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10 More Great Speeches in History
The recent Linkin Park Album, A Thousand Suns, had an amazing and passionate speech at the beginning of the hit song “Wretches and Kings,” which got me thinking: since a list of the 10 greatest speeches already exists, I thought that was time for the next installation. Here it is then, with the bonus as my personal favorite. Which ones did I miss? Which ones are your favorites? Add your own and discuss the entries.
General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army, and a man who fought in three wars, knew something about duty, honor and country. In 1962, MacArthur was in the twilight of his life and came to West Point to accept the Sylvanus Thayer Award, and participate in his final cadet roll call.
Notable Excerpts: “Duty, honor, country: those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
Socrates, a great scholar and teacher in Athens, was facing charges for corruption and misleading the people. People, especially youngsters, were greatly influenced by his words and ideas. However, the rulers found him threatening to their throne. Socrates was arrested and put on trial. Court was set and he was asked to say something in his defense. “The Apology” is what Socrates said in his defense. Instead of pleading for guilty, he chose to die with dignity.
Notable Excerpt: “Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth — that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason also, I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them.”
Patrick Henry made this famous speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses, at St. John’s Church. After the speech, his resolution to organize the militia of Virginia, and to put the colony of Virginia on war footing, was unanimously adopted in that colony.
Notable Excerpt: “It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
After more than 200 years of British rule, India gained independence on August 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of independent India. He delivered this speech on the stroke of midnight before the constituent assembly. The speech became famous for its “tryst with destiny” remark.
Notable Excerpt: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
When Reagan issued his famous challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin, the speech earned mixed reviews. Even members of the President’s own team felt lukewarm about it. But in 1989, the Berlin Wall was demolished, and today the address is remembered, in the words of the German newspaper Bild, as a speech that “changed the world.”
Notable Excerpt: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
On May 10, 1940, the Germans attacked France and, on June 14, Paris fell. As France surrendered, the Germans’ next target was England. But Great Britain refused to bow in front of fascism and Nazism. At this critical juncture, Churchill gave this third and final speech to bring hope to his people in these dark hours.
Notable Excerpt: “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 wake of the ugly violence perpetuated against civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, Johnson adapted the “We shall overcome” mantra, in his 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.
Notable Excerpt: “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.”
Born a slave in Maryland, Douglass escaped in 1838 and earned widespread acclaim for his 1845 autobiography. He was invited to speak as part of July 4 festivities in his adopted hometown of Rochester, N.Y. The abolitionist took the opportunity to rage at the injustice of slavery.
Notable Excerpt: “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”
This speech was given shortly after Winston Churchill became prime minister. It was second of the three well-known speeches given by Churchill during the Battle of France. Others are “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” and “This was their finest hour.”
Notable Excerpt: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for casting an illegal ballot in the 1872 presidential election. Seething from the injustice, she embarked on a speaking tour in support of female voting rights, during which she gave this speech. The 19th Amendment enfranchised women in 1920. Anthony never paid the fine.
Notable Excerpt: “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men.”
Savio said to the crowd, “I ask you to rise quietly and with dignity, and go home,” and the crowd did exactly what he said. After this Savio became the prominent leader of the newly formed Free Speech Movement. Negotiations failed to change the situation at Sproul Hall; therefore, direct action began on December 2. There, Savio gave his most famous speech, about the “operation of the machine,” in front of 4,000 people. He and 800 others were arrested that day.
Notable Excerpt: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”