

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The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, with high-level meetings wrapping up in New York this week, was dominated by the major crises facing our world today: climate change, COVID-19, and conflict. 

The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, with high-level meetings wrapping up in New York this week, was dominated by the major crises facing our world today: climate change, COVID-19, and conflict.  

World leaders came together, some in person and some virtually, to deliver speeches in which they explained their countries’ plans to tackle these crises and aired their political grievances. The result was a mix of bold declarations and petty squabbling, calls for unity and calls for condemnation.  

Foreign Policy asked several of our columnists and contributors to weigh in on the speeches they found most compelling—or most concerning.  

Biden tried to reassure allies with rhetoric.

By Elise Labott , adjunct professor at American University’s School of International Service and columnist at Foreign Policy

Declaring the world to be at an “inflection point” in history during his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Joe Biden laid out an ambitious global agenda.

He urged nations to join forces in tackling the challenges that “hold the keys to our collective future: ending this pandemic; addressing the climate crisis; managing the shifts in global power dynamics; shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber, and emerging technologies; and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today.”

The speech sounded all the right notes in Biden’s effort to rebuild trust and confidence in America’s global leadership after four tumultuous years with Donald Trump on the world stage. Yet diplomats from several countries told me that it failed to resonate with them, largely due to the disconnect between Biden’s words and his actions since taking office.

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Biden announced a “new era of relentless diplomacy.” Yet some European allies thought diplomacy was lacking in Biden’s handling of the U.S. troop pullout from that conflict, which they found hasty and devoid of consultation with allies, resulting in a chaotic withdrawal and humiliating Taliban takeover.

Without naming China, Biden said the United States was “not seeking a new Cold War.” Yet the majority of his foreign-policy decisions to date seem designed to create a standoff with Beijing, particularly the recent security pact, negotiated in secret, with the United Kingdom and Australia. France, meanwhile, was ousted from a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia and cut out of a key strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific, prompting Paris to briefly recall its ambassador.

For the European Union, the snub belied Biden’s argument that he had “prioritized rebuilding our alliances, revitalizing our partnerships, and recognizing they’re essential and central to America’s enduring security and prosperity.”

Biden received applause for his closing line that world leaders must decide what they wanted to leave for “our children and our grandchildren.” But to truly reassure allies that America, in Biden’s words, is back, he must match his lofty rhetoric with policies that deliver.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro brought his full firebrand self to the world stage.

By Catherine Osborn , writer of FP’s Latin America Brief

As Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began speaking at the United Nations Tuesday morning, shouts of “Assassin!” and “Out with Bolsonaro!” rang out from my Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. Most residents here voted for Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential runoff, but his approval has dropped to 22 percent amid a sluggish economy , abysmal pandemic management, and corruption accusations against his government and sons .

Brazilian foreign ministry officials reportedly hoped the far-right populist firebrand and COVID-19 denier would project a more sober, statesmanlike image to the world than he is typically known for, and supervised an original draft of his speech that would have announced Brazilian vaccine donations to neighboring countries.

But it seems Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, a devotee of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s messaging style, helped rewrite parts of his father’s speech, and the final version was heavily geared toward energizing Bolsonaro’s base.

Bolsonaro touted unproven COVID-19 remedies; railed against pandemic control measures such as isolation, lockdowns, and vaccine mandates; falsely stated that “there has been not a single case of corruption [in Brazil] in the past two years and eight months”; insisted the country’s economy was fertile for business; and offered a deceptively sunny portrayal of his government’s environmental policies in the Amazon.

In an attempt to appease countries and business leaders pressuring him to do more to fight deforestation, Bolsonaro cited Brazilian government findings that the rate of Amazon deforestation was lower in August this year than in August 2020. But environmental analysts say federal plans suggest no pathway to a sustained, significant drop in Amazon deforestation under Bolsonaro’s leadership, which clocked an average of 4,050 square miles of annual forest loss in the first two years of his term, versus 2,594 square miles annually in the five years before he took office.

Following the U.N. address, pro-Bolsonaro social media channels pushed out praiseful claims that the president had defended Brazilian “freedom,” along with memes vilifying the mainstream media and doctored videos of Bolsonaro being embraced by crowds in New York.

Since January, the Biden administration has engaged in energetic but low-profile diplomacy with Bolsonaro with at least two big aims: reducing deforestation and barring Chinese tech firm Huawei from building Brazil’s 5G mobile network. So far, Brasília has made no public commitments about bans related to its upcoming 5G contracting process—a process Bolsonaro mentioned in his U.N. address, saying it would officially begin in the next few days.

Bolsonaro by no means demonstrated the statesmanlike turn that his foreign ministry had designed. But in between the COVID-19 misinformation, his comments on the Amazon and 5G were a reminder of why Brazil still matters to Washington, Beijing, and those concerned about climate change.

As for Bolsonaro’s goal of projecting confidence to investors, they by now have learned to look past his words to the limping pace of his economic reform agenda.

China’s Xi made a surprising climate announcement.

By James Palmer , deputy editor at  Foreign Policy and writer of FP’s China Brief

Chinese President Xi Jinping hasn’t left his nation’s borders since the pandemic began, and he wasn’t going to make an exception for the United Nations. It’s not clear whether it’s fear of the disease or worries about political rivals at home that has kept Xi, once a regular traveler, confined, but even by video link he still managed to make a stir at this year’s General Assembly.

Most of his speech was boilerplate Chinese rhetoric, but one commitment stood out: no new construction of overseas coal plants.

That’s a big deal. China is the largest public financier of coal projects in the world—although that’s just 13 percent of total global investment, the rest of which is mostly private. Chinese politics is very much a game of follow the leader at the moment, and it would be politically toxic for any domestic institution, public or private, to finance coal overseas right now. That may change if the scope of the new rules becomes clearer.

And it’s significant that Beijing, which has become increasingly resistant to any form of outside pressure, felt it needed to make this move in advance of November’s major U.N. climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow. There have been regular complaints about China’s role in financing dirty energy abroad , especially when such deals are lumped in with the Belt and Road Initiative. If China worries about reputational damage on this issue, that bodes well for climate change efforts.

But there are still some caveats. First, Xi’s wording wasn’t clear on whether existing projects, which include about 40 gigawatts of coal-fueled energy across 20 countries, would be allowed to continue or whether those deals would be shut off. I’d bet on the first, given the potential damage of breaking off existing investments in developing countries.

And while leadership abroad is good, home is where China’s climate impact really matters. China is already the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and the second biggest historical emitter (though it’s far below many others per capita). According to the Chinese government’s current Five-Year Plan, the country’s coal power isn’t set to peak until 2025—and emissions in 2030 . Environmental regulations have been tightened this year—but with grim times ahead for the Chinese economy, they may end up being weakened, especially at the local level, to try to boost GDP figures or alleviate growing power shortages .

That’s a recurring pattern in Chinese environmental controls: When the economy falters, green limits get scrapped, and the smog comes back.

China Is Choking Civil Society at the United Nations

The Chinese government is using every means at its disposal to do battle with NGOs.

Lebanon’s president displayed a typical lack of self-awareness.

By Steven A. Cook , Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and columnist at Foreign Policy

Of all the Middle Eastern leaders I wanted to hear from at this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, it wasn’t Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or even Saudi Arabia’s King Salman—it was Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

What does a leader of a country that has collapsed say to the world body?

Like many speeches during UNGA, Aoun’s did not break new ground. Most of the 17 minutes and 31 seconds of his prerecorded remarks were devoted to repeating the message that he and other Lebanese politicians have been repeating over the last year: Europe, the United States, wealthy Arab states, international financial institutions, and virtually everyone else must act to rescue Lebanon.

He emphasized that the new Lebanese government had already taken steps—such as ordering the forensic accounting of Lebanon’s central bank—to convince international donors that they would not be throwing resources away.

This is what one might expect, but there was one passage that struck me as lacking in self-awareness. About four minutes into his speech, Aoun denounced a “decades-long rentier-style financial and economic policy, coupled with corruption and waste and driven by financial mismanagement and lack of accountability,” that had “led Lebanon into an unprecedented financial and monetary crisis.”

For the last half-decade, Aoun has been president of Lebanon. When he was sworn in in 2016, he promised political and economic reform. Before he became head of state, Aoun was one of Lebanon’s political heavyweights through his Free Patriotic Movement.

At a moment of ongoing crisis, when Lebanon needs vast amounts of help in almost every area, was it wise for Aoun to present himself as somehow either above the fray or unaware of the shenanigans that have been going on around him?

Governments around the world have expressed a desire to help the Lebanese people—but not if their generosity is cycled through a political class responsible for Lebanon’s tribulations. If anyone was listening to Aoun’s speech carefully, the well-known concerns of international donors could not have been mollified. It seems as though, once again, a leading Lebanese politician did his country no favors.

The new Iranian president’s first U.N. speech was a letdown.

By Kourosh Ziabari , journalist and Asia Times correspondent

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s virtual address to the 76th U.N. General Assembly was his first serious international appearance since being sworn in in August. Yet other than a litany of anti-U.S. attacks, Raisi’s speech didn’t impart any compelling message to the world.

Raisi said either “America” or “the United States” 17 times in his 15-minute speech, suggesting Iran is still struggling to wean itself off its contemporary obsession with the United States as a dominant power with which it has failed, or been reluctant, to forge cordial ties since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

While the General Assembly session was preoccupied with such pressing challenges as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the brewing catastrophe in Afghanistan—at Iran’s eastern doorstep—Raisi didn’t articulate any vision for how his government plans to tackle these cataclysms or how Iran wishes to be part of global efforts to address them.

But what was most worrying was the Iranian leader’s refusal to comment on his country’s plan to reengage in talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the atrophying nuclear accord the Biden administration is eager to rejoin. That refusal leaves room for continued speculation and ambiguity over Tehran’s commitment to the nuclear talks that had seemed close to a breakthrough when Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, was steering them, before his term in office expired.

Overall, Raisi’s first U.N. speech failed to ease tensions between Iran and the international community and sent a pretty clear sign that neither a restoration of the JCPOA nor the truncation of Iran’s chronic isolation is at all imminent.

India’s Modi congratulated himself for a job well done.

By Sumit Ganguly , professor of political science at Indiana University Bloomington and columnist at Foreign Policy

In keeping with his nativist sentiments as well as his ease with the language, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his speech in Hindi. The speech was notable for its number of allusions to India’s adversaries, most notably China and Pakistan. The imputation to China was evident from his call for a “rule-based world order” while his appeal for a clear international stance against governments that use terrorism as a policy tool was a not-so-veiled swipe at Pakistan.

Interestingly enough, given that his government has faced its fair share of criticism for its democratic deficits, Modi explicitly underscored the success of India’s democracy. And in an unusually self-referential move, he alluded to his own rise from modest origins to the premiership of India as emblematic of that success.

Curiously absent from his speech was India’s customary demand for the expansion of the United Nations Security Council to include a seat for India. He did, however, emphasize the United Nations’ need to remain effective as an organization, citing the challenges that the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global terrorism pose for humanity’s future.

In that context, Modi faulted two U.N. organs: the World Health Organization (WHO) for its failure to trace the origins of COVID-19 and the World Bank for the recently revealed flaws in its “ease of doing business” rankings. The former was also an indirect jab at China for its refusal to let the WHO conduct a full, unfettered investigation of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.

A final striking feature of Modi’s speech was his overly self-congratulatory view of his stewardship of India during his term in office. Citing a range of achievements extending from greater access to health care to the expansion of banking for the poor, Modi claimed India was now on the path to rapid development. And at a time when India is far from out of the woods as far as the COVID-19 pandemic goes, he touted India’s willingness and ability to provide vaccines to countries in need.

His speech was a curious amalgam of the unpredictable as well as the bold. For once, while calling for U.N. reform, he avoided India’s standard demand for a U.N. Security Council seat. The not-so-hidden knocks against Pakistan and especially China, however, represented an audacious departure in a United Nations General Assembly speech.

Tanzania’s first female president stepped onto the scene.

By Laurie Garrett , Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and columnist at Foreign Policy

When Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan finally took the stage to deliver her speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday afternoon, she presented a distinctive contrast to the endless stream of all-male speakers who had preceded her to the podium on the third day of the General Debate. Even more sharply, she stood in clear contrast with the man who preceded her as president of Tanzania.

Suluhu previously served as vice president under President John “ The Bulldozer ” Magufuli, a man who brooked no disobedience, including on his insistence that COVID-19 didn’t exist in Tanzania . Under his presidency, data on the country’s mounting death toll was suppressed, doctors were gagged, and all coronavirus-related drugs and vaccines were banned .

Then, in February, Magufuli abruptly disappeared from public view—and for the first time, on Feb. 27 , a physician gave a nationally broadcast speech warning Tanzanians of the new plague. On March 17, Magufuli died .

Suluhu acceded to the presidency, telling the nation her predecessor had “died of a heart condition”—a statement she has not amended despite it being widely suspected that his cause of death was COVID-19 . Days later, South African scientists reported discovery of a “ super-mutant” strain of the novel coronavirus unlike any other circulating in Africa, carried by three Tanzanian travelers to Angola. Regional political pressure on Suluhu rose, and over the next several months, she created a COVID-19 scientific advisory council and joined global efforts to obtain vaccines and drugs for her nation.

In her U.N. remarks, Suluhu repeatedly praised multilateralism and the United Nations system. She noted her nation’s dependency on technical and financial support from external sources and admonished that “multilateralism cannot and should not succumb to the virus.”

Far from following Magufuli in denying the presence of the virus in the country, Suluhu acknowledged that “Tanzania has not been spared by COVID-19” and said the pandemic had already radically reduced Tanzania’s economic growth, from 6.9 percent a year to 5.4 percent , primarily due to loss of tourism. This, in turn, has wiped out the country’s ability to finance climate change adaptation.

As the first female leader of her nation, Suluhu pointedly noted that “COVID-19 is threatening to roll back the gains that we have made” in gender equity and said she plans to implement policies aimed at female economic development and political and social advancement.

