I was watching President Barack Obama’s re-election speech last week and it got me thinking about speeches—how historically great speeches really matter. Speeches are like placeholders to mark significant milestones in history. I think the main idea that moved me about the president’s speech was that the message of unity—even after the most grueling, partisan, expensive election campaign ever—is reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The sentiments Dr. King expressed fifty years ago are still being realized today. A truly united United States of America is very much a work in progress.
Here are some favorite speeches of mine:
Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?, 1851
“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?” Read more
Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address, 1863
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” Read more
Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940
“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” Read more
Mahatma Gandhi: Quit India, 1942
“Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them.” Read more
John F. Kennedy, Inauguration address, 1961
“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.” Read more
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream, 1963
“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 one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Read more
Do you have a favorite speech that is near and dear to your heart? Please share it below.