- Awards Season
- Big Stories
- Pop Culture
- Video Games
What Are the Greatest Convertibles of All Time?
When it comes to cars, nothing is more stylish than a convertible. There’s something about the wind racing through your hair as you drive that instills a sense of freedom, and everyone can get behind it.
These convertibles are considered some of the best ones ever made. Trying to purchase one of these nowadays will cost an arm and a leg, but for collectors, it’s worth every penny.
Lincoln Zephyr Continental
Ford Motor Company President Edsel Ford once said, “Father made the most popular car in the world. I want to make the best car in the world.” In 1939, the first line of Lincoln Zephyr Continental was released to rave reviews from critics. Famed architect Frank Lloydwright even considered it to be the most beautiful car in the world.
While the Continental went out of production after World War II, new incarnations of it sans “Zephyr” in its name have been released over the decades. In 2019, 6,586 continental models of that year were sold in the United States.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Launched in 1966, the Alfa Romeo Spider almost went under a different name. Alfa Romeo created a contest to give the car a different name, with the winner getting a free car. While Guidobaldo Trionfi won, his suggestion of “Duetto” was shot down due to copyright issues.
The Alfa Romeo Spider stayed on the market until 1993, with the final model being released the following year. Plans to bring back the Spider were tossed around between Mazda and FCA Italy in 2012. Unfortunately, both companies decided to walk away from the idea.
In 1960, the Chevrolet Corvair was introduced to the public as an economy car. Because of its low price tag and stylish look, the car quickly became a success with 200,000 vehicles purchased in its first year. By 1965, one million cars were bought by consumers.
Despite the major sales, production of the vehicle came to an end in 1969, in part because of its appearance in the book Unsafe at Any Speed , which criticized the vehicle for being a safety hazard. The Corvair is still the only American-produced car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine.
Austin-Healey Sprite Mark I
The Austin-Healey Sprite Mark I drew some criticism for its design when it was released in 1958. The headlights were placed on top of the bonnet, which led to it gaining the nickname “bugeye.” Despite its appearance, however, the vehicle earned Austin-Healey a reasonable profit.
The Austin-Healey Sprite Mark I has a higher asking value at auctions than its successors. Despite its detractors, the car’s stylish design was largely popular. Many families in England passed this car down to future generations. It’s not rare to see someone riding around through London in one of these today.
Chevrolet Bel Air
Before Will Smith made Bel Air cool, Chevrolet took to the streets with the Chevrolet Bel Air. The first model of the car featured a non-detachable roof, which was a rarity at the time. The feature led to fewer vehicles being sold during its first year.
While production ceased in the United States in 1975, it continued in Canada until 1980. In 2002, a concept model of the original Chevrolet Bel Air was displayed at the North American International Auto Show. Unfortunately, General Motors chose to not pick it up for production again.
Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse
Bugatti expanded on its popular Veyron line with 2012’s Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse, which premiered at the Geneva Motor Show that same year. The first model was released for a whopping $2.2 million, which is part of why many people never even heard of it.
Unfortunately, despite its sleek appearance, the asking price of the car didn’t sit well with many consumers, and sales didn’t meet expectations. In 2015, this line ended production with the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse La Finale.
Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti had a hand in developing the Triumph Spitfire, which was released back in 1962. The car got its name after the Supermarine Spitfire World War II fighter plane. The Mark I sold around 45,000 vehicles.
The last model sold to the public was the Triumph Spitfire 1500, which saw production from 1974 to 1980. The final Spitfire, which was Inca yellow, was showcased in 1980. The model was never sold anywhere, but it can be seen at Gaydon’s British Motor Heritage museum. Die-cast models were released in 2000 by Vitesse and Lledo Vanguards.
The Cadillac Eldorado was created for a special competition within General Motors. The name was suggested by secretary Mary-Ann Marini, who had a background in marketing. While it was originally meant to be a limited-edition car, strong vehicle sales changed things.
For 50 years, the Cadillac Eldorado gained devoted fans over 12 generations. In 2002, however, production ceased on the vehicle. The final Eldorado made is currently in the Cadillac Museum. At the time of its closure, the vehicle was the final K-body car to be produced.
The Ford Mustang is one of the most recognizable cars of all time thanks to James Bond. The vehicle was prominently featured in the films Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever . During its first year on the market, the Ford Mustang sold 121,538 vehicles.
The Ford Mustang is the only pony car to still be produced worldwide today. The vehicle has earned fans with NASCAR drivers Billy Johnson, Tommy Kendall and Jack Roush Jr. In 2016, it earned its seventh appearance in the Car and Driver 10 Best list. In 2020, it gained a modern update as an electric SUV.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The second generation of Chevrolet Corvettes introduced the world to the Sting Ray. Developed by iconic designer Larry Shinoda, the vehicle turned heads with its hidden headlamps, four-wheel disc brakes and independent rear suspension. After 1967, the vehicle was restyled the Stingray.