The world still lacks verifiable COVID-19 data from Tanzania, including on cases and death tolls. But Suluhu started vaccination efforts in July, and with her U.N. speech, she joined the majority of her African peers in strongly denouncing the inequities in global vaccine distribution, with merely 245 million doses distributed as of earlier this month to poorer nations through the U.N.’s COVAX mechanism and 81 percent of all doses having been administered in the wealthiest nations.

Even looking to 2022, the wealthy world is backtracking on promised vaccine donations to COVAX, and nearly 80 percent of African nations will miss not only their short-term COVID-19 control targets but also those set for attainment next year.

World leaders weren’t in the mood to be “good neighbors.”

By Caroline de Gruyter , writer for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and columnist at Foreign Policy

In April 1945, amid the ravages of World War II, U.S. President Harry S. Truman addressed hundreds of delegates from 50 countries who had gathered in San Francisco to create the United Nations. “You members of this conference,” Truman said from the White House , “are to be the architects of the better world. In your hands rests our future.”

He meant that if world leaders wanted peace and justice, they had to bring it about themselves. Just having the United Nations as an institution would not suffice— they had to make the U.N. work. All depended on the will of each and every one: “In order to have good neighbors, we must also be good neighbors.”

With these words in mind, it was particularly depressing to watch world leaders address the U.N. General Assembly this month. Pakistan accused India of carrying out “a reign of terror” against Muslims; India accused Pakistan of “spew[ing] falsehoods on the world stage.”

Russia’s foreign minister blasted France for opposing the deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali and criticized the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Israel’s prime minister urged the world to act against Iran.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson—the only one showing some humor (saying he had seriously contemplated changing his name to “Boreas Johnson, in honor of the North Wind” that could save his country from an energy crisis)—used his entire speech as a marketing pitch for the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, meanwhile, had to do his own ritual dance, warning that on climate change and other major global problems it is five minutes to midnight: “Our world has never been more threatened or more divided.” But, of course, he added that he still has “hope.”

Guterres was perhaps the only speaker we cannot blame for being unsurprising. The U.N. was made for that purpose; its secretary-general can only utter platitudes.

The only one with real passion in her voice was the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley. She spoke spontaneously, from bullet points on her mobile phone, asking why heads of state come to New York every year to give the same speeches about peace and development and justice for all, then go home and forget everything they just said.

But then, someone had to say that, too.

This year’s General Assembly speeches did not get much media attention, except U.S. President Joe Biden’s first U.N. speech, and some others that touched on long-running international disputes such as Cyprus and Jammu and Kashmir. At some point, even journalists get tired of their role as critical outsiders on the moral high ground.

And the citizens? As of last Friday , the speech delivered by the K-pop group BTS at the U.N. General Assembly received 6.4 million views on YouTube, while Guterres’s speech was viewed just 5,300 times and Johnson’s 3,500 times.

The U.N. is as strong as its members want it to be. All depends on their willingness to be “good neighbors.” This year, they were clearly not in the mood. Hopefully next year it will be better.

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Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reads his resignation statement shortly before appearing on television in Moscow, December 25, 1991.

100 of the greatest speeches of the 20th century

100 greatest speeches of the 20th century.

The 20th century was one of the most varied, hopeful, and tumultuous in world history. From the Gilded Age to the beginning of the Internet Age—with plenty of stops along the way—it was a century punctuated by conflicts including two World Wars, the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, and the development of nuclear warfare. At the same time, the 20th century was characterized by a push for equality: Women in the United States received the right to vote after decades of activism, while the civil rights movement here ended the era of Jim Crow, inspired marginalized groups to take action, and introduced this country to great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Hundreds of people have used their voices along the way to heal, inspire, and enact change with speeches that helped to define these poignant moments in world history. Stacker has curated a list of 100 of the greatest speeches from the 20th century, drawing from research into great American speeches as determined by 137 scholars of American public address , as well as other historical sources. What follows is a gallery of speeches from around the U.S. and the world dealing with the most pressing issues of the day. Not all images show the speech event itself, but do feature the people who gave them.

Read on to discover which American author accepted his Nobel prize under protest and whether an American president accidentally called himself a jelly donut in German.

You may also like:  50 essential civil rights speeches

#100. Maya Angelou's "On the Pulse of Morning"

Delivered Jan. 20, 1993, in Washington D.C.

Maya Angelou, a longtime supporter of the Clinton family , became the second poet (after Robert Frost in 1961), and the first African American poet, to read at a presidential inauguration. She delivered "On the Pulse of Morning" directly after President Bill Clinton gave his first address, a poem that spanned the entire history of America and ended with a hopeful "Good morning." She won the Best Spoken Word Grammy for her performance, and a new audience was introduced to her previous work with the recognition she'd gained from the performance.

#99. Robert M. La Follette's "Free Speech in Wartime"

Delivered Oct. 6, 1917, in Washington D.C.

Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette was one of just six Senators to oppose U.S. entry into World War I and, after war was declared, an antiwar speech he gave was misleadingly portrayed in the media. As Senators threatened to expel him from the legislative body, he launched a lengthy filibuster that concluded with his rousing defense of "Free Speech in Wartime." He decisively stated that free speech during times of war was not only necessary, but that "the first step toward the prevention of war and the establishment of peace, permanent peace, is to give the people who must bear the brunt of war's awful burden more to say about it." Not everyone in the Senate was convinced, and La Follette was under investigation for treason until the end of the war.

#98. Yasser Arafat's "Gun and Olive Branch"

Delivered Nov. 13, 1974, at the UN General Assembly, New York City, N.Y.

A divisive historical figure at the center of one of the most controversial conflicts, Yasser Arafat served as the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization for nearly half a century. In 1974, he became the first non-voting member to speak in front of a plenary session of the United Nations. He declared, " Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun . Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." His "olive branch" appeal to peace in the long-running conflict affected the audience, slightly boosted public support for the Palestinians, and PLO  was granted observer status in the international body .

#97. Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger" keynote address

Delivered June 1981, in Storrs, Conn.

Well-known as a poet, writer, feminist, and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde wasn't afraid to critique the second-wave feminism movement for its disregard for the different ways women of color, particularly black women, suffered under the patriarchy. "Uses of Anger" was her keynote speech at the National Women's Studies Association Conference, but in it, Lorde doesn't only express rage at men and the white feminists who silence those marginalized voices. She also declares , "And I am not free as long as one person of color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you." Here and throughout she echoes the language of more inclusive intersectional feminism but also portends the modern solidarity movements between minority groups we see today.

#96. Charles de Gaulle's "Appeal of June 18"

Broadcast June 18, 19, and 22, 1940, via BBC radio

By 1940, things weren't looking great for Allied powers fighting in Europe, and in June 1940, France, one of the last remaining military powers on the continent, fell to the Nazi army. Escaping the country before a complete Nazi takeover, General Charles de Gaulle declared himself the leader of Free France (based in London), and broadcast several messages calling for resistance in his home country. He knew that "the flame of French resistance must not and shall not die," and ultimately he was proved correct four years later when France was liberated from the Nazi party. He would later become President of the French Republic.

#95. Margaret Sanger's "The Children's Era"

Delivered March 30, 1925, in New York City, N.Y.

The founder of what today is Planned Parenthood, and one of America's most famous birth control advocates, has both the reason and experience to be concerned with the plight of the country's children. In this speech at the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Margaret Sanger uses the powerful imagery of turning the world into "a beautiful garden of children." This garden, she suggests, must be cultivated from a fetus' conception and lays out several criteria she thinks parents should be forced to meet before having children—echoing several eugenicist talking points popular before World War II.

#94. George C. Marshall's "Marshall Plan"

Delivered June 5, 1947, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Following World War II, the European continent was in shambles, and after failing to negotiate German reconstruction with the Soviet Union, the United States decided it couldn't wait for the USSR to get involved before stepping in. Secretary of State George Marshall doesn't necessarily outline the specifics of the plan that today bears his name, instead calling on European leaders to accept U.S. help to rebuild (and of course, stop the spread of Communism). American journalists were kept as far away from the speech as possible because the Truman administration feared Americans wouldn't like the plan. But it was delivered and later accepted by Europe.

#93. Corazon Aquino's "Speech Before the Joint Session of the United States Congress"

Delivered: Sept. 18, 1986, in Washington D.C.

Corazon Aquino transformed from a self-described "plain housewife" to the presidency of the Philippines after the assassination of her husband Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. He was outspoken about the dictatorial rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, and Corazon took up the mantle, becoming the face of the People Power Revolution that ultimately ousted Marcos and elevated Aquino to the presidency. In this speech, the newly installed president eloquently recalls her journey thus far and reaffirms her commitment to bringing democracy and prosperity to the Filipino people.

#92. Jimmy Carter's "Energy and National Goals: Address to the Nation"

Delivered: July 15, 1979, in Washington D.C.

Energy policy is one of the signature domestic achievements of the Carter administration , reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and improving nuclear power in the U.S. However, President Carter's address on energy policy ended up being about more than those policies. Energy is the jumping-off point for those who have lost faith in government—who feel hopeless and fragmented. He tells these frightened people to "have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation," and that his energy policy is a start in the right direction for healing the nation.

#91. Eva Perón's "Renunciation of the Vice Presidency of Argentina"

Delivered Aug. 31, 1951, on Argentine radio

Immortalized by the people of Argentina, a Broadway musical, and a movie starring Madonna, Eva "Evita" Perón climbed from a childhood of poverty to First Lady when her husband Juan Perón became president in 1946 with the help of her campaigning. She was active as First Lady, helping women earn the right to vote, furthering her husband's Perónist movement, and meeting with the poor. She became something of a celebrity in the country, and in 1951 she announced her candidacy for the vice presidency alongside her husband, to the delight of the poor and working-class citizens she dedicated her time to. Their joy was short-lived; cancer left Perón unable to run for office, as she announces in this speech .

#90. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn's "Statement at the Smith Act Trial"

Delivered April 24, 1952, in New York City, N.Y.

The Smith Act Trial swept up huge numbers of Communist Party members and put them on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the U.S. government. American Communist Party leader and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, was one of those. She represented herself, made an impassioned statement to the court about her communist beliefs, and argued that she was not, as a communist, advocating for the fall of the government. Despite her remarks, she was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison.

#89. Ronald Reagan's "Speech on the Challenger Disaster"

Delivered: Jan. 28, 1986, via TV broadcast

The explosion of the Challenger Shuttle just seconds after took  off into the sky left seven people dead, including a civilian school teacher, on the same day that President Reagan was to give the State of the Union. Instead, he called in a young speechwriter, Peggy Noonan , to write a new speech that would help the nation process the tragedy they had seen broadcast on live TV. Reagan's speech is lauded even today for its careful balance between honoring the dead while reminding listeners of the importance of exploring the vast and unknown reaches of space, a quest for exploration for which the Challenger astronauts died.

#88. Elizabeth Glaser's "Address at the 1992 Democratic National Convention"

Delivered July 14, 1992, in New York City

Elizabeth Glaser contracted HIV early in the AIDS epidemic after receiving a contaminated transfusion while giving birth; she passed it on to both her children either through breastmilk or in utero. After her daughter passed away at age seven from AIDS, Glasner and two friends started the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and this activism led to her invitation to speak at the DNC in 1992. There, she described the issue as "not politics" but a "crisis of caring" that led the Republican administration to fail to tackle the AIDS crisis, and she called out Democrats as well to do better. She passed away from complications of the disease two years later.

#87. Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man with the Muckrake"

Delivered April 14, 1906, in Washington D.C.

Investigative journalism was booming in the first decade of the 20th century, as Progressive Era muckraking writers continued to publicize injustices to the country. These journalists had one powerful enemy: President Theodore Roosevelt, as he disliked writers who focused on bad things at the exclusion of all the good that was happening. His speech didn't call for these journalists to stop their practices of uncovering corrupt businessmen but reminded writers that their work affects public outlook and opinion, so only focusing on the worst moments could have a negative impact on the fabric of the nation.

#86. Richard Nixon's "The Great Silent Majority"

Delivered Nov. 3, 1969, in Washington D.C.

Richard Nixon was sworn into office in January 1969 after a wave of anti-Vietnam protests across the country left opposition to the war at a peak. Eleven months after he took office, Nixon gave an Oval Office speech that made clear he believed those protesting the war didn't demonstrate what most Americans actually thought about Vietnam—their opinions were just louder. He called on "the great silent majority of Americans" watching to support him in his decision. It was a gamble, but it paid off as Nixon's approval ratings shot up overnight and popularized the use of the term "silent majority," which is still used in politics today .

#85. John F. Kennedy's "Ich Bin Ein Berliner"

Delivered June 26, 1963, in West Berlin, Germany

Huge crowds thronged around the stage where President John F. Kennedy threw away the speech written by his advisers designed not to offend the Soviet Union and instead read one he'd written himself. The president demonstrated his solidarity with the citizens of the divided city by declaring, "Ich bin ein Berliner," or essentially, "I'm a citizen of Berlin in spirit." (For those who may be wondering, it's a popular myth, but JFK did not accidentally call himself a jelly donut when he called himself a Berliner.) Those who saw the speech in West Berlin, as well as those who watched it around the globe, were inspired.

#84. Rachel Carson's "A New Chapter in Silent Spring"

Delivered Jan. 8, 1963, in New York City, N.Y.

In the '60s and '70s, environmentalism sprang up as a social justice organization inspired by the civil rights movement. A seminal text was Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," which detailed the effects of the harmful pesticide DDT. In a speech to the Garden Club of America after her book's publication, Carson discusses the importance of raising public awareness of environmental issues, the next steps for those against pesticides, and new environmental dangers emerging on the horizon.

#83. Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace"

Delivered Dec. 8, 1953, at the UN General Assembly, New York City, N.Y.

