40 famous persuasive speeches you need to hear.

most famous speech writers

Written by Kai Xin Koh

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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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10 famous speeches in history that continue to stand the test of time

Martin Luther King Jr. March on Washington 1963

A great speech is something that combines persuasive writing, a comfort with public speaking , and a meaningful message to create an impression greater than the sum of its parts. There’s no one set of rules to govern the ideal speech, and plenty of people struggle with them even with teams of experts to help them out — just see the majority of speeches given by politicians. But once in a while, a truly great speaker and a truly great speech come together to create something that stands out and withstands the test of time, carrying meaning with it through generations even to those who weren’t yet born when it was given.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Demosthenes, queen elizabeth i, george washington, abraham lincoln, chief joseph, winston churchill, john f. kennedy, barack obama, more famous speeches to inspire you.

Great speeches are more than just rhetorical flourish or impressive performance — they’re also calls to action, able to persuade and embolden the listener. These speeches can be inspiring, informative, and instructive, whether you’re interested in learning more about history or working on a speech of your own .

We’ve rounded up 10 of history’s greatest speeches, including excerpts so you can learn about how the power of a great speech can last for years.

1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s I Have a Dream speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, is one of the finest pieces of oratory in human history. It blended masterful, rich language with the oratorical technique of repetition and it was utterly fearless.

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King would be dead by an assassin’s bullet less than five years after delivering his most famous speech. His words were no mere rhetoric; they were an affirmation of the value of human life and the expression of a cause for which he would give his own.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ … “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

341 BCE ‘Third Philippic’

Though you may not have heard of the Athenian orator Demosthenes, consider the fact that one of history’s most famed speakers of all time, Cicero, cited his ancient forebear 300 years later. Demosthenes’ Third Philippic , so-called because it was the third speech he gave devoted to convincing his fellow Athenians to take up arms against the encroaching forces of Phillip of Macedon, literally led men to war. At the end of his speech, delivered in 341 BCE, the Athenian Assembly moved at once against their rival, spurred on by lines damning the past inaction of his fellow citizens:

“You are in your present plight because you do not do any part of your duty, small or great; for of course, if you were doing all that you should do, and were still in this evil case, you could not even hope for any improvement. As it is, Philip has conquered your indolence and your indifference; but he has not conquered Athens. You have not been vanquished, you have never even stirred.

1588 ‘Spanish Armada’ speech t o the troops at Tilbury

In 1588, English monarch Queen Elizabeth I gave one of the manliest speeches in history, even at one point, putting down her own body for being female. As the “mighty” Spanish Armada, a flotilla of some 130 ships, sailed toward Britain with plans of invasion, the queen delivered a rousing address at Tilbury, Essex, England. As it turned out, a storm and some navigational errors took care of the Spanish warships for the most part. Still, it was a bold speech that helped bolster a nation. This speech also made Queen Elizabeth famous for the armor she wore in front of her troops.

“I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: To which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”

1783 Resignation speech

To grasp the true power of George Washington ‘s resignation as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military (then known as the Continental Army) on December 23, 1783, you have to go beyond the words themselves and appreciate the context. Washington was in no way obliged to resign his commission, but did so willingly and even gladly, just as he would later refuse a third term as president of the nation, establishing a precedent honored into the 1940s and thereafter enshrined in law. Despite being the most powerful man in the fledgling military and then becoming the most powerful man in the United States, the staid and humble Washington was never hungry for power for himself; he just happened to be the best man for the job(s).

Even in his last address as leader of the nation’s armed forces, Washington made it all about America, and not about himself:

“Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence. A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.”

1863 ‘Gettysburg Address’

There’s a reason many people consider the Gettysburg Address to be the best speech in American history: It probably is. In just 275 words on November 19, 1863, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln managed to express the following sentiments:

  • America is both a place and a concept, both of which are worth fighting.
  • Fighting is horrible, but losing is worse.
  • We have no intention of losing.

Ironically, one line in Lincoln’s speech proved to be laughably inaccurate. Midway through the speech, he humbly said: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” In fact, the world continues to remember his brief yet very stirring address.

“In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract …

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

1877 Surrender speech

On October 5, 1877, Nez Perce tribe leader Chief Joseph delivered a short, impromptu, and wrenching speech that many see as the lamentation of the end of an era for Native Americans and the lands that were stolen from them. Overtaken by the United States Army during a desperate multi-week retreat toward Canada, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Howard with this bleak, moving message:

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

1939 ‘Luckiest Man’ speech

No one wants a deadly disease named after them, but that’s what happened to baseball legend Lou Gehrig , who died at 37 after a brief battle with ALS, commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Following a career in which the Hall of Fame player earned many of baseball’s top honors and awards, Gehrig delivered one of the most touching speeches of the 20th century, a speech in which he brought comfort to those mourning his illness even as his health fell apart.

In essence, Gehrig told people not to worry about one dying man, but instead to celebrate all life had to offer as he listed all the wonderful things that occurred in his own life. In so doing, he brought solace to many and created a model of selflessness. Gehrig delivered this short speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17  years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans … “So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

1940 ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ speech

Winston Churchill delivered many superlative speeches in his day, including the 1946 address that created the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the boundary of Britain’s recent ally, the Soviet Union, and a 1940 speech praising the heroism of the British Royal Air Force in which he uttered the line: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

But it was his bold and bolstering speech delivered on June 4, 1940, to the British Parliament’s House of Commons — commonly referred to as We Shall Fight on the Beaches — that most exemplifies the famed leader. These were more than just words — these were a promise to his nation that they were all in the fight wholeheartedly together and it was a heads-up to the Axis powers that attacking the Brits had been a bad idea.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

1961 inaugural address

Much of President John F. Kennedy ‘s pithy 1,366-word inaugural address, delivered on January 20, 1961, was well-written and meaningful, but as often happens, his speech has stood the test of time thanks to one perfect phrase. Amidst an address filled with both hope and dire warnings (“Man holds in his hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life,” the latter being a clear reference to atomic weapons), he issued a direct appeal to Americans everywhere to stand up for their country. You know the line:

“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.”

2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address

When our future president – then a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois – Barack Obama delivered a 17-minute speech on the evening of July 27, 2004, at the Democratic National Convention endorsing presidential candidate John Kerry, the personal trajectory of one man and the history of an entire nation shifted dramatically. Already an up-and-coming politician gaining traction in his home state of Illinois, Obama’s keynote address that night transformed him into a national figure and paved the way for his journey to becoming the first POTUS of color. What was it about the speech that so moved the country?

Partly, it was simply the excellent writing, most of which Obama handled himself. Perhaps more so, it was the message of the speech, which spoke to the “abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation.” In short, Obama reminded us of who we were supposed to be as citizens of this nation. And for a flickering moment, many of us heard him.

“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a Black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America … “We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?”

While we’ve taken an in-depth look at some of history’s most famous speeches, the list goes much further than those 10. Here are a few more great speeches that helped shape history that still have the power to inspire.

  • 1941 – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Day of Infamy speech – Roosevelt’s address to Congress on December 8, 1941, came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s best known for its opening line: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The speech spurred Congress to declare war on Japan and thrust the U.S. into World War II.
  • 1933 – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – First Inaugural Address – Considering FDR served four terms during the end of the Great Depression and through World War II, it stands to reason that he would have some pretty famous speeches. His first inaugural address from 1933 is also remembered for one powerful line. As he discussed his plan to pull the country out of the Great Depression, he uttered this iconic line: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself.”
  • 1986 – President Ronald Reagan – Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger – when Reagan addressed the country on the night of January 28, 1986, the U.S. was reeling from seeing the Space Shuttle Challenger explode, just seconds after launch, killing the crew, which included Christa McAuliffe, who was to be NASA’s first teacher in space. Reagan was to have delivered his State of the Union speech to Congress that night but canceled it in the wake of the Challenger disaster. The speech included these memorable words of condolence: “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.'”
  • 2001 – President George W. Bush – Address to the nation after 9/11 –  The morning of September 11, 2001, Bush was at a Florida elementary school to meet with children. He would have no idea that the day would end with him addressing the country after the horrific terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. That night, Bush gave the country words of hope, saying that the attacks did nothing to damage the American spirit. “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts,” Bush said. “The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.”