The vehicle saw a huge spike in popularity with 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen , which featured the Autobot Sideswipe in Stingray form. This led to the Stingray being revived by Chevrolet in 2014 three decades after it was last made.
Following two years of production, the MG MGB was finally released to the public in 1962. This vehicle introduced drivers to the concept of crumple zones, which protect the driver from high-speed impacts. The car could go from zero to 60 mph in 11 seconds.
The MG MGB ceased production in 1980, but it was revived in 1992 as the MG RV8. This limited-edition debuted at the British International Motor Show but only saw 2,000 units sold around the world. A majority of them — 1,579 vehicles — were sold in Japan. Only 300 were sold in the U.K.
Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder
Ferrari wanted to give their 275 GTB/4 model a special upgrade. In 1967, they delivered big time with the 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder. This car was named after Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team. While 25 vehicles were ordered, only 10 were produced due to poor sales.
Today, having a Ferrari 275 GTS NART Spyder is a dream for car aficionados. In 2013, one Spyder was sold for an outstanding $25 million at an auction. Ironically, if they’d been that popular back in the day, there would be far more around now.
Volkswagen and Porsche joined forces to create the Porsche 914 in 1969. Back then, Porsche had a contract with Volkswagen to handle its product development, with one last vehicle due before the contract was concluded. Volkswagen selected the 914 project because it wanted a new sports coupe.
From 1969 to 1976, only 118,978 models were produced. A rare prototype titled 914/8 can be seen in the Porsche Museum. Decades after it went out of production, Porsche 914s still find their way into movies and TV shows. In recent years, the model was featured in Straight Outta Compton and Finding Steve McQueen.
Norm Grabowski brought Ford’s T-Bucket to back life in the 1950s, and hot rods haven’t been the same since. An appearance on the hit show 77 Sunset Strip drew a slew of new eyes towards this vehicle. While it’s visually appealing, the engine has cooling issues.
Ford T-Buckets still live on through various car showcases and exhibition races. Modern T-buckets fix the heating problem by replacing the original brass radiators with aluminum. Superchargers have also been installed on certain vehicles to deliver maximum speed.
Pagani Zonda Roadster
Italian car manufacturer Pagani upgraded its popular Zonda S 7.3 line with the 2003 Zonda Roadster. While the car had an open top installed, it still featured the same parts from the Zonda S 7.3. The original model only had 40 vehicles produced.
In 2006, the company tried their luck again with the Zonda Roadster F, which had a removable roof. Much like the 2003 Zonda Roadster, this updated version saw a limited run. With only 25 vehicles produced, it remains a highly sought after item at car auctions. The original sale price was $1.4 million.
Taking inspiration from their own D-Type racing car, Jaguar began work on the E-Type Series. When released in 1961, it was praised for its sleek design. Designer Enzo Ferrari declared it “the most beautiful car ever made,” and no one challenged his words.
The E-Type Series lasted from 1961 through 1975. In 2014, Jaguar’s Heritage Business created a limited-run of E-Type vehicles. 12 were built, but they weren’t available to the public. Only the biggest collectors in the world got a chance to grab one of these cars.
The Studebaker Corporation turned investors’ heads with their Lark compact car. Because bigger car companies didn’t have compact cars yet, the Lark became a huge success with car owners. Over time, the Lark was reimagined as the Cruiser, Commander and Daytona.
The Studebaker Corporation ceased production of the car in 1966. Israel company Ilin Plant created Lark cars until the following year. The final car manufactured in Canada currently resides in Indiana’s Studebaker National Museum. While Larks can go for huge dollars at auctions, the prototypes can fetch even more money.
Jeep Wranglers might fool people into thinking they’re mainly SUVs, but they have all of the traits of a convertible. These vehicles are known for their top-notch handling and comfort. With anti-roll bars, it’s hard to flip the vehicle during an accident.
Over the years, Jeep Wranglers major accolades for their designs. Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road gave the vehicle its prestigious 4×4 of the Year award in 1997, 2007 and 2012. Four Wheeler named the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 of the Decade in 2010. In 2019, 228,032 Wranglers were sold in the United States.
The Mazda Miata delivers incredible power for such a small frame. Debuting at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the vehicle sold an impressive 400,000 units during its first eight years. In Japan, the vehicle is known as either the Mazda Roadster or Eunos Roadster.
In 2000, the Miata earned the Guinness World Record for best-selling two-seat sports car ever. In 2016, they celebrated their 1,000,000th Miata made by allowing fans around the world to sign it. Overall, nearly 960,000 Miatas have been sold since its launch. It won’t be long until they hit their millionth car sold as well.
Lotus Cars had their first hit with the Elan, which was launched in 1962. The vehicle was a fan favorite because of its smooth acceleration, steering and handling. Celebrities who have owned a Lotus Elan include former talk show host Jay Leno and actor Paul Newman.
