For thousands of years people have use speech to inform and influence others. Most of us take it for granted, but man was gifted with the power of speech for a reason. While it may seem insignificant, it is through speech that we develop a relationship with the world and share our thoughts, feelings, and ideas with others. If it is a tool we are all equipped with, how then, do we decide what makes a good speech? Is it the choice of words? Is it the feelings that are expressed? Is it the way it is delivered? Some speeches have changed the way people think and others have changed the course of history. Here are just a few of the most influential speeches ever given.
The Gettysburg Address
Anyone who has every taken an American history class is probably familiar with the first few words of this famous speech: “Four score and seven years ago…” This speech was given by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 two years after the start of the American Civil War. The purpose of the Gettysburg Address was to emphasize the moral justification for ending slavery. This speech directly referenced a phrase from the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal.” This speech paved the way for a new nation- a nation based on liberty for all.
Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address
Given in 1933, this famous speech contains the well-known line “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR gave this speech at the height of the Great Depression in America. During the speech he outlined how he hoped to govern America and he reminded the people that the difficulties they were facing at the time concerned only material things. It was solemn, optimistic, and religious in part and gave Americans the hope they so needed at the time. Amidst one of the most crippling economic crises in history, he forcefully showed Americans that he planned to end it.
We Shall Fight on the Beaches
Winston Churchill gave this speech in the summer of 1940 in response to the successful evacuation from Dunkirk in one of the most astonishing reversals in the history of warfare. The purpose of the speech was to inspire the British people and impress Americans with the resolve of the British government despite the aggression of the Germans.
I Have a Dream
This famous speech was delivered by Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963. In this speech King focused on the principles our country was founded on and how far we still had to go to achieve equality for all. It was a rallying call for the Civil Rights Movement and highlighted the injustices of the time while offering a vision of how society and the division of races could be transformed.
I Am Prepared to Die
This is the speech that defined Nelson Mandela. It was given during the course of a trial of the leaders of the African National Congress. The trial ended with the imprisonment of eight ANC leaders including Mandela. During the speech, Mandela told his personal story and expressed his views on the racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa. He dedicated his life to the struggle of the African people and worked toward a democratic society in which everyone would live together in harmony. He felt so strongly about this freedom that he expressed in the speech that “he was prepared to die” for it.