The development of nuclear warfare gave the Cold War higher stakes and led to fears of a potential nuclear holocaust should something go wrong. In his "Atoms for Peace" speech before the UN, Eisenhower admitted that he needed to speak in a " new language...the language of atomic warfare ," and for the first time let the public know what the atomic age actually meant. Ultimately, the speech demonstrated the need for nuclear disarmament due to its destructive power; at the same time, the huge danger offered the U.S. an excuse to continue the arms race with the USSR after the Soviets refused to disarm.

#82. Eugene V. Debs' "Statement to the Court"

Delivered Sept. 18, 1918, in Girard, Kan.

Eugene V. Debs ran for president five times as a candidate for the Socialist Party but ran his final campaign in 1920 from a prison cell. Debs made an enemy of President Woodrow Wilson for his repeated speeches denouncing U.S. entry into World War I and was arrested on 10 charges of sedition. At his trial, Debs was granted permission to testify on his own behalf; the two-hour speech is remembered for its beautiful passages that moved even people who did not support him, such as in his concluding call for listeners everywhere to "take heart of hope, for the cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning." He was sentenced to a decade in prison but only served a few years before his sentence was commuted.

#81. Margaret Chase Smith's "Declaration of Conscience"

Delivered June 1, 1950, in Washington D.C.

Joseph Welch ultimately took down Joseph McCarthy during a 1953 trial investigating communism in the Army, but he was far from the first person to attempt to end the Senator's red-scare fearmongering. Senator Margaret Chase of Maine took aim at him from the Senate to the House floor four months after he became a national figure, with a speech that endorsed " the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, [and] the right of independent thought " as fundamental to American democracy. She was joined by six other moderate Republican Senators in her rebuke, and some publications praised her for taking a stand while others dismissed her concerns. It wasn't until 1954 that the rest of the Senate took her side and formally censured McCarthy .

#80. Gloria Steinem's "Testimony Before Senate Hearings on the Equal Rights Amendment"

Delivered May 6, 1970, in Washington D.C.

While Shirley Chisholm's speech on the Equal Rights Amendment emphasized all the change its passage would bring, Gloria Steinem—a feminist, activist, and journalist—focused on the sex-based myths that she saw as the root of these problems. Among other myths she took down during her testimony, Steinem cited science that proves men aren't biologically superior to women, points out that discrimination keeps women and African Americans from pursuing their dreams as fully as possible, and noted that men, women, and children all benefit when women are treated more equally in the family.

#79. Barbara Bush's "Choices and Change" commencement address

Delivered June 1, 1990, at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass.

Unlike most commencement addresses, all three major news networks interrupted their coverage to carry First Lady Barbara Bush's speech to Wellesley College live. Students were unhappy after Bush had replaced author Alice Walker after she withdrew as the speaker, but the First Lady silenced even her most fervent protestors when she showed up with the First Lady of the USSR, Raisa Gorbachev. The speech itself addressed student criticism head-on and exhorted all students, no matter their goals, to prioritize relationships above all .

#78. Lyndon B. Johnson's "The Great Society"

Delivered May 22, 1964, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.

This speech launched President Lyndon Johnson's ambitious domestic policy agenda and outlined exactly what he meant by a "Great Society." He defined it as "[demanding] an end to poverty and racial injustice," a place where all children can be educated, and "a challenge constantly renewed." Though the rhetoric in the speech is so sweeping it seems impossible to live up to, Johnson's list of accomplishments is long . He signed the Civil Rights Act, integrated schools, started Medicare, gave federal aid to K-12 schools and created federally backed college loans.

#77. Ronald Reagan's "Address at the U.S. Ranger Monument on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day"

Delivered June 6, 1984, in Pointe du Hoc, France

The title of Ronald Reagan's eloquent D-Day memorial address provides a bland package for the stirring—and at times chilling—speech he gave in honor of the storming of Normandy four decades prior. Reagan spoke of the Rangers that climbed the cliffs, remarking that "when one...fell, another would take his place." The focus, however, did not remain on how the men who died there passed away, but rather on the convictions that drove them; speaking directly to the men who died, Reagan praised them : "You all knew that some things are worth dying for...democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man."

#76. Emma Goldman's "Address to the Jury"

Delivered July 9, 1917, in New York City, N.Y.

A Russian-born feminist and anarchist , Emma Goldman went around the country delivering speeches supporting free speech, birth control, women's rights, labor's right to organize, and other progressive causes. In 1917, she and fellow radical Alexander Berkman were arrested for organizing the anti-war No Conscription League because it encouraged men not to register for a draft. At her trial, Goldman invoked the First Amendment , and like many other free speech advocates at the time, pointed out that "if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America" by safeguarding free speech protections. The jury was not convinced, and both were found guilty.

#75. Edward Kennedy's "Eulogy for Robert F. Kennedy"

Delivered June 8, 1968, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, N.Y.

Within a decade, Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy lost both his brothers to assassination, first President John F. Kennedy in 1963, then Robert "Bobby" Kennedy in 1968, whom he eulogized three days later. His heart-wrenching speech pulled together the past, present, and future , deftly weaving together Bobby's writings, the grief of his family and the nation over his brother's death, and his own vision for the future.

#74. Mario Savio's "Bodies Upon the Gears"

Delivered Dec. 2, 1964, in Berkeley, Calif.

Mario Savio was a student leader during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, which worked to end the school's restriction on students' political speech. Known for his fiery speeches, Savio delivered his most famous one during a sit-in at Sprout Hall, advocating for civil disobedience: "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! ... And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels...and you've got to make it stop." This inspired hundreds to occupy an administrative building overnight , and they continue to inspire countercultural and anti-government movements around the world.

#73. Jesse Jackson's "1984 Democratic National Convention"

Delivered July 18, 1984, in San Francisco, Calif.

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts in 20th-century politics was the "great reversal" of each political party's key constituencies: White Southerners became overwhelmingly Republican while black voters abandoned the party of Lincoln in favor of the Democratic presidents who worked to pass civil rights legislation. In the '80s, Democrats thought they should pivot back to the whites who'd abandoned the party, but civil rights leader Jesse Jackson's 1984 DNC address proposed an alternative: build a "rainbow coalition" that "makes room" for diversity, including black, Latino, young, Native American, environmentalist, activist, union, and LGBTQ+ voters. The strategy seems to have worked, if the diversity of the candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination is any indication.

#72. John L. Lewis, "Labor and the Nation"

Delivered Sept. 2, 1937, in Washington D.C.

Powerful unions like the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations—whose founding president was John L. Lewis —emerged in the 1920s and '30s. Lewis' speech lays out the long, occasionally bloody history of unions that brought them to this point and argues that the labor movement's fight for "peace with justice" shouldn't be seen as communist and should be supported by the people. It seems his speech fell on deaf ears, as unions were  significantly weakened in the 1970s and have been on the decline since .

#71. Margaret Sanger's "The Morality of Birth Control"

Delivered Nov. 18, 1921, at Park Theatre, New York

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was one of the most outspoken advocates for every man and woman's right to access birth control and take control of their own family planning. In this speech, she argues that it is not immoral, as some claim, but rather that it's moral for children to be desired and that motherhood should " be the function of dignity and choice ." (She also argues that disabled and impoverished people might not be fit parents, echoing eugenicist ideas of the time , but her fundamental argument is a woman's right to choose.) Open access to birth control for married and unmarried couples wouldn't be realized until the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision established a constitutional right to privacy over reproductive choices.

#70. Shirley Chisholm, "For the Equal Rights Amendment"

Delivered Aug. 10, 1970, in Washington D.C.

Versions of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would enshrine women's equality into the Constitution, have been proposed since women earned the right to vote, but it didn't take off until the second-wave feminist movement began to push for its passage. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress, delivered an eloquent defense of the ERA in the face of arguments that its passage would do nothing to change sexist attitudes. It passed the Senate two years later but was never ratified by enough states—just one more state needs to do so for it to become law .

#69. Edward Kennedy's "Faith, Truth, and Tolerance in America"

Delivered Oct. 3, 1983, at Liberty Baptist College, Lynchburg, Va.

Polls from the 2018 midterms stuck to a trend that's been evident for decades: White Christians, particularly evangelical Protestants, overwhelmingly vote Republican. The rise of the evangelical or "religious" right in the 1970s, and America's increasing polarization, led to this point, but Senator Edward Kennedy's address at the evangelical Liberty University suggested it didn't have to be this way. The devoutly Catholic Kennedy argued that no one's "convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society," leading to a robust separation of church and state . The connection between Americans is not, he suggests, a shared faith but rather " individual freedom and mutual respect ."

#68. Mary Church Terrell's "What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital of the United States"

Delivered Oct. 10, 1906, in Washington D.C.

A trailblazer half a century before the full force of the civil rights movement, Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African American women to earn a college degree. She spent her life working in the D.C. education system and the fight for black women's rights. Her hallmark speech detailed the discrimination and racism she and other African Americans experienced in the nation's capital and called on white listeners to realize the impact this oppression has on the future of black people living in D.C. and across the country.

#67. Winston Churchill's "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat"

Delivered May 13, 1940, at the House of Commons, London, England

Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister following Chamberlain's failed attempts to prevent war with Nazi Germany through appeasement. Churchill wasn't an immediately obvious choice as his successor , as his reputation left him with few friends in Parliament, but he was the only man with enough experience willing to take on the job in the middle of a war. In his first speech to Parliament , he offered only his "blood, toil, tears, and wage war against [the] monstrous tyranny" that was Nazi Germany. The sentiment won him the support of skeptics in Parliament and was the first in a trio of speeches that unified the country in the early years of the war.

#66. Wilma Mankiller's "On Rebuilding the Cherokee Nation"

Delivered April 2, 1993, in Sweet Briar, Va.

An activist from her early days, Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to be Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation after decades of community organizing. In her speech at Sweet Briar , Mankiller infuses her story with wry humor and keen insight while at the same time, with gravity, narrating the history of the Cherokee tribe and the deadly removals they faced at the hands of the U.S. government. Mankiller emphasizes trying to rebuild the community that endured within the Cherokee Nation despite all the removals. This theme was made all the more powerful when you remember that Native American children  were separated from their communities and forced into assimilationist boarding schools up through the 1970s.

#65. Russell Conwell's "Acres of Diamonds"

Delivered from 1900 to 1925, in multiple locations across the U.S.

The American Dream and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" school of thought were  popularized in the Gilded Age , creating an ideology of success that proposes any person in the country can succeed, no matter their circumstance, as long as they work hard. Russell Conwell, a former minister, ushered this school of thought into the 20th century with the "Acres of Diamonds" speech, which claims it is "your duty to get rich," and, in general, that impoverished people are unsympathetic because it was their own shortcomings that got them there.

#64. Ellen DeGeneres' "Vigil for Matthew Shepard"

Delivered Oct. 14, 1998, in Washington D.C.

In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out, as did the character on her sitcom (becoming the first LGBTQ+ lead on a TV show), paving the way for more LGBTQ+ representation in Hollywood. The following year, Matthew Shepard's murder sent shock waves through the LGBTQ+ community, evident in the angry, tearful speech DeGeneres gave at a celebrity vigil. She called out the hypocrisy of the church and framed Shepard's murder as "a wake-up call" for straight allies "to help us end the hate" and "raise your children with love and non-judgment." Already emerging as a spokesperson for LGBTQ+ rights, she gave voice to the rage and heartbreak many in the community, and across the nation, felt in the wake of the brutal anti-gay hate crime.

#63. Harry Truman's "Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima"

Delivered Aug. 6, 1945, via radio address

On Aug. 6, 1945, modern warfare changed forever when the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. In a radio address to the nation announcing both the development of atomic-bomb technology and the attack, President Harry Truman announced "let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war" using the atomic bomb. Three days later, a bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, decisively ending the war in the Pacific.

#62. Harold Ickes' "What Is an American?"

Delivered May 1941, in Central Park, New York City, N.Y.

In this speech, Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior during the Roosevelt Administration, asks a question that we're still grappling with in one way or another today . Here, Ickes answers the question to advocate for American involvement in World War II, bemoaning the loss of America's "vaunted idealism" . He characterizes an American as someone who "loves justice," "will fight for his freedom" and "in whose heart is engraved the immortal second sentence of the Declaration of Independence." Ickes appeals to these ideals to establish the necessity of fighting the Nazi threat to democracy; however, the bombing of Pearl Harbor a few months later is ultimately what pulled the U.S. into the war.

#61. Golda Meir's "Speech That Made Possible a Jewish State"

Delivered Jan. 2, 1948, in Chicago, Ill.

As the fight between Israelis and Palestinians intensified over the land to form the Jewish state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (who would become Israel's first Prime Minister) sent Golda Meir (who would become the third) to America to ask for money to finance the fighting from the American Jewish community. The speech, first delivered in Chicago , then across the U.S., appealed to a sense of unity within the community, suggesting that "if you were in Palestine and we were in the United States," the American Jewish community would do the same thing they did. She then asked for between $25 and $30 million to continue the fight; she returned home with $50 million to finance the effort.

#60. Rigoberta Menchú's "Nobel Peace Prize Lecture"

Delivered Dec. 10, 1992, in Oslo, Norway

Rigoberta Menchú is a fierce advocate for the rights of indigenous people, stemming from racism she's experienced in her home country and the violence that caused her to flee her home. She told her story that resulted in the book, "I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala," which shaped her into a spokeswoman for indigenous rights in the Western Hemisphere. She makes her universal message clear  in her Nobel Lecture , in which she declares her prize "constitutes a sign of hope in the struggle of the indigenous people in the entire Continent."

#59. Robert F. Kennedy's "On the Death of Martin Luther King"

Delivered April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, Ind.

Brother to John F. Kennedy and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, Robert F. Kennedy was at a campaign stop in Indiana when news came that Martin Luther King had been shot while marching with striking sanitation workers. His death would lead to marches and protests across the country but when RFK announced the death in Indianapolis, no violence broke out . Instead, in this short and powerful speech, Kennedy empathizes with those hurt by King's death, connecting it with his own brother's murder, and calls for unity and compassion in honor of King's legacy.