In 1995, Lotus ceased production of the Elan, but Kia picked it up as part of their purchase of the company’s production rights. In 2010, a new Elan was revealed at the Paris Motor Show. Kia had its sights set on a 2013 release, but plans were later canceled.
At 1995’s Tokyo Motor Show, a select group got their first glance at the Honda S2000. Four years later, the vehicle had its official launch to commemorate Honda’s 50th anniversary. The vehicle landed on Car and Driver’s 10 Best list during its first year.
In 2009, Honda ceased production of the vehicle, but they didn’t go out without a bang. They unveiled the limited-edition S2000 Ultimate Edition and GT Edition 100 in Europe, which has a unique black S2000 badge. Only 100 units were made.
20 years after Porsche 914’s final run, Porsche hopped back into the roadster game with the Porsche Boxster. Released in 1997, this vehicle saw a slew of cupdates, including updated windows, engine and steering wheel.
The Boxster took center stage at events such as the BRSCC Porsche Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. In 2000, the car was declared Best Sports Car of the Decade by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Today, the Boxster is known as the Porsche 718 Boxster.
Upon its release in 1984, the Toyota MR2 became Japan’s first mid-engined production car. Work started on the vehicle in 1979, and the public got their first peek at the 1983 Tokyo Motor Show. In 2007, Toyota ceased production of the vehicle following low sales.
When it was time to say goodbye, Toyota gave collectors a treat with some limited-production MR2 vehicles. These V-Edition cars included body changes and different tire colors. They were only sold in Japan and the U.K., which is where most units of the original car were sold.
Known as the AC Cobra in the U.K., the Shelby Cobra was a collaboration between AC Cars and Shelby American. Designed to compete against Chevrolet’s Corvette, the car found success initially, but decreasing sales forced production to cease in 1967.
Since Shelby Cobras have been off the market, Ford and Shelby American have unveiled new versions of the Cobra. In 2004, Ford released a modern take on the iconic vehicle. In 2014, 50 Cobras were released in celebration of the 427 Shelby Cobra’s 50th anniversary. Acedes Holdings LLC has been authorized to create Cobras with aluminum body models.
Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet
The Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet stemmed from Wilhelm Karmann making changes to his Beetle. The former Karmann CEO transformed his Beetle into a four-seater convertible. After seeing his creation, Karmann decided to start production on the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet, which included a folding top.
Unlike other vehicles on the market at the time, the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet included ashtrays, a mirror on the passenger side and twin map pockets. However, in 1980, Volkswagen ceased production on the vehicle. Meanwhile, the aforementioned features of the Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet had already been introduced to some standard Beetle models in 1970.
With the aid of American importer Max Hoffman, Mercedes-Benz delivered the SL-Class sports car back in 1954. For years, the abbreviation “SL” confused many in the car industry. While many believed it stood for “Sport Leicht,” Mercedes-Benz stated it actually stands for “Super-Leicht.”
Over the decades, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has gone through various changes to aid customer’s requests. In 2016, it had its biggest change to date with the addition of a biturbo V6 mated engine. U.S. sales of the vehicle have been steady with around three million vehicles sold yearly.
BMW 3 Series
BMW found the perfect replacement for the BMW New Class with the BMW 3 Series. Unveiled in 1975, the first generation was hindered by its availability as a two-door sedan. Over the years, the BMW 3 Series moved to include station wagons and four-door sedans.
The BMW 3 Series is the car company’s biggest-selling model ever. These cars make up 30 percent of the company’s overall sales. While there is a BMW 4 Series, people still flock to what they’re familiar with. In 2019, the BMW G20 sedan and BMW G21 station wagon were released to the public.
In the 30s, the Chrysler LeBaron made traveling smoother as a luxury car. Following 1941, the company saw a financial downfall, which led to fewer models made. In 1955, it saw a resurgence, kicking off a nearly 40-year run with impressive sales for Chrysler.
In 1994, the Chrysler LeBaron was discontinued following decades of service. While it was gone from the market, the car was still prominent in the racing circuit. The Automobile Racing Club of America built LeBaron cars for drivers to use in 1988, and they remained in use until 1998.
Following a ban on auto racing, Pontiac looked towards their Pontiac Tempest for inspiration on new designs. With a heavy focus on street performance, they used the Tempest as a template for the Pontiac GTO. Released in 1964, the car was considered to be the first big muscle car on the market.
In 1973, Pontiac discontinued the original GTO after a decade of poor sales. While the GTO was revived in 2004, it was a complete 180 from its older version. As a 2-door coupé, the newer GTO had a shorter sales lifespan with only a two-year run.
When it entered the market in 1955, the Ford Thunderbird became the first personal luxury car. In 1959, it became a major part of NASCAR with several drivers hitting the track in the vehicles. Driver Bobby Allison walked away with 13 wins in his Thunderbird.