We hope you’re feeling more inspired and determined to make your own history after perusing this list. For more historical inspiration, check out ten of our favorite Black History films , a list of fantastic history books to read , a group of iconic photographs of people who changed history , and seven amazing books documenting LGBTQ+ history — not to mention the importance of historical heroes who have been often overlooked . However you intend to change your present and future, we wish you nothing but the best of luck.

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7 Nobel Speeches by 7 Great Writers: Hemingway, Faulkner, and More

in Books , Literature , Writing | May 16th, 2013 14 Comments

William Faulkn­er, 1949:

Almost every year since 1901, the Swedish Acad­e­my  has appor­tioned one fifth of the inter­est from the for­tune bequeathed by dyna­mite inven­tor  Alfred Nobel  to hon­or, as Nobel said in his will, “the per­son who shall have pro­duced in the field of lit­er­a­ture the most out­stand­ing work in an ide­al direc­tion.”

Many of the great­est writ­ers of the past 112 years have received the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture , but there have been some glar­ing omis­sions right from the start. When Leo Tol­stoy was passed over in 1901 (the prize went to the French poet Sul­ly Prud­homme) he was so offend­ed he refused lat­er nom­i­na­tions. The list of great writ­ers who were alive after 1901 but nev­er received the prize is jaw-drop­ping. In addi­tion to Tol­stoy, it includes James Joyce, Vir­ginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Joseph Con­rad, Anton Chekhov, Mar­cel Proust, Hen­ry James, Hen­rik Ibsen, Émile Zola, Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, F. Scott Fitzger­ald, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov.

But the Nobel com­mit­tee has hon­ored many wor­thy writ­ers, and today we’ve gath­ered togeth­er sev­en speech­es by sev­en lau­re­ates. Our choice was restrict­ed by the lim­i­ta­tions of what is avail­able online in Eng­lish. We have focused on the short speech­es tra­di­tion­al­ly giv­en on Decem­ber 10 of every year at the Nobel ban­quet in Stock­holm. With the excep­tion of short excerpts from Bertrand Rus­sel­l’s lec­ture, we have passed over the longer Nobel lec­tures (which typ­i­cal­ly run about 40 min­utes) pre­sent­ed to the Swedish Acad­e­my on a dif­fer­ent day than the ban­quet.

We begin above with one of the most often-quot­ed Nobel speech­es: William Faulkn­er’ s elo­quent accep­tance of the 1949 prize. There was actu­al­ly no prize in lit­er­a­ture giv­en in 1949, but the com­mit­tee decid­ed to award that year’s medal 12 months lat­er to Faulkn­er, cit­ing his “pow­er­ful and artis­ti­cal­ly unique con­tri­bu­tion to the mod­ern Amer­i­can nov­el.” Faulkn­er gave his speech on Decem­ber 10, 1950, in the same cer­e­mo­ny with Bertrand Rus­sell . Unfor­tu­nate­ly the audio cuts off just before the fin­ish. To fol­low along and read the miss­ing end­ing, click here to open the full text in a new win­dow . Faulkn­er stum­bles a few times dur­ing his deliv­ery. You can lis­ten to his smoother 1954 read­ing of a pol­ished ver­sion of the speech here .

Bertrand Rus­sell, 1950:

The British logi­cian and philoso­pher Bertrand Rus­sell  was one of sev­er­al prize-win­ners in lit­er­a­ture who were pri­mar­i­ly known for their work in oth­er fields. (The short list includes states­man Win­ston Churchill and philoso­pher Hen­ri Berg­son.) In addi­tion to his ground-break­ing con­tri­bu­tions to math­e­mat­ics and ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy, Rus­sell wrote many books for the gen­er­al read­er. In 1950 the Nobel com­mit­tee cit­ed his “var­ied and sig­nif­i­cant writ­ings in which he cham­pi­ons human­i­tar­i­an ideals and free­dom of thought.” Above are two short audio clips from Rus­sel­l’s Decem­ber 11, 1950 Nobel lec­ture, “What Desires are Polit­i­cal­ly Impor­tant?” You can click here to open the full text in a new win­dow .

Ernest Hem­ing­way, 1954:

The Amer­i­can writer  Ernest Hem­ing­way  was award­ed the 1954 prize “for his mas­tery of the art of nar­ra­tive, most recent­ly demon­strat­ed in The Old Man and the Sea , and for the influ­ence that he has exert­ed on con­tem­po­rary style.” Hem­ing­way was not feel­ing well enough in Decem­ber of 1954 to trav­el to Stock­holm, so he asked John C. Cabot, Unit­ed States Ambas­sador to Swe­den, to deliv­er the speech for him. For­tu­nate­ly we do have this record­ing from some­time that month of Hem­ing­way read­ing his speech at a radio sta­tion in Havana, Cuba. You can click here to open the full text in a new win­dow .

John Stein­beck, 1962:

The Amer­i­can writer  John Stein­beck , author of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men , was award­ed the Nobel in 1962 “for his real­is­tic and imag­i­na­tive writ­ings, com­bin­ing as they do sym­pa­thet­ic humor and keen social per­cep­tion.” To read along as you watch Stein­beck give his speech, click here to open the text in a new win­dow .

V.S. Naipaul, 2001:

Jump­ing ahead from 1962 all the way to 2001, we have video of the speech giv­en by the Trinida­di­an-British writer V.S. Naipaul , author of such books as In a Free State and A Bend in the Riv­er . Naipaul was cit­ed by the Nobel com­mit­tee “for hav­ing unit­ed per­cep­tive nar­ra­tive and incor­rupt­ible scruti­ny in works that com­pel us to see the pres­ence of sup­pressed his­to­ries.” You can click here to open a text of Naipaul’s ban­quet speech in a new win­dow .

Orhan Pamuk, 2006:

The Turk­ish writer Orhan Pamuk, author of such books as The Muse­um of Inno­cence and Snow , received the prize in 2006. The Nobel com­mit­tee praised the Istan­bul-based writer, “who in the quest for the melan­cholic soul of his native city has dis­cov­ered new sym­bols for the clash and inter­lac­ing of cul­tures.” To read Pamuk’s ban­quet speech, click here to open the text in a new win­dow .

Mario Var­gas Llosa, 2010:

The pro­lif­ic Peru­vian-Span­ish writer Mario Var­gas Llosa , author of such nov­els as Con­ver­sa­tion in the Cathe­dral and Death in the Andes , was cit­ed by the Nobel com­mit­tee in 2010 “for his car­tog­ra­phy of struc­tures of pow­er and his tren­chant images of the indi­vid­u­al’s resis­tance, revolt, and defeat.” To read along with Var­gas Llosa as he speaks, click here to open the text in a new win­dow .

by Mike Springer | Permalink | Comments (14) |

most famous speech writers

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Comments (14), 14 comments so far.

One might think from the list you have gen­er­at­ed that there are no female writ­ers of note…

David, Of the 108 writ­ers who have received the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, only 12 have been women. That is the sit­u­a­tion as I found it, not as I would make it. As for my list of non-recip­i­ents, I should first of all remind you that Vir­ginia Woolf is near the very top of that list. Sec­ond­ly, I can think of a lot of oth­er notable writ­ers of both gen­ders who were alive after 1901 and whose work I per­son­al­ly love, but my list was meant to reflect writ­ers of tow­er­ing stature, his­tor­i­cal­ly, and not just “writ­ers of note” or writ­ers I per­son­al­ly approve of. (As a mat­ter of fact, I do not like every writer on that list.) So I was aim­ing at a kind of objec­tiv­i­ty. But of course a thing like this is ulti­mate­ly sub­jec­tive, so it would be inter­est­ing if you (and any oth­ers) would offer your own list in the space below. Thanks.

It must be so sad to have a mind warped by mis-edu­ca­tion that com­pels you to regur­gi­tate warped, twist­ed and mean­ing­less screeds like this in hopes of get­ting some kind of pel­let from your teach­ers.