#58. Indira Gandhi's "What Educated Women Can Do"

Delivered Nov. 23, 1973, in New Delhi, India

Daughter of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the world's longest-serving female PM, Indira Gandhi had the kind of education that most Indian girls would never dream of receiving, especially in the 1930s and 40s. However, her own story doesn't figure into her famous speech on women's education, instead focusing on the need for more scientifically educated people , both men and women, so the country could achieve great things and become truly modern.

#57. Tony Blair's "Address to the Irish Parliament"

Delivered Nov. 26, 1998, in Dublin, Ireland

The relationship between Britain and Ireland had been characterized by centuries of colonialism and violence, culminating in the partition of Ireland and later the Troubles, decades of intense violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The two sides had made peace with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's address to the Irish Parliament a few months later marked the first time a British PM addressed an Irish parliament and affirmed that healing had begun and more could be accomplished by both nations when "our voices speak in harmony."

#56. Richard Nixon's "Checkers"

Delivered Sept. 23, 1952, via television broadcast

This speech, delivered when Nixon was a candidate for Vice President, might be named after the Nixon family dog, but the actual subject proves slightly less adorable. In it, Nixon used a television broadcast to directly answer accusations that he'd used political contributions to pay for personal expenses. He denied the allegations, laid out his financial history and proved his political intelligence by turning the question to the Democrats, asking their candidate to do the same. But what about Checkers the dog? Apparently, she was the only political contribution the Nixon's kept.

#55. Nelson Mandela's "Free at Last"

Delivered May 2, 1994, in Pretoria, South Africa

Decades earlier, Nelson Mandela made a name for himself for his anti-apartheid speech while on trial in Pretoria; now, after 27 years in prison, apartheid had officially ended and Mandela had become South Africa's first democratically elected president. "Free at last" is a reference to a Dr. Martin Luther King speech , showing how closely connected the anti-apartheid and civil rights movement were, though the two leaders never met. The speech emphasizes both the joy of the moment and continued work needed to build " a better life for all South Africans ."

#54. Nikita Khrushchev's "The Cult of the Individual"

Delivered Dec. 5, 1956, in Moscow, Russia

Very few men in the Soviet Union dared insult or question Joseph Stalin, a man who ordered the deaths of millions of his own people , including political rivals. It wasn't until after his death that his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was willing to say that elevating an individual and worshiping a cult of personality went against the kind of communism that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin espoused—the communism that formed the foundation of the Soviet Union's political philosophy. Khrushchev's denunciation of his predecessor shocked the world and offered the first thorough account of Stalin's crimes, but his motivations for giving the speech remain unclear.

#53. Franklin D. Roosevelt's "First Inaugural Address"

Delivered March 4, 1933, in Washington D.C.

President Franklin Roosevelt is lauded for guiding the United States through the thick of World War II, but upon first taking office, he was facing down a different kind of war: the one against the Great Depression. When FDR assumed office, the Depression was at its peak, with almost a quarter of the working population unemployed . His inauguration address emphasizes the enormous scale of the project it would take to rebuild the nation; still, he famously invigorated everyone listening by declaring that "  the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ."

#52. Betty Friedan's "Farewell to the National Organization of Women"

Delivered Mar. 20, 1970, in Chicago, Ill.

Betty Friedan's best-selling book, "The Feminine Mystique," got women talking about "the problem with no name" and is often credited with helping spark second-wave feminism. Her voice continued to have power even as she stepped down as president from the National Organization of Women. That day, she called for a general women's strike to be held on Aug. 26, 1970. Despite skepticism from media outlets, thousands of women heeded Friedan's call and took to the street that day—a physical manifestation of the feminist movement's enduring power.

#51. Malcolm X's "Message to the Grassroots"

Delivered on Nov. 10, 1963, in Detroit, Mich.

The divisions between the civil rights movement become obvious in "Message to the Grassroots," which contrasted the "Negro revolution" which was nonviolent and ineffectual, and the "black revolution," which was necessarily violent and had proved itself effective across Africa . This stands alongside the powerful but historically flawed distinction he makes between the self-hating "house slaves" loyal their white owners and "field slaves" as illustrative of X's criticism of black activists whom he thought were too eager to acquiesce to the white people whose oppression the movement was trying to overcome.

#50. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Beyond Vietnam: Breaking the Silence"

Delivered on April 4, 1967, in New York City, N.Y.

Though today Martin Luther King is revered by nearly all Americans as a powerful spokesman for equal rights and integration, not every political opinion was popular among the American public. Exactly one year before he was assassinated, King spoke out against the Vietnam War. He accused America of ignoring conflicts at home in favor of war abroad, pointing out the "cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools." Delivered several years before popular opinion on the war changed, King lost many of the powerful allies in government and media due to this speech .

#49. Bill Clinton's "Oklahoma Bombing Memorial Prayer Service Address"

Delivered April 23, 1992, in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Before President Bill Clinton became the nation's "consoler-in-chief" during Columbine, he had to face a nation mourning the 168 people killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing by two domestic terrorists angry about the FBI raid in Waco, Texas. The speech he gave at the memorial service reminded those who had lost loved ones that they "have not lost everything" because they "have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes" to heal from the tragedy. The sentiment struck a chord with the American public, evident in the boosting of Clinton's poll numbers after the speech.

#48. Nora Ephron's "Commencement Address to the Wellesley Class of 1996"

Delivered June 3, 1996, in Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass.

Commencement speeches are usually uplifting addresses to graduating seniors looking to inspire them before they begin the next chapter of their lives. Journalist, filmmaker, and writer Nora Ephron returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, to discuss all the ways the world had changed for the better since she graduated but also offered a note of warning for the grads. "Don't underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back," she remarked , listing off current events that reminded the Wellesley graduates that feminism was still urgently needed at the close of the 20th century.

#47. Barbara C. Jordan's "Statement on the Articles of Impeachment"

Delivered: July 25, 1974, in Washington D.C.

As a newly minted State Senator in Texas, Barbara Jordan won over segregationists to pass an equal rights amendment in the state and became a hugely popular political figure in her state. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1973 just as the Watergate investigation was heating up, and there she gave a rousing political speech subtly advocating for the president's impeachment. Grounding her argument in the Constitution, she called on her fellow House members to use "reason, and not passion" to "guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision" as she just adeptly demonstrated.

#46. General Douglas MacArthur's "Farewell Address to Congress"

Delivered April 19, 1951, in Washington D.C.

President Harry Truman and five-star general Douglas MacArthur had a combative relationship, which heated up after the President relieved him of command of UN forces in the Korean War for insubordination. General MacArthur's speech before a joint session of Congress questioned Truman's decision not to take on China in the war, commenting that "War's very object is victory, not prolonged indecision." He received 50 standing ovations during the address while Truman's approval rating plummeted after firing a popular general and World War II hero.

#45. Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" lectures

Delivered October 20 and 26, 1928, at Cambridge University, Cambridge, England

English author Virginia Woolf's lectures at the women's college at Cambridge are not remembered as stirring works of oratory, but rather as a book. "A Room of One's Own" is a foundational piece of feminist literary theory adapted from this pair of lectures that examines the different types of marginalization women have faced throughout history and the impact on their creative productivity. Among other things,  she posits that in order for women to write literature , they need a "room of one's own" or a private space and financial independence in order to write well—a revolutionary claim in late-1920s Europe.

#44. Joseph Welch's "Have You No Sense of Decency?" testimony

Delivered June 9, 1953, in Washington D.C.

Though not technically a speech, the exchange between Senator Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Welch, a lawyer hired by the U.S. Army, proved to be the final blow in the Wisconsin Senator's fall from grace . McCarthy had been conducting trials of suspected Communists since 1950 and everyone was beginning to tire of his methods. A heated back-and-forth erupted between the two men when McCarthy questioned whether one of the lawyers at Welch's firm had Communist ties, leading Welch to ask heatedly McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" With these famous lines, Senator McCarthy saw the last of his power evaporate and died three years later.

#43. Carrie Chapman Catt's "The Crisis"

Delivered Sept. 7, 1916, in Atlantic City, N.J.

Carrie Chapman Catt was a leading figure in the late stages of the American women's suffrage movement, founding the International Women's Suffrage Alliance and serving as president of the National American Women's Suffrage Association during the final push to pass the 19th Amendment. In "The Crisis," Catt outlines her plan to make pushing for a federal amendment to the Constitution NAWSA's priority. At the same time, she tied their fight for the vote to World War I in Europe and the broader fight for women's rights around the world. Ultimately, her instinct to focus on federal legislation instead of working state-by-state proved correct; white women gained the right to vote just three years after this address.

#42. Lyndon B. Johnson's "We Shall Overcome"

Delivered March 15, 1965, in Washington D.C.

One of the most stirring pieces of American rhetoric was written  by a hungover speechwriter in just eight hours , after President Lyndon B. Johnson decided he wanted to address Congress about the "Bloody Sunday" attacks against protestors in Selma, Ala. In it, Johnson called on all of America to join him in the cause of civil rights. He appealed specifically to white Americans, noting that "it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome." The speech was interrupted for applause 40 times and brought civil rights activists to tears. And overcome they did; five months later, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

#41. Geraldine Ferraro's "Vice Presidential Nomination Acceptance Address"

Delivered July 19, 1984, in San Francisco, Calif.

In her concession speech in 2016, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton noted that women have yet to shatter the "highest and hardest glass ceiling" of the American presidency or vice presidency. Very few have come close, the first being Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's VP pick in the 1984 campaign. In her acceptance speech, Ferraro demonstrates her adeptness as a politician, weaving critiques of the Reagan administration together with her career as an avid activist for women's rights. Though they would ultimately lose to the Republicans, Ferraro cemented her place as a prominent voice in the Democratic party and a trailblazer for women in politics .

#40. Richard Nixon's "Resignation Address to the Nation"

Delivered: Aug. 8, 1974, from Washington D.C.

The case against President Richard Nixon had been growing for years as more details about the Watergate scandal emerged. By August 1974, The Supreme Court ordered the release of tapes he made in the Oval Office, articles of impeachment were being drawn up, and Nixon had lost the support of members of his own party. Rather than suffer the shame of being the first president to be removed from office, Nixon opted to be the first president to resign in a speech highlighting his successes and the work that would need to be continued by his successor.

#39. Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation"

Delivered Dec. 8, 1941, via radio broadcast

World War II had been raging since 1939 across the Atlantic but America's historic reluctance to enter global conflict barred President Franklin Roosevelt from taking the direct action he wanted to support U.S. allies in Europe. That changed after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killing thousands of Americans. The next day, FDR took to the radio to report what had happened on this "date which will live in infamy" and called on Congress to declare war on Japan, which they did shortly after.

#38. Huey P. Long's "Share the Wealth"

Delivered Feb. 23, 1934, via radio broadcast

Also called the "Every Man a King" speech, Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long addressed the nation and laid out his radical plan to redistribute wealth between the richest and poorest Americans by capping fortunes and guaranteeing a basic income, among other radical policy proposals . This was a break from the Democratic Party's New Deal policies, which Long felt did not address wealth discrepancies that he believed caused the Great Depression. His embrace of radio to speak directly to the people won him many supporters to his cause; though he was assassinated the following year.

#37. Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points"

Delivered Jan. 8, 1918, in Washington D.C.

Woodrow Wilson and many others who lived through World War I wanted the deadly global conflict to be "the war to end all wars." The idealistic, progressive Wilson turned this desire into his Fourteen Points for world peace, which he later laid out before Congress after other combatants failed to articulate their aims in the war. Cornerstones of Wilson's peace plan included self-determination , free trade, open seas, and a League of Nations to enforce peace around the world—a plan that was ultimately hampered by Congress' refusal to join the League.

#36. Margaret Thatcher's "The Lady's Not for Turning"

Delivered Oct. 10, 1980, in Brighton, England

Margaret Thatcher took over as Prime Minister and leader of the Tory Party at a time when conservatism was becoming politically popular in much of the Western world (Ronald Reagan would be elected a month after this speech was given). In it, Thatcher lays out her opposition to changing the conservative economic policies she'd instituted, one that focuses on curbing inflation and removing economic regulations. It's most famous line, "'You turn [U-turn the economy] if you want to. The lady's not for turning!" fed into her formidable reputation as the Iron Lady of British politics.

#35. Ursula K. Le Guin's "A Left-Handed Commencement Address"

Delivered in 1983, at Mills College, Oakland, Calif.

Feminist science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin wasn't shy about interrogating the complexities of gender in her work, featuring everything from strong female characters to genderfluid aliens. Her famous commencement address  is shaped around some of her concerns regarding gender, pointing out that "women as women are largely excluded from, alien to, the self-declared male norms of this society," and that language itself is centered around men. Citing many famous feminists and women leaders of the era, Le Guin's speech provides a powerful call to action for women (and men) to "grow human souls" and work toward gender equality in their own lives.

#34. Harold Macmillan's "Wind of Change"

Delivered Feb. 3, 1960, in Cape Town, South Africa

The list of countries that have never been invaded by the British is shorter than the list of those that have, but by 1960, the British Empire no longer stretched around the world. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan signaled this by visiting several British colonies in southern Africa before giving a speech to the South African Parliament announcing that England would no longer stand in the way of colonies wishing to become independent. In his opinion, the emergence of these new nations were the result  of "the wind of change...blowing through this continent," and there was nothing Parliament could do to stop them.

#33. Mikhail Gorbachev's resignation

Delivered Dec. 25, 1991, in Moscow, Russia

The fall of the Soviet Union marked the end of the Cold War, the conflict which defined almost every aspect of the post-World War II era. The Cold War didn't end with nuclear holocaust, as many had feared during the conflict's peak, but rather the resignation of executive President Mikhail Gorbachev after several Soviet bloc countries broke away from the USSR behind his back. In the speech he warned that though the country had acquired freedom, "we haven't learned to use freedom yet," so it was important to tread carefully—a warning that has a new salience as the country slides back into authoritarian rule under President Vladimir Putin.

#32. Frank James' "Suppressed Speech"

Delivered Nov. 1970, in Plymouth, Mass.