While the Thunderbird was discontinued in 1997, it returned in 2002. Unfortunately, the reboot didn’t sit well with buyers. The final Thunderbird was manufactured in 2005. Unsurprisingly, the older models sell high, with some going for nearly $500,000.
MORE FROM ASK.COM
- Find a Club
- Start a Club
- Toggle Search
- / Famous Speechwriters
Four Famous Speechwriters
Toastmasters International has celebrated the art of public speaking since its inception, developing educational programs to grow transferable skills in communication and leadership. At Toastmasters clubs, members don’t just learn how to speak; they also learn how to write. And like any type of writing, speechwriting is a form of art. Today, we recognize a few great speechwriters.
The much-talked-about Jon Favreau first gained fame in 2008, when the then-27-year-old was named director of speechwriting for U.S. President Barack Obama. After a chance meeting with the future president while working on the John Kerry presidential campaign in 2004, Favreau began working for Obama the following year, when Obama was still a U.S. senator. Two years later, Favreau was on the campaign trail again, this time leading Obama’s speechwriting team. Favreau is famously credited as the primary writer for Obama’s 2009 inaugural speech.
British-born Sir Ronald Graeme Miller was a World War II veteran, a playwright writing scripts for MGM Studios in Hollywood, an actor, and a speechwriter for three British prime ministers. He is the man behind one of Margaret Thatcher’s most famous lines. In 1980, during a pivotal moment in the prime minister’s career, Thatcher addressed the Conservative Party conference, stating that she refused to perform a U-turn in the face of criticism of her liberalization of the economy. Playing on the title of Christopher Fry’s popular play “The Lady’s Not for Burning,” she said, “The lady’s not for turning.”
One of Australia’s most famous speechwriters, Graham Freudenberg has written over a thousand speeches for the country’s Labor Party, including those for Arthur Caldwell, Bob Hawke, Neville Wren, Bob Carr, Mark Latham and Gough Whitlam. While the speechwriter has been recognized for his large body of work, it is Whitlam’s “It’s Time” campaign speech in 1972 that remains his most famous.
An author and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal , Peggy Noonan staked her claim to speechwriting fame as a primary writer for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Her notable speeches include Reagan’s “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” address, given on the 40 th anniversary of D-Day—the day Allied troops invaded Normandy in World War II—as well as the former president’s address after the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Later, while working for then-U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, Noonan coined the catchphrase "a kinder, gentler nation."
A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of the Toastmaster Magazine tablet app.
About the Author
The Toastmaster magazine staff is comprised of five editorial team members. Learn more about them on the Staff page .
List of Famous Speechwriters
List of famous speechwriters, with photos, bios, and other information when available. Who are the top speechwriters in the world? This includes the most prominent speechwriters, living and dead, both in America and abroad. This list of notable speechwriters is ordered by their level of prominence, and can be sorted for various bits of information, such as where these historic speechwriters were born and what their nationality is. The people on this list are from different countries, but what they all have in common is that they're all renowned speechwriters.
These famous writers of speeches, like Ben Stein and Pat Buchanan include images when available. Featuring presidential speech writers, political speech writers, and more, this list has it all.
- # 14 of 23 The Best Celebrity Game Show Hosts of All Time
- # 31 of 54 50+ Celebrities Who Went to Yale
- # 80 of 81 Celebrities Who Adopted Children
- NFT & Crypto
- Men’s Grooming
GET AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE.
Members get unlimited access to all our most valuable content long before the masses. Exclusive access to newly released gear and tech and entrepreneur secrets delivered to your inbox monthly. All free. No BS.
I’M ALREADY GETTING THE GOODS.
Get the Magazine
Meet the Top Speechwriters
- Posted on December 18, 2020 December 23, 2020
- 3 minute read
- by Swagger Contributors
People love hearing speeches. Presidents and CEOs deliver speeches with so much eloquence and organization that you may wonder when they had the time to craft all that with their ever-busy schedules.
Speechwriting is an extraordinary job, yet fulfilling in a way. It requires staying out of the box and looking for content out of the ordinary. Being an odd job, it also has interesting individuals. Here are some top speechwriters the world has had so far.
Roger Wolfson is a fast-paced, sharp, and witty writer who has worked for over twenty years in political affairs. Roger has been a speechwriter for a very long time in several fields and specialties. He is unique with his fantastic writing abilities. He writes on politics, entertainment, law, public service, and more.
Roger has accomplished a lot in his writing career. He has provided support to several US senators with legislative counsel. He left the political world at age 32 to settle on other specialties he holds. He had achieved much under the service of the following senators:
•Senator John Kerry •Senator Paul Wellstone • Senator Ted Kennedy • Senator Lieberman
President Obama is ranked as one of the best orators. Jon is the brains behind the great speeches President Obama made during his time in 2008. He led the speechwriting team that saw the president make his way to become the first black president of America. He was the primary writer for the speech that President Obama made in 2009 during his inaugural ceremony.