Thank you for post­ing the speech of Stein­beck. It was relevent then and remains relevent now.


Thanks for this. Stein­beck­’s lec­ture is always haunt­ing. Few of us seem to have his trep­i­da­tion or his faith in human­i­ty.

Is there any­way one can get them all in CDs or DVDs ?

John hay, it must also be sad to have a mind that attacks rather than edu­cates. Also, your attack does­n’t include your list, there­fore your argu­ment falls on it’s face. If you wish to fight mis-edu­ca­tion start by com­mu­ni­cat­ing infor­ma­tion with your mixed metaphors.

How come no one has used the Swedish Chef from The Mup­pets to deliv­er their speech? Out of respect for being in Swe­den?

It is help­ful for visu­al­ly impaired.

Miss­ing Toni Mor­ri­son, Her­ta Müller and Bob Dylan.

There is black and white, there are men and women, their are writ­ers all over this Plan­et with Nobel Speech­es full of Wis­dom, His­to­ry and Inspi­ra­tion for young and old, all over the World

Educa­tive lec­tures

Elie Wiesels speech is one of the most emo­tion­al and intense speech­es i have ever read. he also brings great points to the table that can be used in today’s world more than ever.

I want to be famous also and one day clinch that pres­ti­gious nobel prize in chem­istry.

Yes — and you sound like a bar­rel of laughs your­self

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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 sweat...to 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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Abraham Lincoln’s Most Enduring Speeches and Quotes

By: Aaron Randle

Updated: February 7, 2024 | Original: January 26, 2022

Abraham Lincoln making his famous address.Abraham Lincoln making his famous address on 19 November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg on the site of the American Civil War battle with the greatest number of casualties. Lithograph. (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

There’s perhaps no better way to grasp Abraham Lincoln ’s outsized American legacy than through his writing.

From his time as a 20-something political hopeful to his tragic death, Lincoln was a voluminous writer, authoring hundreds of letters, speeches, debate arguments and more.

Despite very little formal schooling, the 16th president was an avid reader who from a young age understood the transformative power of words. “Words were Lincoln’s way up and out of the grinding poverty into which he had been born,” wrote historian and author Geoffrey Ward. “If the special genius of America was that it provided an environment in which ‘every man can make himself,’ as Lincoln believed, pen and ink were the tools with which he did his self-carpentering.”

While he often expressed himself with humor and folksy wisdom, Lincoln wasn’t afraid to wade into lofty territory. His writings show how his thoughts on the thorny issues of the day—like slavery, religion and national discord—evolved over time. He penned some of America’s most monumental expressions of statecraft, such as the Gettysburg Address , widely hailed for its eloquence and clarity of thought. His prose, infused with his deep love of poetry, helped him in his efforts to reach—and heal—a fractured nation.

Here are a few excerpts of Lincoln’s writings, both famous and lesser-known.

On the Fractured Nation

The  ‘House Divided’ Speech:  As America expanded West and fought bitterly over whether new territories could extend the practice of slavery, Lincoln spoke out about what he saw as a growing threat to the Union. Many criticized this speech  as radical, believing—mistakenly—that Lincoln was advocating for war.

The 'Better Angels of Our Nature' speech:  By the time Lincoln was first sworn into office , seven states had already seceded from the Union. During his first address as president, he tried to assure the South that slavery would not be interfered with, and to quiet the drumbeat of war by appealing to “the better angels of our nature.”

The Gettysburg Address: Hailed as one of the most important speeches in U.S. history, Lincoln delivered his brief, 272-word address at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield , the site of more than 50,000 casualties. By alluding to the Declaration of Independence , he redefined the war as a struggle not just to preserve the Union, but for the fundamental principle of human freedom.

On Religion

During his younger years, the future President remained notoriously noncommittal on the topic of religion—so much so that even his close friends were unable to verify his personal faith. At times, wrote Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo, “He would actually be aggressive on the subject of unbelief,” asserting that the Bible was just a book or that Jesus was an illegitimate child.

This lack of clarity on his beliefs—Was he an atheist? A skeptic?—proved a political liability early on. After failing to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, a worried Lincoln expressed fears that his lack of religiosity might have been to blame:

Lincoln won that House seat three years later, but not without his opponent, a revivalist preacher, accusing him of being a religious scoffer. Instead of dismissing the allegation, as he might have before, the future President wrote a public message directly to his constituency to deny any disrepect, while still avoiding pinning himself down to one personal faith:

By his first inauguration, Lincoln had evolved to making full-throated avowals of faith, even declaring that adherence to Christianity was critical to the Union's survival.

On Racial Inequality

It might seem that the author of the Emancipation Proclamation , the president hailed as “the Great Liberator,” would have clear and consistent views on racial justice and equality. Not exactly.

From the onset, Lincoln always opposed the idea and existence of slavery . As early as 1837, when addressing Congress as a newly-elected member of the Illinois General Assembly, the 28-year-old Lincoln proclaimed the institution to be “founded on both injustice and bad policy.”

Nearly two decades later, he continued to reject it on moral and political grounds:

Nonetheless, despite his deep opposition to slavery, Lincoln did not believe in racial equality. He made this point clear during his famed debates against rival Stephen A. Douglas during their race for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois:

Lincoln struggled to articulate a vision for how free Black Americans could integrate into white-dominated U.S. society. Under constant political pressure to offset his push for emancipation, Lincoln frequently floated the idea of resettling African Americans elsewhere —to Africa, the Caribbean or Central America. As early as 1854, he articulated this idea:

Lincoln’s views on race equality continued to evolve until his death. In his last public address, just four days before his assassination, Lincoln seemed to denounce a future in which newly freed Black Americans were barred from a chance at equal access to the American dream.

In that same speech, Lincoln also teased the idea of Black suffrage , particularly maddening one attendee. Listening from the crowd, Confederate sympathizer  John Wilkes Booth heard the assertion and remarked, “That is the last speech he will make.”

Lincoln’s Humor

An essential facet of Lincoln the man—and a huge contributor to his political success—was his witty, folksy humor and his talent for mimicry. An inveterate storyteller, Lincoln skillfully spun up puns, jokes, aphorisms and yarns to offset dicey social and political situations, ingratiate himself with hostile audiences, endear himself with the common man and separate himself from political opponents.

As a lawyer , Lincoln always made a point to speak plainly to the judge and jury, avoiding obscure or high-minded legal jargon. One day in court, another lawyer quoted a legal maxim in Latin, then asked Lincoln to affirm it. His response: “If that’s Latin, you had better call another witness.”

So captivating and engaging was Lincoln’s banter that even his vaunted Senate opponent Stephen A. Douglas begrudgingly acknowledged its effectiveness. Douglas likened it to "a slap across my back. Nothing else—not any of his arguments or any of his replies to my questions—disturbs me. But when he begins to tell a story, I feel that I am to be overmatched."

Humor played a key role, historians say, in Lincoln’s victory over Douglas in their famed 1858 debates. In one instance, he colorfully undercut Douglas’s arguments for the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision as “as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.”

And when hecklers followed a Douglas jibe by calling Lincoln “two-faced,” the future president famously defused the attack with his famed self-deprecating humor:

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” 

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HISTORY Vault: Abraham Lincoln

A definitive biography of the 16th U.S. president, the man who led the country during its bloodiest war and greatest crisis.

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10 Famous Speeches That Shaped History

These powerful speeches continue to linger in the public imagination.


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The best speeches have left a mark on society for generations. They reshaped our world, held us accountable, and inspired us to rise against all odds and achieve great things. These speeches transcend time and place, offering wisdom that stirs souls long after the original speakers have been silenced.

A speech can be charismatic and still lack true meaning, but truly great oratories appeal to the audience's hearts, minds, and values. These speeches rise above the rest both because of the passion with which they were delivered, and the very words themselves. Here, we’ve rounded up eight powerful speeches that captured important historical moments and have proven unforgettable.

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“Ain’t I a Woman?”

Sojourner truth, 1851.