Wampanoag elder Frank James was invited to speak at a celebration at Plymouth in honor of the 350th Thanksgiving. Organizers objected to his portrayal of the Puritan Pilgrims and white settlers as people who "sought to tame the 'savage' and convert him," but James had refused to read the more PR-friendly speech they gave him. James instead held a protest nearby that has since become the annual Day of Mourning , in which indigenous Americans come to protest and speak out about their experiences.

#31. Jawaharlal Nehru's "Tryst with Destiny"

Delivered Aug. 14–15, 1947, in New Delhi, India

The struggle against the British Empire on the Indian subcontinent finally came to a triumphant finish with Jawaharlal Nehru's "Tryst with Destiny" speech just before midnight on the eve of India's independence. He honors Gandhi as the leader of the movement, as well as the victory they achieved. He also alludes to the Partition that split India and Pakistan into two countries, as well as the sectarian divides between Hindus and Muslims—problems that still plague the country today.

#30. Sacheen Littlefeather's speech at the 1972 Academy Award ceremony

Delivered March 27, 1973, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Marlon Brando shocked the Academy Awards when he refused his Oscar for mobster classic "The Godfather." Instead, he sent indigenous activist Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the award and give her a platform to protest the treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood, and more importantly, bring attention to the standoff between federal agents and Native Americans at Wounded Knee that was under a media blackout. Littlefeather delivered a shortened version of his message amid boos; The New York Times later printed Brando's letter in its entirety , and the media blackout at Wounded Knee was lifted.

#29. Bill Clinton's "Presidential Address to Columbine High School"

Delivered May 20, 1999, at Dakota Ridge High School, Littleton, Colo.

One of the most difficult jobs of the U.S. President is to act as "consoler-in-chief" when tragedy strikes the nation. President Bill Clinton found himself in that position—and, in the eyes of many, set the standard for future American leaders —after the shooting at Columbine High School left 12 students and one teacher dead. In the speech given a month after the tragedy, Clinton traveled to Colorado to offer support to grieving families and try to come to terms with an event that " pierced the soul of America ."

#28. Eleanor Roosevelt's "On the Adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights"

Delivered Dec. 9, 1948, in Paris, France

Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated her life to human rights around the world, serving as the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission after World War II. In that position, she pushed for creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which lays out 30 articles affirming " that man must have freedom in which to develop his full stature and through common effort to raise the level of human dignity."

#27. Stokely Carmichael's "Black Power"

Delivered Oct. 29, 1966, in Berkeley, Calif.

Stokely Carmichael firmly believed in nonviolent protest in the early days of the civil rights movement, but as the years wore on, he became convinced that "black power for black people" was needed to jump-start the next phase of the civil rights project. Black power, later adopted by groups like the Black Panther Party, required a sense of solidarity between black people and the election of black representatives. As his speech demonstrates , this wasn't an inherently violent concept, but rather questions the notion of nonviolence because, as Carmichael points out, "white people beat up black people every day—don't nobody talk about nonviolence."

#26. Aung San Suu Kyi's "Freedom from Fear"

Delivered Jan. 1 1990, in Myanmar (formerly Burma)

Daughter of the founder of the modern Burmese military and a key figure in Burmese independence, Aung San Suu Kyi followed in her father's footsteps to become a leader in the push for democratic government in the country. The military placed her under house arrest on-and-off for over 20 years while she continued to push for democracy, including in this speech, which calls for "a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear." She ascended to governmental power in 2010 with global praise and hope for change, but the recent ethnic cleansing of a minority group in the country threatens her legacy as an advocate for freedom .

#25. Emmeline Pankhurst's "Freedom or Death"

Delivered Nov. 13, 1913, in Hartford, Conn.

The early decades of the 1900s brought new energy and activism to the push for women's suffrage in England, just as it did in the United States and Canada. Emmeline Pankhurst delivered this speech on a fundraising tour of the U.S. after a long period of hunger striking and arrests, using imagery from the American Revolution and other powerful metaphors to justify militant tactics adopted by her group in the push for the vote.

#24. Severn Cullis-Suzuki's "Speech to the UN Summit in Rio"

Delivered in 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Twelve-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki became "The Girl Who Silenced the World for Five Minutes" after she stunned the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development with a plea for older generations to work to improve the environment. Her demand that "If [adults] don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!" echoes those of modern child climate activists like Greta Thunberg, who has led a worldwide movement of school strikes pushing for action on the climate crisis.

#23. Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?"

Delivered Jan. 29, 1914, in Winnipeg, Canada

The Canadian women's suffrage movement was kicked into high gear when prominent activist Nellie McClung turned a rejection of the request for the vote into a piece of theater. Drawing on humor and showmanship, she presented a mock trial of men asking women legislators for suffrage, arguing that "manhood suffrage has not been a success in the unhappy countries where it has been tried," among other satirical moments. McClung later campaigned against the party that previously denied her the right to vote, finally winning suffrage for white Manitoban women in 1916.

#22. Ronald Reagan's "Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate"

Delivered June 12, 1987, in West Berlin, Germany

It might be hard to believe, but, coming just a few short years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan's cry of "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" didn't make much of a splash when he first gave his speech. It didn't reach its status as a famous piece of American political rhetoric until the wall actually began to come down in 1989. While some scholars claim it helped Reagan build support for his plans to work with the Soviet Union, others believe the Wall's destruction had far more to do with reforms going on inside the USSR.

#21. William Faulkner's Nobel lecture

Delivered Jan. 10, 1950, in Stockholm, Sweden

Author of stories rooted in the American South, William Faulkner's Nobel lecture ( for a prize he didn't even want! ) spoke to deeply American concerns. He addresses the difficulty in creating art in an age of anxiety over atomic destruction, noting that until a writer relearns their craft under this condition, " he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man ." He ends the address rejecting this possibility, offering a surprisingly hopeful view in an age characterized by fear of a nuclear holocaust.

#20. John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

Delivered Jan. 20, 1961, in Washington D.C.

One line from President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address has endured in the American imagination for nearly half a century: "My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." However, Kennedy's call to public service has overshadowed the fact that most of the speech focused on global issues. As Kennedy was elected near the height of tensions in the Cold War, he felt the need to address both the Soviet Union and allies abroad to reassure them of his competency and desire for global peace.

#19. Lou Gehrig's "Farewell to Baseball Address"

Delivered July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, N.Y.

The crowd at Yankee Stadium sat silent as Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig addressed his retirement from baseball after being diagnosed with a disease that would later be named after him. Declaring himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth," he spoke briefly of the "awful lot [of things] to live for," including his fans, his teammates, and his family members. Following the address, he received a two-minute standing ovation and was showered with gifts and praise.

#18. Winston Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"

Delivered: June 4, 1940, in London, England

In the first five weeks after he took over as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill gave three major speeches addressing the worsening war in France. The second of these dealt with the intensifying situation in France. Implying that battle might come to Britain, he declared that "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets" and never surrender. Parliament praised the rousing address, but the public didn't hear it in Churchill's own words until after the war had ended and caused public pessimism after it was read by broadcasters .

#17. Mahatma Gandhi's "Quit India"

Delivered Aug. 8, 1942, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India

Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi became the face of Indian independence as he organized the "Quit India" movement, which, as he laid out in the speech to fellow leaders , would coerce the British to voluntarily leave India using nonviolent protest. His fellow leaders agreed, passing a resolution to that effect, but thousands of arrests followed and Gandhi's speech was suppressed. Underground presses published his speech, and his call to "either free India or die in the attempt" became a rallying point for the movement.

#16. Nelson Mandela's "I am prepared to die"

Delivered April 20, 1964, in Pretoria, South Africa

The address Nelson Mandela gave instead of testimony at his trial for alleged sabotage became the defining speech of the anti-apartheid movement—and of his legacy as an advocate for equality in South Africa. In it, he argues that his cause is correct and explains his views, before launching into his famous conclusion, in which he states a free and equal state is "an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Mandela was sentenced to life in prison but did not die there, instead continuing his advocacy from prison before his release 27 years later.

#15. William Jennings Bryan's "Against Imperialism"

Delivered Aug. 8, 1900, in Indianapolis, Ind.

Perennial presidential candidate (but never winner) William Jennings Bryan advocated against American imperialism shortly after U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War allowed the country to begin building an empire. He appealed to American ideals, pointing out the lack of "full citizenship" offered to Puerto Ricans and Filipinos, and decried the "gun-powder gospel" that argued imperial wars should be fought due to Christianity. Unfortunately, his status as perennial presidential loser continued into the early 1900s and none of his proposed reforms were taken into consideration.

#14. Dolores Huerta's speech at the NFWA march and rally

Delivered April 10, 1966, in Sacramento, Calif.

Dolores Huerta worked alongside César Chávez to establish the National Farm Workers Association and direct the Delano grape strike, where she quickly emerged as a leading feminist figure. Her speech at the NFWA march illustrates her dedication and zeal , exclaiming "La huelga [the strike] and la causa is our cry, and everyone must listen. Viva la huelga!" Huerta's success with the Delano strike led to continued labor organizing and support for feminist causes, activities which she continues today.

#13. Gabriel García Márquez's "The Solitude of Latin America"

Delivered Dec. 8, 1982, in Stockholm, Sweden

Gabriel García Márquez, storied Colombian author whose books "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera" helped fuel the Latin American literature boom, used his Nobel acceptance speech to make a political statement . In it, he spoke of Latin America's isolation in the world, despite decades of imperialism and outside influence in the region. However, with the same magical realism for which his writing was famous, he envisioned " a new and sweeping utopia of life ...where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth."

#12. Ryan White's "Testimony before the President's Commission on AIDS"

Delivered: March 3, 1988, in Washington D.C.

Born with a rare blood disorder, Ryan White became infected with HIV as a young child because of the factor 8 used for his treatment, which was collected using untested, anonymous blood donors. After his diagnosis in 1984, White attempted to return to school but faced huge stigma and attempts to bar him from the classroom, experiences which formed the basis of his testimony before the commission. This speech, and the court battles over his schooling, led to his becoming a leading HIV/AIDS activist, dispelling myths about the disease for the American public before his death in 1990 at 18.

#11. Elie Wiesel's "The Perils of Indifference"

Delivered April 12, 1999, in Washington D.C.

Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel survived the Holocaust as a teenager, losing his family in the process. The experience fueled his lifelong activism ; he became an educator about the Holocaust and advocate of victims of other atrocities, such as apartheid in South Africa and genocides around the world. His "Perils of Indifference" speech criticized those who ignored the horrors of the Holocaust and reminded listeners that " indifference is not a response " and "in denying [victims] their humanity we betray our own."

#10. Anita Hill's Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee

Delivered Oct. 11, 1991, in Washington D.C.

Anita Hill's testimony at the Supreme Court confirmation of Clarence Thomas, alleging that he sexually harassed her, proved to be a powerful and occasionally painful day in Washington D.C. Hill, a black woman, shared her experience staring down a Senate Judiciary Committee composed entirely of white men, who have since admitted to mishandling Hill's testimony . Thomas was confirmed to the bench despite Hill's allegations, but her testimony in part spurred record-breaking numbers of women to run for elected office and is seen by some as a precursor to the modern #MeToo movement.

#9. Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Women's Rights are Human Rights"

Delivered Sept. 5, 1995, in Beijing, China

Advisors to then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton advised her to soften her rhetoric in her speech at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women , but Clinton refused, seizing the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the abuse of women in China and around the world. Though she is not the first person to declare " human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all," she popularized use of the phrase on that day, in a speech that defined Clinton's career apart from her husband's. Since then, it's become a rallying cry in the fight for women's rights and became a focal point in Clinton's 2016 bid for president.

#8. Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address

Delivered Jan. 6, 1941, in Washington D.C.

Delivered just under a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union emphasized the value of democracy in a world embroiled in a devastating war. It's most famous for FDR's declaration of the four freedoms : freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want (meaning economic security), and freedom from fear (meaning global disarmament and prevention of wars).

#7. César Chávez's "The Mexican American and the Church"

Delivered: March 10, 1968, in Delano, Calif.

César Chávez is an iconic figure in movements for labor rights and Latino rights due to his organization and leadership of the National Farm Workers Association (alongside colleague Dolores Huerta), particularly during the five-year Delano grape strike. Chávez adopted historical tactics of nonviolence and resistance, such as fasting; after breaking a 25-day fast, the religious Chávez spoke at a conference about the relationship between Mexican Americans and the church, calling on the ministry to use their " tremendous spiritual and economic power " to support the striking farm workers. His work with the NFWA formed a cornerstone of the Chicano Movement that pushed for Mexican American rights in the 1960s and beyond.

#6. Harvey Milk's "Hope Speech"

Delivered June 25, 1978, in San Francisco, Calif.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, used his "Hope Speech" as his stump speech during his 1977 run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; he expanded on it for its final delivery at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade the following year. The rousing speech emphasizes the importance of electing LGBTQ+ leaders so that young LGBTQ+ people across the country surrounded by homophobia can have those to look up to and regain their hope. Milk's life was cut short when he was assassinated only months later, but he continued to inspire hope as a martyr for the LGBTQ+ movement.

#5. Malcom X's "The Ballot or the Bullet"

Delivered April 12, 1964, at King Solomon Baptist Church, Detroit, Mich. (also delivered nine days earlier in Cleveland)

Malcolm X stands alongside Martin Luther King as one of the leading figures of the civil rights movement, but X's advocacy for black nationalism and defeating racism by "any means necessary" often conflicted with King's support for integration and nonviolent protest. "The Ballot or the Bullet," considered by many to be one of Malcolm X's best orations, urges African Americans to exercise their power at the ballot box in the 1964 election and select leaders who will pass civil rights legislation and care about issues affecting black communities.

#4. Dennis Shepard's "Statement to the Court"

Delivered Nov. 4, 1999, in Laramie, Wyo.