Miller came out of World War II and began work at Hollywood writing scripts. This gave life to his excellent speech writing skills, and he worked for three prime ministers in England. Many people remember Margaret Thatcher’s famous lines, which he wrote.
His work was very instrumental during Prime Minister Thatcher’s reign earning him much respect from the England royalties.
Graham is an outstanding Australian speechwriter. His time working at the Labor Party saw him writing thousands of speeches, which took over the whole country with excellent organization and quality. His most recognized speeches were those he wrote for:
•Arthur Caldwell •Bob Hawke •Neville Wren •Bob Carr •Mark Latham •Gough Whitlam
How is a Speechwriter as a Profession?
Getting a great speechwriter must be the most overwhelming situation for any PR position. A speechwriter writes for a public figure who is adored by many. There is no room for mistakes, and quality is a must. Any errors will lead to significant criticism, as Gabriella Monn Mann explains in her exclusive interview with Swagger women .
Formerly, speechwriting was not recognized as part of the job until the Professional Speechwriters Association’s formation. The post is becoming more real with all the duties they have to undertake to make their bosses’ lives easy with the public.
Many of the speechwriters don’t see themselves as writers per se. They feel the term is limited since they have other significant roles in any company, organization, or public space they hold. They have to be very keen on their ways of life since their position is hefty yet unknown to many.
However, leaders regard them with high respect. They are reliable and convenient. They will craft the best sound and be single-minded on the verge of any meeting. They are dedicated to making the leaders at ease by spewing out the organization’s plan and views in any writing they partake.
What Does a Typical Speechwriter’s Day Look Like?
A speechwriter is not ordinary. They are unique and have to find new ways to build their craft. They have to learn continually and get more knowledge on almost every topic on earth.
First, a speechwriter must be a creative inventor. The invention is the order of the day as they go about crafting quality speeches written flawlessly.
The second key thing to a speechwriter is organization. It is common practice to find someone organizing everything since they are used to it. A speechwriter must craft a speech that flows uniformly and touches only the critical points in the best concise manner.
The other crucial feature is style. A speechwriter must develop a unique style to introduce their speech, uniquely craft the body, and finish with the most powerful conclusion.
The five canons of rhetoric guide the life of a speechwriter. You have read about the top speechwriters with some exciting facts about speechwriting. Speechwriting is necessary for any organization.
Collaborative content by SWAGGER's external editorial resources.
- Extraordinary job
- Speech writing
- Top Speechwriters
The men behind the luxury brand taking over the industry, Billionaires Row
- Posted on December 2, 2020 December 7, 2020
Coach Legend Is a 7-Figure Wealth Coach Who has Helped Struggling People Throughout the Pandemic
- Posted on January 28, 2021 February 2, 2021
Get the latest Swagger Scoop right in your inbox.
You May Also Like
Jaimie Tucker: An Advocate of Wellness and Motherhood in the Fashion Industry
- Posted on October 14, 2021 October 15, 2021
- by SWAGGER Staff
Thomas Baskind on Why Cycle to the Sea is Such an Amazing Experience and Cause
- Posted on September 17, 2021 September 21, 2021
FILMMAKER, SONIA BAJAJ, EMPOWERS THE FILM INDUSTRY
- Posted on September 1, 2021 September 3, 2021
A Husband & Wife Duo Is Revisiting Patient Health At Freehold’s Youth Fountain
- Posted on June 30, 2021 July 5, 2021
DJ Xclusive City Is Still Going His Own Way
- Posted on February 21, 2021 February 26, 2021
Is working from home the ‘new normal’?
- Posted on February 19, 2021 February 25, 2021
Innovative Central Florida Real Estate Broker Expanding His
- Posted on February 17, 2021 February 22, 2021
Italian Entrepreneur Pasquale Minasi Thrives for BlueMagic Group Clinic to Be a Leader in Hair Transplant
- Posted on February 5, 2021 February 10, 2021
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Input your search keywords and press Enter.
- Australia edition
- International edition
The greatest political speeches: former speech writers pick their favorites
O ne hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the best-known and most beloved speeches in American history. To mark the anniversary, we asked three former speech writers to tell us their favorite political orations.
Read through their picks, then tell us yours in the comments. We’ll add your contributions to this post.
Jon Lovett: Ain’t I a Woman? – Sojourner Truth
Jon Lovett is a writer and former speechwriter to President Barack Obama and then-senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. He also co-created the NBC comedy 1600 Penn.
