Daily Archives: July 19, 2008

Saturday Top 5: Significant Speeches in American History

America is a great country, blessed by God and founded on the biblical principles that all men are created equal. In the history and even before the founding of this nation, the spoken word of individuals has moved the hearts and emotions of the people to stand together and do what is right. Today, I will provide you with a list of what I consider 5 of the most significant speeches in American history. Whether they brought us together after disaster, stirred us to stand together in arms, or activated the conscience of us to fight tyranny, they all had a significant impact on the direction of our nation and even the world.

Worthy of mention:

Ronald Reagan – Challenger disaster speech.

John F. Kennedy – Inaugural address. “Ask not what your country can do for you.” (Video)

#5(tie) Dwight D. Eisenhower – Farewell speech. “Military industrial complex.” (video) One of the most loved and popular presidents in American history warned us in his farewell speech of the growing military industrial complex. WWII was still in our recent memory, and President Eisenhower understood the importance of freedom from the gigantic machine that was the military bureaucracy. Having served as the commanding general during WWII, Eisenhower (I believe) understood the military to be necessary for defense from threats outside, but that unchecked would become a type of threat of its own.

#5(tie) Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Pearl Harbor Speech. “a date which will live in infamy,” (Text) (Audio track with video) According to several sources, this speech was significant only in that it is so quotable, and they may very well be right. Even in FDR’s speech, he states that he would like the declaration of war to be retroactive. In other words, his speech was symbolic serving only: to declare to the world that we(USA) are all in, Japan is (was) going to pay for what they had done, and also to unite America in the cause. The effect it has had is debatable, because the attacks did enough to unite the people.

#4 Ronald Reagan – Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall (Video). His advisers told him that he should not speak in such harsh terms to the Soviet Union. It is true that the Soviet Union was already creaking under the pressure of the failed communist system, but this bold declaration in front of the whole world that you cannot speak of freedom and reforms while doing nothing about it caused the rapid acceleration of the collapse. This speech and the resulting destruction of the Berlin Wall with the fall of Soviet Communism was one of the most significant world events of my lifetime.

#3 Martin Luther King – I have a dream! (video). Rated as the most significant American speech of the 20th century, “I Have a Dream” stands today as inspiration for a better America. Though I don’t believe we have fully accomplished the objectives set forth by MLK, we have come further and faster toward racial harmony than perhaps any other nation in the worlds history. Dr. King’s goal was that man was to be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. Some of the “reforms” in place which are in the name of racial equality seem to set us back. Dr. King’s speech will inspire for years to come.

#2 Abraham Lincoln – Gettysburg Address. (Text) (Video) The town of Gettysburg, PA was actually smaller in population than the number of dead soldiers whose bodies were rotting on the battlefield. At this point in the war, the Union States were growing solidly anti-war and were also growing in opposition to Lincoln. Lincoln’s advisers told him that if the election were to be held at that time, he would certainly lose and the Union would accept the south’s right to secede. Lincoln was an afterthought, only filling a ceremonial role for the event which featured a 2 hour speech by the keynote speaker. Lincoln’s roughly 2 minute 30 second speech refocused the Union’s resolve to fighting and winning the war. The rest is of course history. We know the USA as one nation under God, as Lincoln spoke of it in that speech.

#1 Patrick Henry – Give me liberty or give me death! (Text) (Video). Henry rallied the Virginia Commonwealth which was the largest of the colonies to join with the federation in declaring independence from Britain. Had it not been for his inspiration, would we have had a USA?

Feel free to add to the list of notable speeches in American history. I am not an expert, though I play one on the internet. So if you feel I mistaken in my list or analysis, chime in.

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