Matthew Shepard, a young gay man attending college in Laramie, Wyo., was beaten to death in an apparent hate crime in October 1998. His father gave an emotional impact statement to the court (since excerpted in several movies and plays about the crime), emphasizing the effect of his son's life and death on his family and the world. After their son's death, Dennis Shepard and his wife, Judy, helped to fulfill the promise he made "to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again" by advocating for the passage of hate crime legislation that became the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

#3. Sylvia Rivera's "Y'all Better Quiet Down"

Delivered in 1973, at Washington Square Park, New York City, N.Y.

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, and the riots that resulted jumpstarted the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Sylvia Rivera participated in the riots that day (she's said to have thrown one of the first bottles at police) and began a storied career as an activist . Rivera, a transgender Puerto Rican woman, wasn't afraid to call out what she saw as shortcomings in the movement; she delivered her "Y'all Better Quiet Down" to the crowd at the Christopher Street Liberation Rally, decrying white, middle-class gay men and lesbians for ignoring transgender people and other marginalized voices in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

#2. John F. Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon"

Delivered Sept. 12, 1962, at Rice Stadium, Houston, Texas

In 1962, the U.S. and Soviet Union were in the thick of the Space Race, and the U.S. government was fighting over how much money to put into the project to put a man on the moon. With this speech , President Kennedy put an end to the squabbling; he laid out why it was important for the U.S. to lead the way to the stars and famously declared, " We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." This speech inspired the American people, and the Apollo mission was made a priority, leading to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.

#1. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream"

Delivered Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington D.C.

While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was giving a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, gospel singer (and King's close friend) Mahalia Jackson spurred him to go off-script , calling out, "Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" He did, and today, King's dream that his four children "live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" is one of the most lauded pieces of American rhetoric. It cemented King's place as the face of the civil rights movement, for which he's still celebrated today. Pictured here is Martin Luther King (center) leading the "March on Washington" the day he gave the speech. 

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The 12 Most Memorable Political Convention Speeches

best political speech

Brown Bros | AP Photo

William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold,” 1896

When former Rep. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska addressed the Democratic convention the major issue of the day was whether silver as well as gold should be minted as U.S. currency. Silver coinage would be inflationary and help, for example, debt-impoverished farmers. The 36-year old Bryan was an avowed bimetallist, placed himself in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson against moneyed interests and in favor of “hardy pioneers who braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose … out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their children and churches where they praise their Creator and the cemeteries where sleep the ashes of their dead.” His peroration has gone down in history: “Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign .]

Those words, the New York Times reported the next day, were “the signal for an avalanche of cheers which speedily developed into a measureless outburst.” This 14-minute demonstration, the paper added, was a “perfect Niagara of sound,” and “struck terror to the hearts” of the pro gold forces in the hall.

The Democrats nominated Bryan for the presidency the following day. The Bryan speech has echoed in U.S. history. According to William Safire’s Political Dictionary , it inspired 1930s Louisiana Gov. Huey Long’s “every man a king” slogan, and had the earliest criticism of what is now known as “trickle-down economics,” attacking the belief “that if you just legislate to make the well-to-prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below.”

best political speech

FDR’s “New Deal,” 1932

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the podium at Chicago Stadium to address the Democratic Party as its nominee, he was doing something unprecedented: giving an acceptance speech. By tradition, presidential nominees waited in feigned ignorance for a convention delegation to inform them of their selection. But upon learning that he had secured the nomination FDR announced that he would fly—then still a novel and risky way to travel—from Albany to Chicago to deliver the address, displaying “theatrics that he was going to show his physicality,” says historian Robert Dallek, as well as illustrating the vigor with which he would tackle the Great Depression.”

The speech itself was the subject of staff infighting with longtime aide Louis Howe proffering an entirely rewritten draft on Roosevelt moments after he landed. FDR used the first page of the new speech but then transitioned to the one he had brought with him, which included the historic peroration that, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” The phrase had come from the pen of FDR speechwriter Samuel Rosenman, but neither man realized that it would become a historic catchphrase. “It was simply one of those phrases that catch public fancy and survive—short, concise, and yet comprehensive enough to cover a great many different concepts,” Rosenman later wrote.

The first clue of the phrase’s potency came the next day when New York-based newspaper cartoonist Rollin Kirby published a cartoon showing a man leaning on his hoe, watching an airplane fly overhead adorned with the words “New Deal.”

best political speech

Hubert Humphrey and the “Bright Sunshine of Human Rights,” 1948

At issue when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey addressed the Democratic convention was whether the party should adopt a minority plank to the platform advocating for civil rights for black Americans—an issue Southern Democrats viewed as an affront. “He spoke,” biographer Albert Eisele later wrote, “with a fervor that brought sweat pouring from his face and spattering on the pages of his speech.” He declared that “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” The address lasted less than 10 minutes and prompted wild applause in the convention hall that lasted nearly as long. ”

The speech and the convention’s adoption of the civil rights plank also marked the beginning of the fracturing of the New Deal coalition, which had included the Democrats’ “solid South.” The entire Mississippi delegation walked out, as did half the Alabama delegates. “The South is no longer going to be the whipping boy of the Democratic Party,” Alabama delegate Handy Ellis said. “And you know that without the votes of the South you cannot elect the president of the United States.” On that he was wrong. While South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, a Democrat, mounted an independent bid for the White House on the Dixiecrat ticket, incumbent President Harry Truman completed the most famous comeback in American history—thanks, critically, to overwhelming black support in Ohio and Illinois.

best political speech

Dick Strobel | AP Photo

JFK’s “New Frontier,” 1960

John F. Kennedy ran for president with a campaign message that he would “get this country moving again” after a somnambulant near decade of Republican control. “After eight years of drugged and fitful sleep, this nation needs strong, creative Democratic leadership in the White House,” Kennedy said in his acceptance speech.

He also laid out where he wanted to get the country moving to. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats,” he said, addressing a crowd of 80,000 in Los Angeles’s Memorial Coliseum. He went on that “the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook—it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.””

The idea sacrifice as well as the declaration that it was time “for a new generation of leadership” foreshadowed JFK’s inaugural address declaration that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and its injunction that citizens should “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

The acceptance address “set the tone for the campaign,” says former Clinton speechwriter Ted Widmer, who has edited a collection of memorable political speeches. “And it was a good coinage.” That coinage became the theme of the Kennedy years. “Kennedy generally shrank from slogans, and would use this one sparingly, but he liked the idea of a successor to the New Deal and Fair Deal,” his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, later wrote.

best political speech

AP File Photo |

Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the Defense of Liberty,” 1964

By the time he was ready to accept the Republican nomination, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was fed up with being labeled by his primary campaign opponents as an extremist. “I had been branded as a fascist, a racist, a trigger-happy warmonger, a nuclear madman and the candidate who couldn’t win,” he wrote in his memoirs. During the campaign he had dismissed the charges of extremism as representing a “sour grapes attitude,” but by the time he gave his speech he had decided to embrace it.

The speech was closely held—even Goldwater’s running mate, New York Rep. William Miller, didn’t see an advance copy. Goldwater’s aides knew that “this wasn’t a political speech” biographer Rick Perlstein later wrote. “It was a cultural call to arms.””

It was a clarion call, and a politically toxic one: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

The line had come from conservative historian Harry Jaffa, who was working on the campaign. Though Goldwater later credited it to Cicero, Jaffa said that it was an allusion to Thomas Paine. Goldwater had had it double underlined in his reading text, for emphasis. “In their campaign for Lyndon Johnson, Democratic speakers underlined it as well,” Safire wrote in Political Dictionary . They drove the “extremism” theme relentlessly, even suggesting in the aired-once “Daisy” ad that a Goldwater presidency would lead to nuclear oblivion.

While Johnson won 44 states and more than 60 percent of the vote, Goldwater’s conservative movement would find victorious expression in both the Reagan Revolution in 1980 and today’s Tea Party. In fact his famous speech is striking today for how, with a few tweaks, it could come from a contemporary conservative without raising eyebrows.

best political speech

Ronald Reagan’s “Challenge,” 1976

The last Republican presidential nomination to be decided at the convention was the 1976 battle between President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Their primary had been brutal: Reagan charged Ford was soft on the Soviets while the incumbent painted his challenger as dangerous. “When you vote Tuesday, remember, Governor Ronald Reagan couldn’t start a war. President Ronald Reagan could,” one Ford ad intoned.

The two candidates arrived in Kansas City, where the convention was being held, three days early to lobby delegates. Ford ultimately won the nomination after a tough floor fight.”

After he had given his acceptance speech, Ford aimed for a unity moment by inviting Reagan to appear on the platform with him and say a few words. Walking from his skybox through the labyrinthine passages of the convention hall, Reagan asked aide Mike Deaver, what he should say. Governor, Deaver replied, you’ll think of something.

He did. “I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades,” Reagan told the crowd in very brief, off the cuff remarks. “We have just heard a call to arms based on that platform.” He went to recount how he had been asked to write a letter for a time capsule to be opened in 2076. It dawned on him, he said, that those reading the letter “will know whether we met our challenge” to avoid nuclear war and preserve liberty. “Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.”

What Reagan didn’t do was explicitly endorse Ford, whom he “utterly and completely” overshadowed, says Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. “If you watch the speech he’s not conceding the nomination to Ford,” Shirley says. “It’s a call to arms; it’s a battle cry for conservatives.”

best political speech

Ted Kennedy’s Undying “Dream,” 1980

Four years after the Reagan-Ford fight, the Democrats had their own knock down, drag out primary battle as Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy sought to unseat incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy took the fight to the convention in Madison Square Garden in New York even though the president had enough delegates to win. Kennedy hoped to overturn a rule requiring that delegates vote for the candidate to whom they were pledged during the primaries. After they won the rules fight, the Carter team gave Kennedy a speaking slot as part of the deal to get him to concede.

Kennedy’s conclusion is probably the best remembered sound bite of his career: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end,” he said. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Sitting at his desk, working on Carter’s acceptance address, chief speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg watched the dramatic conclusion and muttered allowed, “Uh-oh.” Hertzberg, now at the New Yorker , recalls that the Carter people were not annoyed by the speech as much as by Kennedy’s running in the first place when Chappaquiddick had made him unelectable. “As for the convention, the speech was OK,” he says. “What was not was Ted’s petulant, unpleasant demeanor during the closing ‘unity’ tableau.”

The speech had lasted for 33 minutes and provoked a floor demonstration that lasted for 40 more with some delegates literally dancing in the aisles. “Finally, [Kennedy delegates] felt, the last of the Kennedy brothers had delivered ‘a Kennedy speech,’ well-paced, well-written, with the humor and sense of history worthy of a candidate still in the fray,” the New York Times reported the next day.

best political speech

Mario Cuomo’s “Tale of Two Cities,” 1984

Democrats gathering in San Francisco in 1984 had a tough test. In addition to having to unite after a tough primary which had produced an uninspiring nominee (former Vice President Walter Mondale) they faced a president who was enjoying an expanding economy and rising approval ratings. To keynote their quadrennial convocation, Democrats selected Mario Cuomo, the first term governor of New York. Cuomo was known as eloquent, but he had not been tested nationally.

Cuomo seized on one of Reagan’s favorite similes—the United States as a shining city on a hill—and eloquently reworked it into an indictment of Reaganism.

“The hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city’s splendor and glory,” Cuomo said. “A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city; there’s another part to the shining city … There are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit in your shining city.”

It was a masterly summation of the liberal governing philosophy and animating ideas of the Democratic Party. “He had delivered a memorable and beautiful speech in the booming and insistent voice for which Cuomo was well known,” political historian Michael Cohen wrote in his history of great campaign speeches, noting that even conservative icon Barry Goldwater thought it was “one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.”

best political speech

(J. Scott Applewhite | AP, File)

George H.W. Bush’s “1,000 Points of Light”—and His Lips, 1988

After eight years as Ronald Reagan’s number two, Vice President George H. W. Bush was one of the best known figures in American politics but he was indistinct, the sheriff’s deputy rather than a leader in his own right.

An acceptance address, says Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, requires “some kind of unity between your story and America’s story. It is very much about positing yourself as the man of the moment.” In New Orleans Bush did that effectively. “People don’t see their experience as symbolic of an era—but of course we were,” Bush told the crowd, recounting his postwar experience as a Texas oilman.”

But while he was trying to carve out his own political identity, he had enlisted Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan. During the summer of 1988, he sent her thoughts and notes for the big address. One was a list of words that had special meaning for him, including “kindness,” “caring,” and “decency.” She wrote in a draft that he wanted a “kinder nation” and Bush himself added “gentler.”

Some of Bush’s top aides fought that phrase (they weren’t alone: first lady Nancy Reagan reportedly commented, “kinder and gentler than whom?”) as well as a passage describing American civic organizations as “a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” It was, Noonan later wrote, her favorite line of the speech, though she bemoaned that “people around Bush” weakened it by “shoehorning in groups that were, well, interest groups” into the paragraph.

Along with those lines Bush’s admonition to congressional Democrats to “read my lips: no new taxes” are better remembered than virtually any utterance he made as president. Of course, the memory of the taxes line ultimately blew back on Bush four years later in the wake of his 1990 agreement to raise taxes.

best political speech

Ron Edmonds | AP Photo

Pat Buchanan’s “Cultural War,” 1992

Pat Buchanan’s longshot presidential bid had given incumbent Bush the political equivalent of a near death experience in the New Hampshire primary (where Buchanan won 38 percent of the vote). And while his speech at the 1992 convention in Houston was a much stronger embrace of the president (whom he called an “American patriot and war hero”) than Reagan’s in 1976 or Kennedy’s in 1980, that proved to be a problem in and of itself. Buchanan thundered against the Democrats as a party of “unrestricted abortion on demand” intent on “tearing down America” and on the wrong side of a “religious war going on in this country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war … And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton and Clinton are on the other side and George Bush is on our side,” he said referring not only to Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, but his to wife Hillary.”