I can’t choose just one. I have two. One is Sojourner Truth ’s speech to the Akron, Ohio Women’s Convention in 1851. The speech is commonly knows as “ Ain’t I a Woman ?” but it’s not clear she ever said those words. There’s no definitive transcript. Some recorded that she was welcomed to the stage warmly, others that there was an outcry. But what we know is that Sojourner Truth’s speech moved that room and those who heard her speak found it hard to convey the experience. I can’t think of a speech that better dispenses with the absurdity of having to argue for one’s own humanity. And it’s not without a sense of humor, too. “The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do.” Still true.
Another is President Franklin Roosevelt’s acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic convention in Philadelphia. It’s famous for the remarks in which he talked about “a rendezvous with destiny”. But it is also a powerful argument about what had taken place in our economy, and the need to defend not only political freedom but economic opportunity in the face of concentrated wealth. “For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.” And FDR does not mince words, decrying the tyranny of “economic royalists” and confidently articulating the role of government. As we confront growing inequality today, it's a speech I often find myself rereading.
Clarence B Jones: What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July? – Frederick B Douglas
Clarence B Jones is the former draft speech writer to Martin Luther King Jr. He's written two books about King and is currently currently the visiting/diversity professor at the University of San Francisco.
A speechwriter should always remember that the choice of words to use for spoken expression is similar to the choice a painter must exercise in choosing the right color of paint to place on his canvas to accurately portray the picture s/he seeks to paint. The power of the words in Douglass’ speech is self-evident. They are reminiscent of power of words used in the King James version of the Bible. The words in his speech are sui generis.
The speech captures the irony of the contradiction between what the real historical treatment of Negroes after slavery and emancipation has been, in reality, in contrast to the principles and precepts enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and bill of rights to our constitution and embodied in the Civil War Freedmans Bureau established in 1865. The reason I choose Frederick Douglass’ speech is because of who he was and the extraordinary “hero’s journey” of his life from being a slave to an articulate spokesman for the abolition of the institution of slavery.
Christian Nwachukwu: President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address
Christian Nwachukwu, Jr is an appointee of the Obama White House and serves as the senior speechwriter to CEO Wendy Spencer at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Previously, Christian served as a speechwriter to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2011-13.
Whether the language is plain (as in Harry Truman’s “Powers of the President” speech) or poetic (as in George H W Bush’s inaugural address), a great political speech should speak to you and make you a part of its time and place. John Lindsay’s second inaugural address as New York City’s mayor does that. So does John F Kennedy’s “Poetry and Power” speech, which sings, and Barbara Johnson’s speech making the case for Richard Nixon’s impeachment, which sears. But there is one speech which does all of these – sing, sear, speak and soar – sometimes simultaneously and, as a result, stands alone: President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered on the East Portico of the White House on March 4, 1865:
It is my favorite political speech of all time.
Concise, direct, religiously philosophical and deeply affecting, Lincoln’s second inaugural explains the cause of the civil war – “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war;” outlines the warring parties’ motivations – “One would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came;” and looks beyond the conflict to a time of potential reconciliation and reconstruction – “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 do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Almost anything Robert F. Kennedy said during his 1968 Presidential Campaign.
His speech at Kansas University was one of the most cogent and inspiring calls-to-arms to aim our collective sights higher and strive to do better that I've heard, as well as a call to re-evaluate how we judge success.
Most people know his speech on the night Martin Luther King died, but probably better and lesser-known was the speech he gave the following day to the City Club - the 'mindless menance of violence' speech which I still hold is the greatest political speech ever delivered by anybody, and actually nothing's really that close.
Kansas speech is at: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Robert-F-Kennedy-at-the-University-of-Kansas-March-18-1968.aspx
City Club speech is at: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Senator-Robert-F-Kennedy-to-the-Cleveland-City-Club-Cleveland-Ohio-April-5-1968.aspx
Robin Cook's clinical dismantling of the case for war with Iraq.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's Tryst with Destiny speech on the eve of Indian Independence.
And no mention yet of Eugene Debs? For shame Guardian!
Here's part of his Canton speech read by Mark Ruffalo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGp-0G1p4M
"Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an arch-patriot; every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for democracy. What humbug! What rot! What false pretense! These autocrats, these tyrants, these red-handed robbers and murderers, the “patriots,” while the men who have the courage to stand face to face with them, speak the truth, and fight for their exploited victims—they are the disloyalists and traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight."
"And now for all of us to do our duty! The clarion call is ringing in our ears and we cannot falter without being convicted of treason to ourselves and to our great cause.
Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.
Yes, in good time we are going to sweep into power in this nation and throughout the world. We are going to destroy all enslaving and degrading capitalist institutions and re-create them as free and humanizing institutions. The world is daily changing before our eyes. The sun of capitalism is setting; the sun of socialism is rising. It is our duty to build the new nation and the free republic. We need industrial and social builders. We Socialists are the builders of the beautiful world that is to be. We are all pledged to do our part. We are inviting—aye challenging you this afternoon in the name of your own manhood and womanhood to join us and do your part.