Born into slavery in 1797, Sojourner Truth became a well-known abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She delivered this powerful speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio. In it, she laid bare the double standards facing Black women, who were often pushed to the side when it came to conversations about racism and sexism. Her speech received greater publicity during the Civil War, when several different versions were circulated by feminists and abolitionists.

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“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?”

“When They Go Low, We Go High”

Michelle obama, 2016.

Michelle Obama uttered her now-famous catchphrase at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, when speaking in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. She was referring to the importance of setting a good example for your children and the next generation by staying true to your values and not stooping to the level of those who would demean you. It's a message that's more important than ever in the age of Internet mud-slinging.

“Our motto is: when they go low, we go high. With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. Let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady because we know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls but the children across this country.”

"I Have a Dream"

Dr. martin luther king jr., 1963.

One of the greatest speeches in American history is Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which was delivered on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In it, he advocated for an end to racism in prose that continues to strike people’s hearts to this day.

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King—a staunch social activist and Baptist minister—was arguably the most prominent leader of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. King's speech brought into focus the injustice of racial inequality and police brutality in America. He delivered this speech to over 250,000 civil rights supporters. By the mid-1960s, both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were enacted in part due to King's words and actions.

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

The Farewell Address

George washington, 1796.

During George Washington’s time as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and later as the first president of the United States, he wielded a lot of power. He could have managed to overtake control of the nation, much like the king from whom the fledgling nation was determined to break free, and the world was watching to see what would happen.

Related: General George Washington: Before the Presidency

Instead, his modest resignation from his post as the commander-in-chief of the American military in 1783 strengthened the foundation of the republic, and his refusal to accept a third term as president of the nation established a precedent that was later enshrined into law. In the now-famous farewell address that he penned when he stepped down from the presidency, Washington discussed the importance of unity and checks and balances, and warned against the dangers of political factions and despotism.

"However [political factions] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government..."

"Tear down this wall!"

Ronald reagan, 1987.

The Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany into two different nations; one ruled by democracy and one by communism. Echoing many leaders in the international community, President Ronald Reagan demanded that General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev aid in reunifying Germany.

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Reagan delivered his speech when the Cold War was at its peak, and his advisors feared his address would anger the Soviet leader. But the President gave his speech nonetheless. Reagan’s words received little attention at the time, but when the Cold War ended a few years later it became one of the most well-known speeches by an American president.

“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!”

"I Am Prepared to Die"

Nelson mandela, 1964.

Nelson Mandela is one of the most controversial and loved figures in history. His speech " I Am Prepared to Die" defined South African democracy. Mandela delivered his three-hour-long address from the defendant dock to testify while addressing the charges that faced him as a result of his fight against South Africa's apartheid. Although his words did not save him from being convicted, his powerful speech struck the minds of the people listening, and it stimulated unrest in the South African people. 

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Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, but his speech and courage were vital in demolishing the apartheid system in his country. He was later released in 1990, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and became the country's first black head of state and the first leader to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Address to The United Nations On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Eleanor roosevelt, 1948.

As the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt was America's First Lady for 12 years. She was described as a dedicated humanitarian and activist throughout her life. After the death of her husband, she was appointed the first U.S delegate to the United Nations by President Harry S. Truman. Eleanor Roosevelt achieved her life's most remarkable work when she drafted and presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Related: The Fascinating Platforms of 10 First Ladies

The cruelties of World War II inspired the declaration, whose purpose was to ensure that such tragic human rights abuses would not happen again. The most translated document globally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays out the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Roosevelt was instrumental in the adoption of the document, and she explained its significance in a passionate 1948 address to the United Nations.

“At a time when there are so many issues on which we find it difficult to reach a common basis of agreement, it is a significant fact that 58 states have found such a large measure of agreement in the complex field of human rights. This must be taken as testimony of our common aspiration...to lift men everywhere to a higher standard of life and to a greater enjoyment of freedom. Man’s desire for peace lies behind this Declaration.”

Inaugural Address

John f. kennedy, 1961.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States. His pithy inaugural address on that day was well-written and meaningful, and it has become one of the most famous speeches by an American leader. JFK's speech was a call to service for the "new generation Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage." He issued a direct appeal to American citizens to stand up for their nation at the height of the Cold War and a time of great social change.

"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."

"We Shall Fight On The Beaches"

Winston churchill, 1940.

"We shall fight on the beaches" is the popular title given to the speech delivered by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the UK’s Parliament on June 4, 1940. He gave this speech around the time when Nazi Germany was invading many countries in Europe. In it, Churchill declared that British troops “shall go on to the end” in the face of Nazi aggression.

Related: Inspiring Winston Churchill Quotes That Will Help You Maintain a Stiff Upper Lip

With the threat of a Nazi invasion forthcoming, Churchill promised his nation would fight, alone if need be, and remain resilient. His words were designed to prompt a sense of security in the British people and inspire British troops, without which history would have been different. This strong speech was not just crucial for Churchill but also for the international stage, with America yet to enter the war.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...”

Democratic National Convention Keynote Address

Barack obama, 2004.

Rising political star Barack Obama was just a candidate for the United States Senate when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004. However, his speech left a mark in the history of America. At the time, Obama was an upcoming politician gaining popularity in the state of Illinois.  His speech that day paved the way for him to become the first Black President of the United States. But why did his address have so much significance?

First of all, it was the quality of the writing, which Obama himself handled. Secondly, it was the message of the keynote address; he reminded Americans of what they had in common rather than their differences.

"Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us...Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a Black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."

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most famous speech writers

The History Hit Miscellany of Facts, Figures and Fascinating Finds

6 of the Most Important Speeches in History

most famous speech writers

Sarah Roller

07 oct 2020, @sarahroller8.

most famous speech writers

What makes a good speech? Timing, content, humour, eloquence. But what makes a great speech, an important speech, an era-defining speech? This requires masterful oratory, the ability to convey a message with passion and emotion, one which those listening will not forget. A speech which inspires action and brings about change. We’ve rounded up six speeches in history which caused major changes, both in action and thought.

Pope Urban II – Speech at Clermont (1095)

The exact words spoken by Pope Urban II in November 1095 have been lost to history – several medieval writers have offered their versions, all varying somewhat. However, the impact of Pope Urban’s speech was monumental: the speech included the call to arms which launched the First Crusade .

Several versions of the speech use highly emotive language to refer to the ‘base and bastard Turks’ who ‘torture Christians’ and destroy churches. Whether or not Urban used words to this effect is unclear, but large swatches of men from across Europe took up the call to crusade, and embarked on treacherous journeys to the Middle East to fight in the name of Christendom.

most famous speech writers

Frederick Douglass – What to the Slave is the 4 th of July? (1852)

One of the more poignant speeches in American history, Frederick Douglass was born a slave, but rose to prominence as an abolitionist. Addressing his audience on 5 th July, deliberately choosing the day after celebrations for American independence day, Douglass highlighted the injustice and hypocrisy of celebrating ‘independence’ whilst slavery was still legal.

It took another 13 years for the Emancipation Proclamation to finally be declared. Douglass’ speech was a hit, and printed copies of it were sold immediately after it was given, ensuring its circulation across the country. Today it can be seen as a powerful reminder of the injustices and contradictions in politics around the world.

most famous speech writers

Frederick Douglass

Emmeline Pankhurst – Freedom or Death (1913)

  In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), determined to make progress on the issues of women’s suffrage after years of debates which had achieved nothing.

Delivered in Hartford, Connecticut in 1913 on a fundraising tour, Emmeline Pankhurst’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech remains an incredibly powerful summary of the cause she dedicated her life to, as she highlighted why women were fighting for equality under the law, and why this battle had turned militant.

most famous speech writers

  Winston Churchill – We Shall Fight on the Beaches (1940)

Churchill’s 1940 speech is widely considered to be one of the most iconic and rousing addresses of the Second World War . This speech was given to the House of Commons – at the time, it was not broadcast through any wider medium, and it was only eventually in 1949 that he made a recording, at the wishes of the BBC.