“This was the type of political attack that had rarely before appeared in 20th century political oratory,” Michael Cohen wrote in Live From the Campaign Trail and, in concert with similar pronouncements from convention podium (televangelist Pat Robertson called the Democrats an “insidious plague” on the nation) it ended up far overshadowing what Bush said.

Buchanan has long disputed the idea that his speech helped drag Bush down. He points to polling data showing Bush got a boost after the night when Buchanan spoke. But while that night may have given the incumbent a boost, it also set the tenor for a gathering that seemed militantly out of touch. At a time when most Americans were worried about a soft economy, a declaration of a culture war seemed incongruous and discordant and Buchanan became the lingering face of that cumulative disconnect.

best political speech

Barack Obama’s "One America," 2004

When state Sen. Barack Obama learned he would give the keynote at the 2004 Democratic convention, he knew very quickly what he wanted to do. “Almost immediately, he said to me, ‘I know what I want to do—I want to talk about my story as part of the American story.’ He had a very clear concept in his head,” aide David Axelrod later told Chicago magazine. Obama wrote it on a yellow legal pad in snatches of free time—sometimes ducking into the men’s room to get some quiet—while legislating in Springfield, Ill. Other challenges included learning to read a speech from a Teleprompter.

In both speech, and delivery, however, Obama rose to the occasion in a way that stunned and captivated the nation.”

“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us—the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes,’” he said. “Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America.” He continued about how “we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.”

While he originally had a passage about all Americans standing together for the red, white, and blue, convention speechwriters took it out because Democratic nominee John Kerry had a similar line in his address, according to Chicago, prompting Obama to complain that the nominee—he used an earthier term—“is trying to steal a line from my speech.”

In the end the line was not missed. “On Tuesday, at about 9 p.m., Barack Obama was an Illinois state legislator running for the Senate,” The New York Times wrote days later. “A half-hour later … he was the party’s hot ticket. Pundits even predicted he would be the first black president.”

best political speech

(Lynne Sladky | AP)

Clint Eastwood's Empty Chair, 2012

Some might argue that actor Clint Eastwood's surprise appearance at the GOP convention wasn't a speech so much as a "performance"—to use the word favored by Republican nominee Mitt Romney's spin team—or a train wreck, as virtually every political commentator put it. Either way it became an instant classic, if for the wrong reasons.

Eastwood had made a surprise endorsement of Romney at a Sun Valley, Idaho fundraiser in early August, giving a "powerful and typically gruff/charming performance," according to Time's Mark Halperin. Romney campaign officials thought that having him appear at the convention as a surprise guest could bring some spontaneity to the highly scripted event. They gave him a five minute time slot at the top of the TV networks' hour of coverage and some talking points but, inexplicably, "did not conduct rehearsals or insist on a script or communicate guidelines for the style or format of his remarks," the New York Times reported. Shortly before going on, the actor asked to have a chair onstage with him; no one apparently thought to ask why.

Convention attendees gave him warm applause throughout, but his rambling, mumbled remarks, mostly directed at the empty chair, which was supposed to represent President Obama, prompted the Internet to light up with puzzlement and scorn. "What do you mean, shut up?" Eastwood asked the Obama only he could see and hear. And then later: "What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that—can't do that to himself. You're crazy. You're absolutely crazy."

By the time Eastwood was finished, he had—ignoring the blinking red light signaling that he was over his limit—stretched his five minutes into 12, spawned an Internet meme, "Eastwooding," and earned himself an unwanted place in convention history.


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Cambridge Festival of Ideas debate to examine the changing nature of political speeches.

Martin Luther King could get away with elevated language because his cause was a noble one. You can’t really do that when you are talking about the reform of local government. It just isn’t as big an affront to justice. Phil Collins

All eyes will be on Ed Miliband today and much has been written about the importance of his party conference speech.

But what makes a good political speech? Inevitably, Ed Miliband will be compared with Labour leaders of the past, particularly Tony Blair who was known for his persuasive powers. Phil Collins, who wrote many of Blair's speeches, says that great political speeches need a big event or a rallying cause and there are just less of them than there were in the past.

He will be speaking in a debate on political rhetoric at this year's Cambridge Festival of Ideas next month. Other speakers include David Runciman, reader in political thought at the University of Cambridge, author Piers Brendon, former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre and Michael White, the Guardian's political editor. The event will be held at Churchill College, Cambridge on October 20th.

For Collins, great political speeches need three key ingredients: a serious argument which leaves the audience thinking something new or resolved to act; great delivery that stirs the emotions as well as appealing to reason; and a sense of occasion.

He says: “Martin Luther King could get away with elevated language because his cause was a noble one. You can’t really do that when you are talking about the reform of local government. It just isn’t as big an affront to justice. So, there is a very good reason we have fewer remarkable speeches which is that we don’t need them as much as we did.”

Collins also justifies the use of sound bites, although he says he always worked by building a solid argument first and then trying to distil the best possible phrase out of the argument rather than the other way around. He says that not only are soundbites vital in a world where a 24/7 media edits chunks of speeches down to one phrase, but all the great writers are full of them. “We should guard against the derogatory association of the word soundbite,” he says. “All we mean, really, is a pithy way of capturing the essence of the point. To be or not to be – that really was the question. It was a soundbite too.”

He adds that the emphasis on soundbites is likely to increase. “The endless fragmentation that results from the coverage of modern media is the main reason that the soundbite has become such a ubiquitous part of political discourse. Your words are going to be chopped into pieces in any case so you might as well offer up the encapsulation you think is the best one.”

Collins says that one of the potential pitfalls of modern party conference speech is the number of people who vet it. “The big conference speeches have many authors, or at least many contributors,” he says.  “It is inevitable, when there are lots of hands at work, that the integrity of the argument goes missing. The task for a conference speech is always to recuperate the argument. The more a single person can be in overall control, as a sort of editor-in-chief, the better. Writing by committee is rarely a good way to work.”

Nevertheless, a good political speech can make all the difference. David Cameron owes his leadership of the Conservatives to two speeches, he says – one he gave which was well received and one given by his rival David Davis which “bombed”. He adds that it is hard to imagine Barack Obama would have become President without his oratory powers.

The audience is clearly vital for any speech writer and Collins says people's attention spans have declined, as has the breadth of their vocabulary and range of reference. Mass democracy means that references to  high culture divide an audience where they would once have united it, he says. There are also more political speeches than there used to be.

“Gladstone and Disraeli used to speak rarely every year. Each speech was an epic, months in the preparation, but they would not be doing speeches three times a week, as many politicians are now,” he says. “In the process, we have devalued the currency a little. The effective political speech, though, remains what it has always been – a mixture of reasoned argument and emotional passion.”

Other speakers at the Festival of Ideas debate will focus on the historical or wider issues associated with political speech-making. Piers Brendon, for instance, will talk about Churchill's use of political rhetoric, which he likens to the style of a music-hall performer, and contrast it with today's more colloquial, television-orientated and soundbiteish delivery.

  • The event, to be held at Wolfson Theatre, Churchill College from 6-7.15pm on Thursday, 20 October, will be chaired by Allen Packwood, Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre. Arrive at 5.30pm to see an exhibition of documents from the Centre.

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At Morehouse, Biden says dissent should be heard because democracy is 'still the way'

Headshot of Stephen Fowler.

Stephen Fowler

Jeongyoon Han

best political speech

President Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement Sunday in Atlanta. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

President Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement Sunday in Atlanta.

President Biden told Morehouse College's graduating class of 2024 that he's committed to serving Black voters while defending freedom and democracy in the face of "extremist forces" that he says threaten the soul of the nation.

With just six months until the general election, the speech, which was filled with religious themes of struggle and resilience, also served as a continuation of Biden's warning to his supporters of what he thinks the country would look like if Donald Trump is elected again.

"They don't see you in the future of America, but they're wrong," he said. "To me, we make history, not erase it. We know Black history is American history."

The president's commencement address at Morehouse, a historically Black school in Atlanta, also comes as polling shows potentially lower support for his reelection efforts among Black voters and young voters, and as campus protests over conflict in Gaza have disrupted graduations around the country.

Biden said he understood angst over the direction of the country, acknowledged "dissent about America's role in the world" and said that those who have different views should have their voices heard in the name of democracy.

"That's my commitment to you," he said. "To show you: democracy, democracy democracy — it's still the way."

best political speech

Graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement bow their heads Sunday in Atlanta. President Biden addressed the graduating class of 2024 and warned about "extremist forces" he says threaten the soul of the nation. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

Graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement bow their heads Sunday in Atlanta. President Biden addressed the graduating class of 2024 and warned about "extremist forces" he says threaten the soul of the nation.

His speech is also one of many events on his recent trip aimed at speaking to Black voters, following events with plaintiffs in the historic Brown v. Board Supreme Court case, meetings with Black Greek Letter Organizations, often known as the Divine Nine, and before he headlines an NAACP dinner in Detroit.

For weeks, several college and university campuses around the country have been roiled with student protests and encampments expressing opposition against Biden and U.S. policies and involvement around conflict in Gaza.

Biden will cap off a week of outreach to Black Americans with Morehouse commencement

Biden will cap off a week of outreach to Black Americans with Morehouse commencement

Biden is set for the Morehouse graduation. Students are divided

Biden is set for the Morehouse graduation. Students are divided

Morehouse has seen student demonstrations, but not occupation of campus spaces or clashes with law enforcement. Outside of the ceremony, a small number of protesters gathered while the commencement itself did not see any major disruptions.

Last week, Morehouse College President David Thomas said he would rather halt proceedings than have students escorted away for protesting.

"If my choice is 20 people being arrested on national TV on the Morehouse campus, taken away in zip ties during our commencement, before we would reach that point, I would conclude the ceremony," he said on NPR's Weekend Edition .

best political speech

An attendee stands in protest with their back to President Biden as Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement Sunday in Atlanta. John Bazemore/AP hide caption

An attendee stands in protest with their back to President Biden as Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement Sunday in Atlanta.

Those concerns did not come to pass. Apart from the heightened security and increased media presence, Biden's speech was met with a similar response to a typical college graduation ceremony.

More than 400 graduating students walked across the stage Sunday, and during Biden's speech a handful of students, some wearing keffiyehs , turned their chairs around to face away from the president.

After the ceremony, Morehouse issued a statement praising the graduating class and their intentionally muted response to Biden.

"It is fitting that a moment of organized, peaceful activism would occur on our campus while the world is watching to continue a critical conversation," the statement reads. "We are proud of the resilient class of 2024's unity in silent protest, showing their intentionality in strategy, communication, and coordination as a 414-person unit."

DeAngelo Fletcher, Morehouse College's valedictorian, closed his address to his classmates by addressing global conflict, particularly the Israel-Hamas war.

"For the first time in our lives, we've heard the global community sing one harmonious song that transcends language and culture," he said. "It is my sense as a Morehouse Man, nay — as a human being — to call for an immediate and a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip."

Biden's speech at Morehouse comes with intense scrutiny as many presidential horse race polls show the president lagging with young voters, Black voters and other nonwhite groups that helped propel him to a narrow victory against Trump in 2020.

Those polls — for now — signal a drop in support for Biden but not necessarily an equal shift toward Trump. There are also signs that some of the displeasure with Biden is more pronounced among people who aren't as likely to vote in November.

While facing a nominal challenge in the Democratic presidential primary, Biden's best-performing areas have often come in places with a large share of Black voters. For example, in Georgia's primary contest 95% of Black voters pulled a Democratic ballot, and Biden won 95% of the overall vote.

While some students, faculty and alumni expressed opposition to Biden's selection as the commencement speaker, reaction on campus during the graduation ceremony was largely positive.

Dr. Tiffany Johnson, a 50-year-old who came to the campus green at 4:30 a.m. to see her son graduate, was also excited to see Biden.

"He is the leader of the free world, the most important job in the world, and for him to come to speak to [Morehouse] graduates, to inspire them, is phenomenal," Johnson said.

Johnson said Black voters who might not support Biden are part of a "bandwagon" that do not understand what he has done for the community, and said his speech would be an ideal opportunity to share his accomplishments.

In the speech, Biden touted a track record that he says makes key investments in Black communities, including a record $16 billion funding package toward historically Black colleges and universities, protecting voting rights, and creating economic policies that strengthens Black businesses.

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The Top 10 best known paragraphs of British political speeches since the war

The most famous whole passages of persuasive argument since 1945.

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This list started when Sam Freedman asked: “What is the best known paragraph of a UK political speech from the last 40 years?” We agreed it was Neil Kinnock’s (No 6), and I extended the qualifying period to 1945. In the old days, before The Independent went digital-only in 2016, and before Twitter increased its character limit the following year, Top 10s usually consisted of items no longer than 140 characters. But now there are no limits, so I asked for whole paragraphs, making an argument, not just pithy sentences.

1. Winston Churchill , Conservative leader, University of Zurich, 1946. “Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as by a miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe . In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and to gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing.” Nominated by Paul T Horgan.

2. Harold Macmillan , prime minister, Cape Town, 1960. “In the twentieth century, and especially since the end of the war, the processes which gave birth to the nation states of Europe have been repeated all over the world. We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other power. Fifteen years ago this movement spread through Asia. Many countries there of different races and civilisations pressed their claim to an independent national life. Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and, whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.” Thanks to Ryan Flack.

3. Hugh Gaitskell , Labour leader, Brighton, 1962. “If you are going to have a democratic Europe, if you are going to control the running of Europe democratically, you’ve got to move towards some form of federalism and if anyone says different to that they’re really misleading the public. That’s one in the eye for Mr Bonham Carter [Mark, Liberal former MP who denied his party advocated federalism]. Now we must be clear about this, it does mean, if this is the idea, the end of Britain as an independent nation-state. I make no apology for repeating it, the end of a thousand years of history . You may say: ‘All right, let it end.’ But, my goodness, it’s a decision that needs a little care and thought. And it does mean the end of the Commonwealth; how can one really seriously suppose that if the mother country, the centre of the Commonwealth, is a province of Europe, which is what federation means, it could continue to exist as the mother country of a series of independent nations; it is sheer nonsense.” Another from Ryan Flack.