In due time the hour will strike and this great cause triumphant—the greatest in history—will proclaim the emancipation of the working class and the brotherhood of all mankind."
Surely Neil Kinnock's 'We're all right' speech which had me in tears .
Also inspiring is this advice on political speeches from George Plunkitt
Now, nobody ever saw me puttin’ on any style. I’m the same Plunkitt I was when I entered politics forty years ago. That is why the people of the district have confidence in me. If I went into the stylish business, even I, Plunkitt, might be thrown down in the district. That was shown pretty clearly in the senatorial fight last year. A day before the election, my enemies circulated a report that I had ordered a $10,000 automobile and a $l25 dress suit. I sent Out contradictions as fast as I could, but I wasn’t able to stamp out the infamous slander before the votin’ was over, and I suffered some at the polls. The people wouldn’t have minded much if I had been accused of robbin’ the city treasury, for they’re used to slanders of that kind in campaigns, but the automobile and the dress suit were too much for them. Another thing that people won’t stand for is showin’ off your learnin’. That’s just puttin’ on style in another way. If you’re makin’ speeches in a campaign, talk the language the people talk. Don’t try to show how the situation is by quotin’ Shakespeare. Shakespeare was all right in his way, but he didn’t know anything about Fifteenth District politics. If you know Latin and Greek and have a hankerin’ to work them off on somebody, hire a stranger to come to your house and listen to you for a couple of hours; then go out and talk the language of the Fifteenth to the people. I know it’s an awful temptation, the hankerin’ to show off your learnin’. I’ve felt it myself, but I always resist it. I know the awful consequences.
I'm as lefty as the come - but this speech by Churchill never fails to make the hairs on the back of neck stand up...
A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.
This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high.
Jimmy Reid in 1972. More valid now than ever.
Gotta be Julia Gillard's misogyny speech. Hands down the best political speech of the last ten years.
One of the speeches Martin Luther King made (but not the acceptance speech) when he went to Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize in 1964 : (can't find a Youtube link - would love it if someone has one)
In particular when he talks about meeting the great people of the world. He says it is like being on a mountain top :
"This is a marvellous mountain top. I would love to stay here ... but the valley calls me."
"As I go back to the valley I go back with a faith ... it isn't a weak faith. It is the faith that evil triumphant is somehow weaker than right defeated ... It is the faith that Mississippi the closed society can become Mississippi an open society ... I go back with a faith that the mills of the Gods grind slowly but exceedingly fine ... I go back with a faith that you shall reap what you sow."
And on the recording I've heard someone close to the mike - no doubt looking out at the ranks of diplomats and dignitaries - say : "You tell 'em Mr King".
Mandela's "An Ideal for which I am prepared to Die" stands tall as one of the greatest speeches during Apartheid. Poignantly, the speech was delivered at the beginning of his trial in 1964. He opened thus:
I am the first accused. I hold a bachelor's degree in arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961. At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
What political speeches inspire you?
Tell us in the comments and be sure to include a link to the text or YouTube clip if available. We'll update this post with your contributions throughout the day.
- US politics
- US constitution and civil liberties
- Search WTTW:
- WTTW Passport
- 10 That Changed America
- Art & Design in Chicago
- Beyond Chicago from the Air with Geoffrey Baer
- Black Voices
- Check, Please!
- Chicago by 'L' with Geoffrey Baer
- Chicago from the Air with Geoffrey Baer
- Chicago Tonight
- Chicago Tonight: Voices
- Firsthand: Coronavirus
- Firsthand: Gun Violence
- Firsthand: Life After Prison
- Firsthand: Living in Poverty
- The Great Chicago Fire: A Chicago Stories Special
- The Great Chicago Quiz Show
- Ida B. Wells: A Chicago Stories Special
- Latino Voices
- Prehistoric Road Trip
- Urban Nature
Powerful Writing: Presidential Speechwriters Discuss Their Craft
Presidential speechwriters play an important role in making sure the president’s message hits home with the masses, whether in campaigns or in White House policymaking.
Three past presidential speechwriters are giving a special presentation at Chicago’s American Writers Museum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and two of them gave “Chicago Tonight” a behind-the-scenes peek into their profession.
Thanks to our sponsors:
View all sponsors.
Carolyn Curiel served as a senior speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. John McConnell was a speechwriter for both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during their eight years in the White House.
Below, a Q&A with our guests on the current state of presidential messaging.
How might the threat of impeachment impact speeches during a presidency?
John McConnell: The news media will cover impeachment as topic A, so dealing with it will be central to any messaging strategy. Speeches, however, are different – as Bill Clinton showed 21 years ago, a president has no obligation to address impeachment in every public utterance. A president has an agenda to advance and his words will be widely covered in any event.