The speech itself was important – not just for Churchill, who had only recently been elected Prime Minister – but also because America was yet to enter the war. Churchill knew England needed a powerful ally, and his words were designed to elicit a sense of security in Britain’s absolute commitment and determination to win the war.

The lines ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender’ have been quoted repeatedly since, and are seen by many to epitomise British “Blitz spirit”.

most famous speech writers

Winston Churchill, in a picture nicknamed ‘The Roaring Lion’. Image credit: Public Domain

Mahatma Gandhi – Quit India (1942)

Given in 1942, on the eve of the Quit India movement, Gandhi’s speech called for Indian independence and set out his desire for committed passive resistance to British imperialism. By this point, India had already provided over 1 million soldiers to Allied powers, as well as large numbers of exports.

Gandhi’s speech saw the Indian National Congress agree that there should be a mass non-violent resistance movement against the British – resulting in the subsequent arrest of Gandhi and many other Congress members.

The ‘do or die’ nature of the speech, made on the eve of the movement which did eventually result in the 1947 Indian Independence Act, has cemented its place in history as one of the most importance speeches, particularly in terms of its political consequences.

most famous speech writers

Studio photograph of Mohandas K. Gandhi, London, 1931. Image credit: Public Domain

Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream (1963)

Undoubtedly one of the most famous speeches in history, when Martin Luther King took to the podium in August 1963, he cannot have known exactly how powerful his words would prove. Speaking to a crowd of 250,000 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., King’s words have been echoed by those fighting for social justice across the world.

Moreover, the speech is full of allusions to biblical, literary, and historical texts, grounding King’s dream firmly in recognized and familiar rhetoric and stories. However, it was not just the words which made this speech so memorable – King’s skill as an orator ensured that the passion and urgency of his words were fully conveyed to his audience.


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Top 10 Greatest Speeches

As the political season heats up, TIME takes a tour of history's best rhetoric

Lyndon B. Johnson


Lyndon Johnson

The American Promise, 1965

In the wake of the ugly violence perpetuated against civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama in 1965, Johnson adapted the "We Shall Overcome" mantra in this call for the country to end racial discrimination. By throwing the full weight of the Presidency behind the movement for the first time, Johnson helped usher in the Voting Rights Act.

Best Line : "There is no moral issue. It is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer."

Next Ronald Reagan

Toastmasters International

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Four Famous Speechwriters

03-10 Famous Speechwriters

Toastmasters International has celebrated the art of public speaking since its inception, developing educational programs to grow transferable skills in communication and leadership. At Toastmasters clubs, members don’t just learn how to speak; they also learn how to write. And like any type of writing, speechwriting is a form of art. Today, we recognize a few great speechwriters.

Jon Favreau

The much-talked-about Jon Favreau first gained fame in 2008, when the then-27-year-old was named director of speechwriting for U.S. President Barack Obama. After a chance meeting with the future president while working on the John Kerry presidential campaign in 2004, Favreau began working for Obama the following year, when Obama was still a U.S. senator. Two years later, Favreau was on the campaign trail again, this time leading Obama’s speechwriting team. Favreau is famously credited as the primary writer for Obama’s 2009 inaugural speech.

Ronald Miller

British-born Sir Ronald Graeme Miller was a World War II veteran, a playwright writing scripts for MGM Studios in Hollywood, an actor, and a speechwriter for three British prime ministers. He is the man behind one of Margaret Thatcher’s most famous lines. In 1980, during a pivotal moment in the prime minister’s career, Thatcher addressed the Conservative Party conference, stating that she refused to perform a U-turn in the face of criticism of her liberalization of the economy. Playing on the title of Christopher Fry’s popular play “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” she said, “The lady’s not for turning.”

Graham Freudenberg

One of Australia’s most famous speechwriters, Graham Freudenberg has written over a thousand speeches for the country’s Labor Party, including those for Arthur Caldwell, Bob Hawke, Neville Wren, Bob Carr, Mark Latham and Gough Whitlam. While the speechwriter has been recognized for his large body of work, it is Whitlam’s “It’s Time” campaign speech in 1972 that remains his most famous.

Peggy Noonan

An author and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal , Peggy Noonan staked her claim to speechwriting fame as a primary writer for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Her notable speeches include Reagan’s “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” address, given on the 40 th anniversary of D-Day—the day Allied troops invaded Normandy in World War II—as well as the former president’s address after the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Later, while working for then-U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, Noonan coined the catchphrase "a kinder, gentler nation."

A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of the Toastmaster Magazine tablet app.

About the Author

The Toastmaster magazine staff is comprised of five editorial team members. Learn more about them on the Staff page .

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Meet the Top Speechwriters

  • Posted on December 18, 2020 December 23, 2020
  • 3 minute read
  • by Swagger Contributors

Sailun Tires

People love hearing speeches. Presidents and CEOs deliver speeches with so much eloquence and organization that you may wonder when they had the time to craft all that with their ever-busy schedules.

most famous speech writers

Speechwriting is an extraordinary job, yet fulfilling in a way. It requires staying out of the box and looking for content out of the ordinary. Being an odd job, it also has interesting individuals. Here are some top speechwriters the world has had so far.

Roger Wolfson

Roger Wolfson is a fast-paced, sharp, and witty writer who has worked for over twenty years in political affairs. Roger has been a speechwriter for a very long time in several fields and specialties. He is unique with his fantastic writing abilities. He writes on politics, entertainment, law, public service, and more.

Roger has accomplished a lot in his writing career. He has provided support to several US senators with legislative counsel. He left the political world at age 32 to settle on other specialties he holds. He had achieved much under the service of the following senators:

•Senator John Kerry •Senator Paul Wellstone • Senator Ted Kennedy • Senator Lieberman

Jon Favreau

President Obama is ranked as one of the best orators. Jon is the brains behind the great speeches President Obama made during his time in 2008. He led the speechwriting team that saw the president make his way to become the first black president of America. He was the primary writer for the speech that President Obama made in 2009 during his inaugural ceremony.

Ronald Miller

Miller came out of World War II and began work at Hollywood writing scripts. This gave life to his excellent speech writing skills, and he worked for three prime ministers in England. Many people remember Margaret Thatcher’s famous lines, which he wrote.

His work was very instrumental during Prime Minister Thatcher’s reign earning him much respect from the England royalties.

Graham Freudenberg

Graham is an outstanding Australian speechwriter. His time working at the Labor Party saw him writing thousands of speeches, which took over the whole country with excellent organization and quality. His most recognized speeches were those he wrote for:

•Arthur Caldwell •Bob Hawke •Neville Wren •Bob Carr •Mark Latham •Gough Whitlam

How is a Speechwriter as a Profession?

Getting a great speechwriter must be the most overwhelming situation for any PR position. A speechwriter writes for a public figure who is adored by many. There is no room for mistakes, and quality is a must. Any errors will lead to significant criticism, as Gabriella Monn Mann explains in her exclusive interview with Swagger women .

most famous speech writers

Formerly, speechwriting was not recognized as part of the job until the Professional Speechwriters Association’s formation. The post is becoming more real with all the duties they have to undertake to make their bosses’ lives easy with the public.

Many of the speechwriters don’t see themselves as writers per se. They feel the term is limited since they have other significant roles in any company, organization, or public space they hold. They have to be very keen on their ways of life since their position is hefty yet unknown to many.

However, leaders regard them with high respect. They are reliable and convenient. They will craft the best sound and be single-minded on the verge of any meeting. They are dedicated to making the leaders at ease by spewing out the organization’s plan and views in any writing they partake.

What Does a Typical Speechwriter’s Day Look Like?

A speechwriter is not ordinary. They are unique and have to find new ways to build their craft. They have to learn continually and get more knowledge on almost every topic on earth.

First, a speechwriter must be a creative inventor. The invention is the order of the day as they go about crafting quality speeches written flawlessly.

The second key thing to a speechwriter is organization. It is common practice to find someone organizing everything since they are used to it. A speechwriter must craft a speech that flows uniformly and touches only the critical points in the best concise manner.

