Here's some lazy reading for your Saturday afternoon pleasure.
I came up with a list of my top ten political speeches of all time. Most of the modern ones have video or audio.
It seems we Americans appreciated a good speech more than just about anything. Think of the Lincoln-Douglas debates where thousands turned out to hear the two men. And, of course, a half a million turned out to hear a Georgia preacher speak of a dream he had for America.
There are a couple of things that all great speeches have in common. 1.) The moment. The exact time in history where the speakers words will resonate. 2.) The backdrop. The place the speech is delivered amplifies its meaning. And 3.) The words. All great speeches are as inspiring when read as they are when delivered orally.
Here are a couple of my choices:
Go here for the rest of the list.
10. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural
On March 4, 1865 the Civil War was finally winding down. Abraham Lincoln stood on the Capitol steps underneath the recently completed dome – a symbol of the country’s commitment to the Union.
Lincoln delivered one of the shortest but one of the most memorable inaugural addresses of all time. The peroration haunts us to this day:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Standing 15 feet away from Lincoln was John Wilkes Booth. The two would meet a month later in Ford’s Theater.
9. Patrick Henry “Give me liberty or give me death.”
On March 23, 1775, the British were occupying Boston and had declared martial law throughout the colony. A rabble rousing firebrand member of the House of Burgess named Patrick Henry stood up and, some believe, helped start a war. Others say he gave America a national consciousness that day. What he did was convince some very influential people – George Washington among them – that if the British could take away the rights of New Englanders they could do it to Virginians.
Henry’s bombastic, sneering, inspiring speech was a catalyst for Virgina to support Massachusetts and thus start the country down the road to independence.
The peroration from Henry’s speech is what we most remember:
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!”—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
Gives me the chills reading it today.