4. James Callaghan , prime minister, Blackpool, 1976. “We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment. We have just escaped from the highest rate of inflation this country has known; we have not yet escaped from the consequences: high unemployment.”

5. Michael Foot , Labour employment spokesperson and candidate for party leadership, House of Commons, 1980. “In my youth, quite a time ago, when I lived in Plymouth, every Saturday night I used to go to the Palace theatre. My favourite act was a magician-conjuror who used to have sitting at the back of the audience a man dressed as a prominent alderman. The magician-conjuror used to say that he wanted a beautiful watch from a member of the audience. He would go up to the alderman and eventually take from him a marvellous gold watch. He would bring it back to the stage, enfold it in a beautiful red handkerchief, place it on the table in front of us, take out his mallet, hit the watch and smash it to smithereens. Then on his countenance would come exactly the puzzled look of the secretary of state for industry [Keith Joseph]. He would step to the front of the stage and say: ‘I am very sorry. I have forgotten the rest of the trick.’ That is the situation of the government. They have forgotten the rest of the trick . It does not work.” Thanks to Jonathan Allan.

6. Neil Kinnock , Labour leader, Bournemouth, 1985. “I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos – I’ll tell you, and you’ll listen. I’m telling you: you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

7. Margaret Thatcher , prime minister, House of Commons, 1990. “Leon Brittan is a loyal member of the Commission. Yes, the Commission wants to increase its powers. Yes, it is a non-elected body and I do not want the Commission to increase its powers at the expense of the House, so of course we differ. The president of the Commission, Mr Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the commission to be the executive and he wanted the council of ministers to be the senate. No. No. No .” Thanks to Martin Koder.

8. Geoffrey Howe , resigning as deputy prime minister, House of Commons, 1990. “The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my right hon friend the prime minister – and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real – and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this government. That is why I have resigned. In doing so, I have done what I believe to be right for my party and my country. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long .” Nominated by Declan Ryan and Clifford Williamson.

9. Tony Blair , prime minister, House of Commons, 2007. “Some may belittle politics but we know it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena which sets the heart beating fast. It may sometimes be a place of low skullduggery but it is more often a place for more noble causes. I wish everyone, friend or foe, well and that is that, the end .” Thanks to Ben Ullmann.

10. Theresa May , prime minister, Downing Street, 2016. “If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. If you’re one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”

Neil Kinnock can’t have two entries, because otherwise he would feature again with “I warn you not to get old” in 1983, nominated by Declan Ryan and Alan Paxton.

Next week: Business jargon taxonomies, such as buckets, pillars, strands, rafts and planks.

Coming soon: Cheery utopias, such as Narnia (after the defeat of the White Witch), Redwall Abbey, the Shire and the Culture.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10

Join our commenting forum

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, known for brutal crackdowns against political opposition, dies at 63

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, known for enforcing brutal crackdowns on political opposition and seen as a potential successor to the supreme leader, has died in a helicopter crash landing in the country’s north , state media reported Monday. He was 63 years old.

Raisi, a conservative hard-line cleric, took office in August 2021 after several popular candidates were disqualified from the election, which had historically low turnout. He wore a black turban, symbolic of those who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

Follow live updates.

His tenure included a crackdown on mass protests after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed in 2022, the enforcement of a strict women’s dress code, increased enrichment of uranium after the U.S. withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal and increased military tensions with Israel and the West as the regime supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Raisi was sometimes notably referred to as the “Butcher of Tehran,” as activists accused him of being one of the four judges who oversaw the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 after the Iran-Iraq war. Iran has never acknowledged what has been described as a massacre of an estimated 2,800 to 5,000 people , according to Human Rights Watch.

“As deputy prosecutor general of Tehran,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a 2019 sanctions announcement, “Raisi participated in a so-called ‘death commission’ that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.”

In 2021, when Raisi was asked about his alleged involvement in the 1988 mass executions during his first news conference as president-elect, he described himself as a “defender of human rights.”

State media reported early Monday that rescuers found "no sign of life" in the wreckage of the helicopter that made a "crash landing" Sunday. Search-and-rescue teams deployed to the scene took hours to reach the crash site, delayed by heavy fog and bad weather.

Raisi was returning with a government delegation that had attended the inauguration of a dam on the border with Azerbaijan.

Two helicopters traveling with Raisi made their destination unharmed.

Though state news aired prayers for Raisi and others following the crash, he is despised by many Iranians in the country and around the world for the government’s brutal crackdown on the country’s 2022 women-led protests and Iran’s dire economic situation. 

In 2017, he lost the presidential election to Hassan Rouhani, who was elected to a second term by a wide margin. Rouhani, who had run on a promise to reduce Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation, was banned this year by Iran for running for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader, Reuters reported.

In 2021, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard urged an investigation of Raisi for his alleged “crimes against humanity” while he was head of the judiciary.

Ebrahim Raisi stands against a blue backdrop and places his hands on his heart

Under Raisi’s watch, Callamard said, Iranian authorities killed hundreds of people with impunity, “subjecting thousands of protesters to mass arrests and at least hundreds to enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment during and in the aftermath of the nationwide protests.”

“Ebrahim Raisi’s rise to the presidency follows an electoral process that was conducted in a highly repressive environment and barred women, members of religious minorities and candidates with opposing views from running for office,” Callamard said.

In 2022, the United Nations’ human rights office opened an investigation into the violent suppression of protesters who took to the streets following Amini’s killing. She died after morality police detained her for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly and failing to adhere to the dress code.

The U.N. said in March that a fact-finding mission found Iran responsible for the “physical violence” that killed Amini, despite Iranian officials’ saying otherwise.

Raisi told NBC News’ Lester Holt last year that Amini’s death was “an incident,” alleging that similar “incidents” frequently occur in Western states. He claimed that Iran’s leadership “tolerated” the protests, despite widespread reports of violent suppression of demonstrators.

“You should be assured that the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been ready to listen to [the] words of protesters. On any issue, we are all ears,” he said through a government translator.

Raisi also claimed that there was still “freedom of speech” in Iran and denied allegations by human rights advocates that the country enforced an internet blackout after the protests. The Iranian regime is also accused of blocking social media apps, arresting journalists and punishing any public criticism of the government following Amini’s death.

He alleged that the allegations were an attempt by Western states to destabilize Iran internally.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Türk said in January 2023 that Iran’s government was weaponizing the criminal proceedings and death penalty laws to stamp out dissent.

“The weaponization of criminal procedures to punish people for exercising their basic rights — such as those participating in or organizing demonstrations — amounts to state-sanctioned killing,” Türk said.

Despite concerns over Iran’s attacks on human rights, Raisi was permitted to address the U.N. General Assembly last year , when he criticized Western states for meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.

“An independent and robust neighborhood presents an opportunity for the entire region,” he said, referring to potential regional partnerships. “We will welcome any extended hand quite warmly.” 

Western leaders have long accused Iran of playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East through its support of proxy battles throughout the region.

Iran has supported Hamas militants in Gaza, Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen for years. Israel, during its ongoing war in Gaza, launched a strike in April on the Iranian consular building in Syria, killing two of Tehran’s top commanders. Iran responded by launching a wave of cruise and ballistic missiles and drones at Israel, many of which were shot down, resulting in minor injuries.

Raisi condemned Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in his U.N. speech in September, saying people see Iran as a “secure partner for their own security” just weeks before Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The group took more than 200 hostages at the time, and Israeli officials have blamed it for more than 1,200 deaths that day.

Iranian officials said they were not aware of Hamas’ plans for the attack but have since repeatedly expressed support for the group against Israel.

Under Raisi, Iran continued to pursue a nuclear program that accelerated after President Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral nuclear deal in 2018. The landmark Obama-era agreement curtailed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Iran has insisted it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

Raisi was married to Jamileh Alamolhoda and had two daughters.

Doha Madani is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News. Pronouns: she/her.

With his federal budget reply, Peter Dutton is now playing deadly simple but very dangerous politics

Analysis With his federal budget reply, Peter Dutton is now playing deadly simple but very dangerous politics

A side profile close up of Peter Dutton.

Announcements on immigration (various) by the federal Coalition have been hard to miss in recent decades.

From John Howard talking about Asian immigration in the 1980s to Stopping the Boats in 2013, there's always been a lot happening politically in that space.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton — no stranger to the vibe as a former home affairs minister — was back there this week: snapping off the various threads of debate about Jim Chalmers's third budget with the simple proposition that a Coalition government would cut migration and foreign investment in housing to make it easier for Australians to get a home.

In doing so, he honed in with deadly precision on the hot-button issue of our housing crisis.

Any politician is entitled to put forward a policy proposal for fixing a tough policy problem. The Greens, of course, have been running hard on housing for some time.

But there are two particular aspects of Dutton's political strategy which are disturbing.

The first is that he is not just targeting migration's impact on housing.

He told the ABC's 7.30 on Thursday night:

"It's not just housing. People know that if you move suburbs, it's hard to get your kids into school, or into childcare. It's hard to get into a GP because the doctors have closed their books. It's hard to get elective surgery. These factors have all contributed to capacity constraints because of the lack of planning in the migration program."

He has also blamed migrants for "congestion on our roads".

In other words, the opposition leader has opened the doors to migrants being blamed not just for housing shortages but for all these other problems, too.

Dutton's determined to bang this drum

For now, let's leave aside the fact that permanent and temporary migrant workers are filling huge holes in the care and health economies.

But Dutton — apparently devoid of other major policy issues — seems determined to bang this drum very loudly between now and the next election.

Previously mooted plans for a nuclear-powered energy future are vaguely drawn out in the background. Even cost-of-living issues seems to have faded in importance.

The significance of a major political leader playing so divisive a card on our community is a step that shouldn't go unnoticed, no matter how inured to it we have become over the years in the wake of Pauline Hanson and "boat people" politics.

It is deadly simple, but very dangerous, politics.

The second aspect of what Dutton is doing which is particularly conspicuous is that he has done it without putting forward a serious proposal that would actually cut migration numbers, or materially affect the housing market.

On Thursday night, he told the House of Representatives a Coalition government would respond to the housing crisis through measures including "rebalancing the migration program and taking decisive action on the housing crisis", which would "free up almost 40,000 additional homes in the first year".

The plan would include a "two-year ban on foreign investors and temporary residents purchasing existing homes in Australia"; reducing "the permanent migration program by 25 per cent — from 185,000 to 140,000 for the first two years"; ensuring there are "enough" skilled and temporary skilled visas in the building trades; cut refugee and humanitarian programs; reduce "excessive" numbers of foreign students and set a cap on foreign students.

Look, on first blush, it all sounds perfectly reasonable: too many people, not enough houses.

But it is never that simple, as a former home affairs minister should know.

Crunching the migration numbers

The permanent migration program is the smaller part of our overall migration system which is dominated by temporary visa holders — a development from the Howard years.

The overall net figure for how many people actually arrive in Australia is much higher. It is called the net overseas migration number.

The Morrison government announced an almost identical cut in permanent migration numbers in the 2019 budget, saying the "planning level of the Migration Program will be reduced from 190,000 to 160,000 places for four years from 2019-20".

The pandemic rather disrupted that plan.

But the very same 2019 budget papers were forecasting that net overseas migration would be 271,700 in 2019 (compared to 190,000 permanent arrivals) before dropping ever so marginally to 271,300 in 2020 and then to 263,800 by 2022 (despite the cut of 30,000 permanent places a year).

Peter Dutton shakes hands with colleagues in the House of Representatives.

A big reason for the fact that net overseas migration was not forecast to fall, despite the cut in the permanent number, is that more than half the people who are accepted as permanent migrants are already here when they apply.

So cutting permanent migration doesn't necessarily mean fewer people in, or coming to, the country. Some of the migration pool just changes "class". Others are still able to come here on temporary visas.

Dutton told Radio 2GB on Friday that "at the moment … the government's predicting 528,000 this year" for net overseas migration.

Actually, no. That's the figure for 2022-23 in the budget papers, which say that in the financial year just ending, net overseas migration has already fallen back to 395,000.

It is predicted to fall to 260,000 in 2024-25 (a number Dutton described as "pretty dodgy") and then to about 235,000. (Both numbers notably also less than those forecast in 2019).

Reducing a complex issue to a populist piece of political mischief

But based on the pattern we saw in the Coalition's own 2019 budget — of little change in overall migration despite planned cuts in the permanent program — it is the opposition leader's numbers that appear to look "pretty dodgy".

There is lots that the current government has done in the immigration space that has not been, shall we say, a great political success — notably after last year's High Court decision .

But it has overseen a significant cutback in net overseas migration since the post-pandemic surge.

And just what factors helped create that surge? The sudden return of international students is widely seen as the major factor behind the big jump in post-pandemic net overseas migration, which peaked in 2022-23.

A middle-aged man in a suit waves as he is applauded by a line of people in suits behind him.

In January 2022, the then prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced the removal of restrictions on how many hours international students could work, arguing we needed them to come here to alleviate workforce shortages, as well as get international education back on track.

The current government put a cap back on working hours in July last year.

Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were fond of talking over the years about "pull" factors in encouraging people to travel to Australia by boat.

A capacity to work unrestricted hours (which one would think would not leave a lot of time to pursue studies) would seem to have been a pretty strong pull factor behind the huge surge in numbers turning up here in 2022-23. (In fact, it was described by the time as a "ponzi scheme" by the head of the Council for International Education.)

But Dutton is now proposing to once again lift the allowable work hours for international students to 60 hours a fortnight — a much more generous allowance than countries like the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Based on past experience, it is hard to see how that idea can possibly represent a coherent part of the Coalition's rhetoric or policy this week.

In the meantime, the complex set of issues that governments need to address on housing get sidelined. The federal government would argue it has done a lot to try to start to address the housing shortage. It is not clear that it is enough. It is not something that can be fixed overnight.

It's a shame, though, a massively complex issue has been reduced to a populist and misleading piece of political mischief.

Laura Tingle is 7.30's chief political correspondent.

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