The other crucial feature is style. A speechwriter must develop a unique style to introduce their speech, uniquely craft the body, and finish with the most powerful conclusion.

most famous speech writers

The five canons of rhetoric guide the life of a speechwriter. You have read about the top speechwriters with some exciting facts about speechwriting. Speechwriting is necessary for any organization.

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Interesting Literature

Five of the Best Speeches and Writings by Martin Luther King

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68) is one of the great orators of the twentieth century. Several of his speeches have become part of the ‘canon’ of great oratory, and because he was delivering many of his speeches at landmark political events and in the era of television, we are lucky enough to hear him speak the words he wrote.

But Martin Luther King couldn’t just give a great speech: he could write with all the rhetorical fervour a great orator requires, without ever sacrificing truth and sincerity at the altar of a nice-sounding phrase. His other writings, which include letters, sermons, and essays, reveal a writer who was concerned with communicating immediately and accessibly with his readers, using the English language effectively and economically to convey his points.

He could also be allusive, referring to biblical language and stories among other things. Let’s take a closer look at five of the best speeches and other writings by one of the greatest figures in the Civil Rights movement, and in modern American history.

‘ Give Us the Ballot ’.

Martin Luther King was still in his late twenties when he delivered this early speech on 17 May 1957. The speech was given on the three-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954 concerning Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka , the legal case which  ruled that US state laws which established racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

Using the rhetorical device known as anaphora , which involves repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences, King brilliantly outlines the reasons why African Americans should be given voting rights in the South by repeating the words ‘give us the ballot and we will …’

King delivered the speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and it is now regarded as one of his best speeches.

‘ How Long, Not Long ’.

Sometimes known by the alternative title ‘Our God Is Marching On!’, this speech was given on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, following the completion of the Selma to Montgomery March which took place on March 25, 1965.

He acknowledges that some 8,000 people had undertaken the ‘mighty walk’ from Selma, Alabama, with some of the marchers literally sleeping in the mud. Their bodies are tired and their feet are sore. But people are asking how much longer it will take to effect real change in civil rights in the US.

And in a famous quotation, King delivers a hopeful message to his listeners, responding rhetorically to the question ‘how long?’ by declaring, ‘How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’

‘ Letter from Birmingham Jail ’.

One of Martin Luther King’s most famous – and most important – writings, ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ is an open letter which King wrote on 16 April 1963 while he was imprisoned in the jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

In the letter, King urges that everyone has a moral responsibility to break laws which are unjust: civil disobedience, following Thoreau, becomes necessary. It is also sometimes expedient to take direct action rather than pursuing justice through the approved but long-winded legal channels.

It is in this letter that King writes the famous line, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’

‘ I’ve Been to the Mountaintop ’.

This is another one of King’s iconic speeches, delivered on 3 April 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. It was also his last speech before his assassination in 1968. Indeed, he was shot the very next day.

The context of the speech was the Memphis sanitation strike, which began on 12 February 1968 in response to the deaths of two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker. King joined the strike and lent his support for it, accusing the officials in Memphis of not dealing honestly with the sanitation works of the city.

Towards the end of the speech, King appears to foretell his own untimely death, saying that he may not get there with them in their struggle for justice. (All of King’s key political work can really be summarised as a rhetorical crusade against injustice.) He states that he is not afraid to die: he was aware of the many threats to his life that he faced. The speech is brave, stoic, and a rhetorical tour de force.

‘ I Have a Dream ’.

Let’s conclude this selection of Martin Luther King’s best speeches and writings with the best-known of all of his speeches. The occasion for King’s speech was the march on Washington , which saw some 210,000 men, women, and children gather at the Washington Monument in August 1963, before marching to the Lincoln Memorial. King reportedly stayed up until 4am the night before he was due to give the speech, writing it out.

1963 was the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation , in which then US President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) had freed the African slaves in the United States in 1863. But a century on from the abolition of slavery, King points out, black Americans still are not free in many respects.

Although King’s speech has become known by the repeated four-word phrase ‘I Have a Dream’, which emphasises the personal nature of his vision, his speech is actually about a collective dream for a better and more equal America which is not only shared by many Black Americans but by anyone who identifies with their fight against racial injustice, segregation, and discrimination.

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What are the most popular speeches of today and why?

Discover the world's most popular speeches from the 21st century. find out how our linguist experts ranked and revealed the secrets behind a good speech..

most famous speech writers

Speeches can unite the world, there’s no doubt about it. Be they delivered by activists, educators, a political leader, or the world’s best entertainers—one clear message by an individual has the power to connect so many.

Most famous speeches

Here at Babbel, we know a thing or two about how words and language can connect people. And that’s why we’ve set out to discover the most popular speeches shaping the world we live in today and take a look at what exactly makes a good speech.

With the help of our expert linguists, we'll discover the most popular speeches given by modern-day legends. Finding out why these speeches resonate with so many, our linguists reveal the secret of delivering a memorable speech.

So, how did we rank the famous speeches?

Looking at the world’s most famous modern-day speeches, we gathered YouTube views, TedTalk views and search data to understand which speeches are truly the most popular.

Comparing speeches across the topics of activism, business, creativity, language learning, LGBT+, Oscars, parenting, and politics, we were able to compare the figures to give an average score. You can see our full findings here .

Top 10 most famous speeches of the 21st century

We looked at some of the most viewed and searched speeches in recent history—be they short or long—to figure out which ones are the most popular.

Looking at YouTube and TedTalk views alongside search volume data, we were able to compile a list of the most popular speeches. How many of the world’s most famous speeches have you watched or listened to?

Mos popular speeches of the 21st Century

Were there any surprises? Interestingly, Simon Sinek appears twice on the list—a public speaker whose delivery and messages clearly resonate with many.

While you might not be surprised to see Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio at the top of the list, the reason he’s at the top may surprise you—if you didn’t already know, he’s super into environmentalism.

Using his platform at the Oscars to shine a light on global warming, an issue which affects us all, his speech left us with an unforgettable, and now famous, quote: “Climate change… is the most urgent threat facing our entire species… let us not take this planet for granted—I do not take tonight for granted.”

Our linguistic expert tells us why Leonardo Di Caprio’s speech resonated with so many of us and why it finds itself positioned as the most popular speech in recent years.

Taylor Hermerding (she/her), Editor in Didactics at Babbel, said:

"What Leo does really cleverly is link his award win, which was for his blockbuster hit, The Revenant, to the topic of climate change. He explains that the film is all about “man’s relationship to the natural world” and that during the time of its making - in 2015 - it was the hottest year on record. The film crew actually had to travel to the most southerly tip of the planet just to find snow to film in. Leo’s use of impactful language and intonation, in addition to his quick and controlled speech, allows him to deliver all of his points both purposefully and with a sense of urgency. It’s hard not to be moved by his words and jump on board with his climate change message. This speech was viewed by 43 million viewers (and counting)."

Top 10 speeches on learning a language

Famous speeches on language learning

Of course, we also looked at the most popular speeches on learning a language. By speaking another language, we open ourselves up to learning about new cultures and understanding others.

While we know how rewarding learning a new language is, we all still need motivation to get there. So, who are the thought leaders inspiring us to learn a new language?

Looking at the most popular speeches for learning a language, we noticed search interest was relatively low and excluded that metric from the evaluation. However, the views speak for themselves. The YouTube views on some videos are so popular that it ranks top spot!

Revealing the secrets behind a good speech

So we now know what the most popular speeches from the 21st century are, but what topics grab the most attention? And who delivered them?

From our findings of ranked famous speeches we found out:

The professions with the most viewed speeches are writers, artists and poets

The great creatives of the world—our writers, artists and poets—deliver the most popular speeches.

The USA has the most watched speeches

Thought leaders in business, culture and politics—speakers from the USA take the trophy for the most popular public speakers in the English language.

Speeches related to the topic of business are the most popular

Our work day isn’t over at 5pm—it seems we love to think about how to improve our business and be the best at what we do, no matter the time of day.

Female public speakers are listened to the most often

The world is listening to famous speeches by women most often, as compared to their male and nonbinary counterparts.

With the scores now on the doors, were there any surprises? Did you expect an Oscars speech to be the most watched speech in recent history?

