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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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Saturday Top 5: Significant Speeches in American History

  1. We know of these five because they occurred in the Twentieth Century except for the greatest one which you correctly made your #1 pick. In my O, FDR’s speech does not deserve to be in the top five, but of course it has definitely been often quoted.

    I think two or three of the Top Five speeches should include Thomas Jefferson’s speech that won him the presidential election against the incumbent, John Adams. “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!” stirred America to stop the insane appeasement of Islamic pirates along the Barbary Coast in the early 1800’s.

    Paid out under order of President Adams, 25% of the Federal government’s expenditures were being sent to the Sultan of Tripoli to pay ransom for US citizens kidnapped by the muslim pirates predating upon US ships in the Mediterranean Sea.

    Jefferson studied up on Islam, even purchasing a Koran(the one by which a newly elected muslim US Representative from Minnesota recently used to swear the Oath of Office). Jefferson rightly concluded that you cannot negotiate with idiots whose only terms are you must: 1) convert to Islam or 2) pay ransom money or 3) get beheaded.

    The speech destroyed Adams’ liberal foreign policy, built the American Navy to a world class force, won the Presidency for Jefferson who subsequently negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. That speech further enabled the US Marines to be glorified with the line in their Hymn, “..from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The Marines President Thomas Jefferson dispatched to the North African Coast were especially essential in the defeat and stoppage of the Barbary Pirates and their brutal treatment of US Citizens, including the ransom payments.

    I would also like to see, in the top five, Lincoln’s “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand” Speech, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech, Dr. King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail Speech and Frederick Douglas’ Speech in support of citizenship for blacks who fought in the Union Army in the Civil War (the North did not acknowledge black soldiers right of citizenship until this speech shamed them so effectively.)

    A lot of great speeches have been uttered in the USA, great because they changed the course of our history to a better path.

  2. On your advice, I considered the “Millions For Defense” speech by Jefferson, but was unable to verify that there was such a speech that led to such events. I am open to learn more information about it, but that line was incorrectly attributed to Jefferson according to as much “research” as I could do in the last two days. The information I found from several sources stated the slogan was by Robert Goodloe Harper who was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, representing South Carolina in the Congress. Apparently Jefferson effectively used that slogan in his campaigning for President, but I couldn’t find any one speech to quote.

    Lincoln’s “House Divided” would be a great choice, as would Fredrick Douglas’. MLK’s letters would not qualify for this Top 5, and his “Mountain Top” speech was not as significant as others in this list.

    I also left out Ben Franklin’s speech at the Constitutional Convention delivered by James Wilson (Franklin was too weak to deliver the speech, but was present).

    The Gettysburg Address was not in the 20th century. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. billyfinch

    The Splitter rocks! I can’t imagine the conversations at the dinner table when you guys were kids.
    Can you post a Youtube of the Patrick Henry speech? ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. You caught one of my rare mistakes, Citizen, but you didn’t mention another one the Splitter made: I listed five other speeches that needed to be in the top five list along with the “Millions for Defense Speech”, an impossibility. I know you didn’t catch it since you live to point out any error the Ol’ Atom-Splitter might commit, infrequent though they may be.

    As far as verification goes, to this date, Wikipedia, the Internet and Google have not been able to replace a major in History and a good library.

  5. Extraordinary facts involving this subject.
    Thanks so much for posting about it.

  6. John Timothy Burr

    There is a difference between a speech with a great line in it and a speech whose totality moves us. And I think the effect of the speech on people’s actions is a factor to be considered, too. I’m not arguing with the choices of the speeches mentioned but I’d add Daniel Webster’s Union and Liberty, Now and Forever. And maybe Sojouner Truth’s, Ain’t I a woman? And just for fun, how about Robert the Bruce’s, Scots Wha (spellcheck won’t let me type the next word but it’s a poem by Robert Burns)

  7. How about William Jennings Bryan”s “Cross of Gold” speech which won him the Democratic presidential nomination?

  8. maybe I don’t know Dr. Kings [ Iv’e been to the mountaintop ]

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