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Great American Speeches

As we work on our upcoming show about American Oratory, we’re compiling a list of the greatest speeches in American history, as suggested by BackStory listeners. Here’s what we have so far:

General George Washington’s “Newburgh Address” in 1783, delivered to officers of the Continental Army who were threatening to overthrow the government.

Selection from Washington's address to the officers at Newburgh, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Selection from Washington’s address to the officers at Newburgh, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

“The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro” – Frederick Douglass’ powerful 1852 speech on abolition and American ideals.

  • Hear historian David Blight discuss this speech, from our July 4th show:

President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” – delivered in November 19th, 1863, at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, PA.

Manuscript copy of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, given to his secretary, John Nicolay. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Manuscript copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, given to his secretary, John Nicolay. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Binding up the Nation’s Wounds: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, 1865

Copy of the second Inaugural Address; endorsed by Lincoln, April 10, 1865, March 4, 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Copy of the second Inaugural Address; endorsed by Lincoln, April 10, 1865, March 4, 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Cross of Gold: William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 plea for the common man ( and a change in monetary policy) at the Democratic National Convention.

In 1921, Bryan recorded parts of the speech for Gennett Records – the audio is available via the Library of Congress, or you can check out this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l88kOqEwEcU

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to American forces before D-Day, 1944

Read the text of Eisenhower’s address.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address, critiquing the “Military-Industrial complex.”

President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address

Read the text of Kennedy’s address.

Landing a man on the moon: Kennedy delivered a special message to Congress on May 25th, 1961, where he laid out this goal. The following September, he delivered this speech at Rice University, making the case for the moon landing:

“Ich bin ein Berliner”: President Kennedy’s 1963 speech in West Berlin, Germany

Read the text of Kennedy’s speech, and learn more about the great donut controversy his speech sparked!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech,” at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

We dedicated a show to exploring Dr. King’s speech and its impact earlier this year – “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”

Bobby Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

http://youtu.be/_E3-_z5YP0M

“A real Texas accent”: Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX) at the 1988 Democratic Convention

Coach Jimmy Valvano’s speech on his battle with cancer at the 1993 Espy Awards

Neither Red nor Blue America. Then Senatorial-candidate Barack Obama, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

 

PLUS! Courtesy of former BackStory producer Eric (plus listener contributions!): “every POTUS film speech”!

  • Armageddon:

  • Independence Day:

  • Head of State

  • Mars Attacks!

  • The West Wing (OK, TV counts here too!)

We’ll keep adding to this list, so please keep the great speech suggestions coming!

Got ideas or questions about American oratory? Take a look at how the show is shaping up, and share your thoughts!