The truth is that famous speeches start a conversation, or contribute to one, and allow us to connect with each other and potentially even change the world.

Your checklist to deliver a memorable speech

The world’s most popular speeches give us insight into what messages resonate, and crucially how those messages are delivered. But how could you deliver a memorable speech of your own?

Our expert linguists reveal the speech techniques and strategies used, and which you could try when writing and delivering your next speech.

Embrace emotion - The most powerful speeches are delivered from the heart. Take Matthew McConaughey’s 2014 Oscar acceptance speech, where he is seen to be overcome with emotion, with visibly watery eyes. Don’t be afraid to tear up a bit if the occasion calls for it, like a best friend’s wedding speech for example—it’s a great way to show someone you love them.

Tell a story - Take the audience on a journey with you, telling the story as naturally as possible.The story can be personal, but it doesn’t need to be. It should, however, be engaging and clear.

Slow down your speech - Barack Obama is a great example of a speaker who slows his speech, allowing space and time for the audience to follow the speech and absorb the message. If you’re nervous, it’s natural to want to speed up your speech, but as the old saying goes—practice makes perfect. Rehearse at home and practice by timing or recording yourself.

Use research - Depending on what your speech is about, of course, another important factor of public speaking is researching well and presenting original thought.

Keep it simple - in an age of diminishing concentration , speeches which are delivered clearly help the audience to stay engaged. To stay on track, consider what the one message you want your audience to take away actually is.

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Leo’s use of impactful language and intonation, in addition to his quick and controlled speech

most famous speech writers

Taylor Hermerding (she/her), Editor in Didactics at Babbel

Leo also uses body language and hand movements to deliver his most prominent points, which become more exaggerated as he talks passionately about the threat facing our “entire species”. This, plus again the fast pace at which he delivers his speech, captures the audience’s attention. His choice of vocabulary is also notedly elevated and emotional, with phrases like ‘politics of greed’ and “Let us not take the world for granted, I do not take this night for granted” which resonated hugely with his Hollywood co-stars and viewers worldwide. DiCaprio also inserts short breaths into his sentences when stopping to thank certain people, or to levy emphasis in places, in this holy grail of unforgettable speeches.

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6 Speeches by American Authors for Secondary ELA Classrooms

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  • M.A., English, Western Connecticut State University
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American authors such as John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison are studied in the secondary ELA classroom for their short stories and their novels. Seldom, however, are students exposed to the speeches that have been given by these same authors. 

Giving students a speech by an author to analyze can help students better understand how each writer effectively meets his or her purpose using a different medium. Giving students speeches allows students the opportunity to compare an author's writing style between their fiction and their non-fiction writing. And giving students speeches to read or listen to also helps teachers  increase their students' background knowledge on these authors whose works are taught in middle and high schools .

Using a speech in the secondary classroom also meets the Common Core Literacy Standards for English Language Arts that require students to determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their range of words and phrases.  

The following six (6) speeches by famous American authors have been rated as to their length (minutes/# of words), readability score (grade level/reading ease) and at least one of the rhetorical devices used (author's style). All of the following speeches have links to audio or video where available.

"I decline to accept the end of man." William Faulkner

The Cold War was in full swing when William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. Less than a minute into the speech , he posed the paralyzing question, "When will I be blown up?" In confronting the terrifying possibility of nuclear war, Faulkner answers his own rhetorical question by stating, "I decline to accept the end of man."

  • Delivered by : William Faulkner Author of:  The Sound and the Fury ,  As I Lay Dying ,  Light in August ,  Absalom, Absalom! ,  A Rose for Emily
  • Date : December 10, 1950 
  • Location: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Word Count:  557
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  66.5
  • Grade Level : 9.8
  • Minutes : 2:56 (audio selections here)
  • Rhetorical device used:  Polysyndeton . This use of conjunctions between words or phrases or sentences elicits a feeling of energy and multiplicity that crescendos.

Faulkner slows the rhythm of the speech for emphasis:

...by reminding him of the courage  and  honor  and  hope  and  pride  and  compassion  and  pity  and  sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

"Advice to Youth" Mark Twain

Mark Twain's legendary humor begins with his recollection of his 1st birthday contrasted with his 70th:

"I hadn't any hair, I hadn't any teeth, I hadn't any clothes. I had to go to my first banquet just like that."

Students can easily understand the satirical advice Twain is giving in each section of the essay through his use of irony, understatement, and exaggeration. 

  • Delivered by : Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) Author of:  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Date : 1882
  • Word Count:  2,467
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  74.8
  • Grade Level : 8.1
  • Minutes : highlights of this speech recreated by actor Val Kilmer 6:22 min
  • Rhetorical device used:  Satire:  the technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule.

Here, Twain satirizes lying:

"Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught . Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training."

"I have spoken too long for a writer." Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was unable to attend the Nobel Prize for Literature Ceremony because of serious injuries sustained in two airplane crashes in Africa during a safari. He did have this short speech read for him by United States Ambassador to Sweden, John C. Cabot.

  • Delivered by : Author of:  The Sun Also Rises ,  A Farewell to Arms ,  For Whom the Bell Tolls ,  The Old Man and the Sea
  • Date : December 10, 1954
  • Word Count:  336
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  68.8
  • Grade Level : 8.8
  • Minutes : 3 minutes (excerpts listen here)
  • Rhetorical device used: litotes  a means to build ethos, or character by intentionally downplaying one’s accomplishments to show modesty in order to gain the favor of the audience.

The speech is filled with litote-like constructions, starting with this opening: 

"Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize."

"Once upon a time there was an old woman." Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is known for her literary efforts to recreate the power of the African American's language through novels to preserve that cultural tradition. In her poetic lecture to the Nobel Prize Committee, Morrison offered a fable of an old woman (writer) and a bird (language) that illustrated her literary opinions: language can die; language can be become the controlling tool of others. 

  • Author of:  Beloved ,  Song of Solomon ,  The Bluest Eye
  • Date : December 7, 1993
  • Word Count:  2,987
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  69.7
  • Grade Level : 8.7
  • Minutes : 33 minutes  audio
  • Rhetorical device used:  Asyndeton  Figure of omission in which normally occurring conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) are intentionally omitted in successive phrases, or clauses; a string of words not separated by normally occurring conjunctions.

The multiple asyndetons speed up the rhythm of her speech:

"Language can never 'pin down' slavery, genocide, war. "
"The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. "

"-and the Word is with Men." John Steinbeck

Like other authors who were writing during the Cold War, John Steinbeck recognized the potential for destruction that man had developed with increasingly powerful weapons. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he expresses his concern stating, "We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God."

  • Author of:  Of Mice and Men ,  The Grapes of Wrath ,  East of Eden  
  • Date : December 7, 1962
  • Word Count:  852
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  60.1
  • Grade Level : 10.4
  • Minutes : 3:00 minutes   video of speech
  • Rhetorical device used: Allusion :a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. 

Steinbeck alludes to the opening line in the New Testament's Gospel of John:1-   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (RSV)

"In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man - and the Word is with Men."

"A Left-Handed Commencement Address" Ursula LeGuin

The author Ursula Le Guin uses science fiction and fantasy genres to creatively explore psychology, culture, and society. Many of her short stories are in classroom anthologies. In an interview in 2014 about these genres, she noted: 

" ... the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures."

This commencement address was given at Mills College, a liberal arts woman's college, she spoke about confronting "the male power hierarchy" by "going our own way." The speech is ranked #82 out of 100 of America's Top Speeches.

  • Delivered by : Ursula LeGuin
  • Author of:  The Lathe of Heaven ,  A Wizard of Earthsea ,  The Left Hand of Darkness ,  The Dispossessed
  • Date : 22 May 1983,
  • Location: Mills College, Oakland, California
  • Word Count:  1,233
  • Readability  score :  Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease  75.8
  • Grade Level : 7.4
  • Minutes :5:43
  • Rhetorical device used:  Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning or meter.
I hope you tell them to go to hell and while they’re going to give you equal pay for equal time. I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people.
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most famous speech writers

3 Famous Speech Writers Throughout History: What They Teach You About Public Speaking

That said, some individuals are so talented at writing a speech their good speech writing makes them famous. Before we discuss these three famous writers, it’s essential to articulate what they do and why they are so crucial. Essentially, what makes a great speech writer?

Learning from these iconic individuals can help you learn tips on how to create a compelling talk. Whether you need to write wedding speeches, persuasive speeches, or simply want to know how best to capture your audience’s attention, learning from those before you can be your guide.

Bear in mind that while we discuss writers for presidents, there are many types of speechwriters. People hire a speech writer for various reasons, but every great writer shares a few commonalities.

What Is A Speech Writer?

A speech writer is an individual who conducts the necessary research process, writing, and editing, on behalf of the speaker. Individuals in both the public and private sectors often hire speech writers.

While you may associate speech writers with elected officials, such as vice presidents or presidents, you can also employ a speech writer for smaller events.

Since speech writers dedicate their lives writing speeches, employing one can help you create the best bullet points to enable your audience to listen attentively.

Speech writers cover a variety of events and write for well-known and lesser-known individuals. In order to define what makes a great speech writer, let’s cover three major speech writers throughout history.

Alexander Hamilton: A Detail Not Included In His Musical

Whether you know Alexander Hamilton from your high school history class or the musical named after him, Hamilton was a friend of George Washington. So when the first president of the United States decided to step down from office and wanted to give a farewell address, Hamilton was involved.

Although Washington originally asked James Madison to write his address , eventually, the task was turned over to Hamilton. Hamilton created his draft with full creative liberties but also incorporated Madison’s. Amendments were made, and the speech underwent many changes.

Alexander Hamilton is famous in many ways. However, following his death and Washington’s, controversy broke out concerning who wrote Washington’s Farewell Address. However, Hamilton’s wife publicly stated that :

“A short time previous to General Washington’s retiring from the Presidency…Hamilton suggested to him the idea of delivering a farewell address…with which idea General Washington was well pleased… Mr. Hamilton did so, and the address was written.”

Even President George Washington needed a speech writer at the end of his two terms. Hamilton was his go-to, and his speech has been remembered for decades. Never underestimate the power of a great speech or the tedious edits that make it so.

Judson Welliver: The First Presidential Speech Writer

While Alexander Hamilton is partially known for writing the famous Farewell Address, Judson Welliver is known as the first presidential speech writer . Until Warren G. Harding, there was no official speech writer for presidents.

However, Welliver was present for Harding, and when he took office, Welliver’s help transitioned into writing speeches. When Calvin Coolidge entered office he also used Welliver’s writing tips. Consequently, speech writers as a whole never left the White House.

Welliver was widely known as a newspaperman before his transition into speech writing for presidents. Before Welliever’s time, speech writers were not a standard commodity for presidents.

Judson Welliver helped where he was equipped to. Using his talent where needed, he created an entirely new position within the government. The name Judson Welliver should not go without notice.

Richard N. Goodwin: Capturing History With A Pen

Richard N. Goodwin married Dorris Kearns Goodwin. He did not know that just as he captured history through famous speeches, his wife would capture his career as well. In fact, he is a standout example of what makes a great speech writer.

Goodwin was considered a staff celebrity when President Lyndon B. Johnson recruited him to become his speech writer. Goodwin is credited with writing some of the President’s most well-known speeches.

He only served for two years on President Johnson’s staff. Regardless, one of these speeches is the 1965 famous address to Congress, in which the president called for voting rights legislation .

Although his political career was brief, Goodwin left an indelible mark as a speech writer. What is said lasts for decades, not just on the page but in the minds and hearts of those who hear them. Working as a speech writer isn’t simply a job but a way to embody the struggles and successes of others. Speech writing allows you to become a voice for history.

How Do You Become A Speech Writer?

Becoming a speech writer largely depends on what type of speeches you want to write. Regardless of who you one day work for, an elected government official, maid of honor, or even need to write your own speech, self-educating is important.

Take the necessary time to study the above names as well as lesser-known individuals. Pay attention to the small dedtails that made these names great:

  • Alexander Hamilton edited his speech over and over
  • Judson Welliver filled a need with his talent
  • Richard N. Goodwin became a voice for history

Additionally, add in study of the art of communication, debate, and even body language. Once you have a general understanding of how to write a great speech, you can do the following:

  • Volunteer at events that encompass your field of interest
  • Practice writing speeches
  • Watch memorable speeches

What Makes A Great Speech Writer?

A great speech writer knows how to write an effective speech by implementing the following:

  • Creating a quality speech structure
  • Knowing when to repeat keywords and phrases
  • Presenting the core idea in a concise manner

The execution of a speech is left up to the speaker. A great speech writer trusts the speaker to voice their final draft with great tone, appropriate eye contact, and timely pauses.

The more speeches you write, the better you will understand how to write in another person’s voice. Speech writing is a type of ghostwriting. It’s crucial to draft your speech in the voice of the one presenting it.

It takes time and effort to draft a speech that:

  • Fits the occasion
  • Is the correct length
  • Matches the tone of the speaker
  • Is written to the right audience

But what if you don’t only want to become a great speech writer? Instead, you want to also ensure the speech is delivered exactly the way you hope it to be?

You Are Your Own Speech Writer: How To Start Excelling Today

When you realize you have the power to become your own speech writer, your options are limitless. Now you know examples of famous speech writers throughout history. You learned what makes a great one, and that you can be your own. Follow these few steps:

  • You can create an environment that enables you to not just write a great speech, but deliver a great speech.
  • Hone in on your uniqueness
  • Perfect your presentation skills
  • Write your memorable speech

Many individuals spent time crafting and giving speeches that changed their life forever . When you write a memorable speech and deliver it with excellence, you have potential to succeed in astounding ways.

The great news is, if you are interested in public speaking, you can be your own speech writer. Build a group of qualified individuals around you. Learn exactly what goes into a speech that your audience will remember and practice your delivery.

Before you know it you could step on stage and present the talk you always wanted to share. Remember: When you realize you have the power to become your own speech writer, your options are limitless.

Introductory Note: To George Washington

In Praise of Judson Welliver


Richard Goodwin: The Speechwriter Who Named The “Great Society”

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Jerry seinfeld says jason alexander memorized ‘seinfeld’ golf ball speech in half an hour.

Seinfeld said he and co-writer Larry David came up with the idea for the beloved monologue at 2:30 in the morning before filming.

By Zoe G Phillips

Zoe G Phillips

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The beloved golf ball reveal of Seinfeld ‘s “Marine Biologist” episode almost never happened. Jerry Seinfeld revealed this week he and Larry David wrote the scene just hours before filming it, and actor Jason Alexander only had minutes to memorize the script.

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“It was the night before we shot the scene with Jason,” Seinfeld recalled this week. “I said to [co-writer David], ‘Hey, what if what puts the whale in distress is Kramer’s golf ball?’ He’s hitting golf balls at the beach. George is walking on the beach with the girl, we haven’t connected them. We saw no connection the night before. We write that speech the night before. Two o’clock in the morning.”

After the late-night light bulb of inspiration, Seinfeld said it was Alexander who became the true hero of the day.

“We show up the next day. We hand Jason, who’s an effing genius, that speech. How long is that speech? It’s a page, two pages. This is TV, OK? This is why film sucks. You go to a TV actor like Jason and you hand him two-and-a-half pages, and I go, ‘We’ve got to shoot this in a half hour. Memorize it.’ He goes, ‘No problem.’ That’s TV. No preciousness.”

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Chris pine addresses “emotionally incapacitating” acne that kept him from landing role in ‘the o.c.’, bob ellison, emmy-winning ‘mary tyler moore show’ writer and expert joke fixer, dies at 91, hollywood a-listers react to sam rubin’s death: “your professionalism was unmatched”, ‘the other black girl’ canceled at hulu (exclusive), oprah winfrey discusses being a “major contributor” to diet culture: “i own what i’ve done”, tom selleck says he gave ‘magnum p.i.’ crew $1,000 bonuses after studio refused.



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