Carolyn Curiel: A president and his administration should work to compartmentalize the process, however stressful, so the wheels of government don't grind to a halt. As he faced impeachment, President Clinton nonetheless worked with Congress to normalize trade relations with China and brought parties together in pursuit of Middle East peace.
President Trump has come under fire for inaccuracies in his public statements. John, you’ve said the Bush speechwriters had an entire team of fact-checkers. Carolyn, how about President Clinton? How did you both ensure accuracy and why are we not seeing that in the current administration?
McConnell: Indeed we had a great team of fact-checkers, who spared us anxiety and embarrassment! I don't know how the office is organized at present, but I would recommend our process to any presidential speechwriting operation.
Curiel: The Clinton White House had a robust fact-checking system. President Clinton was a policy wonk who often knew the exact statistics needed. Errors rarely survived the process.
President Trump has been known to veer off script when delivering speeches. Did the Presidents you wrote for go off script to this extent, or is this a signature style of Donald Trump that we’ve never seen in a previous president?
McConnell: President Bush would occasionally depart from the text, but not that often. He worked hard on his speeches, so when he stepped in front of an audience, the document in front of him contained his best thoughts in his own words. President Trump is a very different kind of speaker, but he's not the first to veer widely from a prepared text. President Clinton digressed fairly often, I'm told, and pretty effectively.
Curiel: It has been said that President Clinton used his speech scripts as briefing memos, and that was sometimes true. But he also sometimes delivered speeches without detours. Those were especially happy days.
How have speeches and messaging changed under the current administration?
McConnell: President Trump waged a successful campaign with more off-the-cuff performances than set-piece speeches, but the balance shifted once he came into office. He now delivers lots of prepared speeches. Even for a president with an improvisational style like Trump's, there are plenty of times when the traditional path is best, and he takes it.
Curiel: The changes have been dramatic from prior administrations, some of it owing to social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, and especially under the current president. Facts, context and the most pressing issues can get lost when the commander-in-chief tweets and talks incessantly – and often about himself – creating and controlling news and rabbit holes of information. It's been good for the news business, though.
Presidential speechwriters Carolyn Curiel and John McConnell share White House memories and their opinions on what makes a great speech with Paris Schutz on “Chicago Tonight.”
Follow Andrea Guthmann on Twitter @AndreaGuthmann
Political Messaging in the Age of Deeply Partisan Politics
What Past Presidents Tell Us About Trump’s Inaugural Speech
The Purpose of the Presidential Farewell Speech
Sign up for our morning newsletter to get all of our stories delivered to your mailbox each weekday.
View the discussion thread.
- Story Archive
- Arts & Entertainment
- Crime & Law
- Send Us a Tip
- WTTW Create
- WTTW/PBS Kids
- Program Guide
- Live Stream
- Programs A-Z
- Event Calendar
- Our Mission
- Our History
- Our Sponsors
- Chicago Production Center
- Local Productions
- National Syndication
- Management & Board
- Advisory Board
- Financial Information
- Support WTTW
- Join/Renew - Pledge
- Offers & Contests
- Member Perks
- Family Membership
- Corporate/Foundation Gifts
- Major/Planned Gifts
- Vehicle Donation
- Membership FAQs
- Public File
- Registered 501(c)(3), EIN: 36-2246703
- © 2022 WWCI
TOM PUTNAM: What better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than at the nation’s memorial to our 35 th President and in the company of one of his most trusted advisors? I'm Tom Putnam, the Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I want to welcome you to this very special forum. Let me begin by thanking all of you for coming, by acknowledging those watching this program on C-SPAN and listening on public radio, and by expressing appreciation to the sponsors of the Kennedy Library forums, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, Boston Capital, The Lowell Institute, the Boston Foundation, Corcoran Jennison Companies, as well as our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, WBUR, and NECN.
As you know, today’s national holiday began first as a tribute to George Washington, then was later wedded to the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. In more recent times, it has become popularly known as Presidents’ Day, continuing the tradition of honoring Washington and Lincoln and highlighting one of the hallmarks of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power between all those who have served in our nation’s highest office. It is a day devoted to history, to harkening back to the famous words of Abraham Lincoln, to the mystic chords of memory, and to learning from those who have preceded us. For just as President Kennedy instructed Theodore Sorensen to study the secret of Lincoln’s rhetoric, many recent presidential speechwriters describe how they in turn spent hours examining the speech craft of Kennedy and Sorensen. For those budding speechwriters in today’s audience, one of Mr. Sorensen’s conclusions was that Abraham Lincoln never used two or three words where one would do, so I promise to try and make my introduction of today’s speakers brief. [laughter]
Theodore Sorensen served for 11 years as policy advisor, legal counsel and speechwriter to Senator and President John F. Kennedy. He was deeply involved in such presidential decisions as the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights legislation, and the decision to send a man to the moon. He is the author of numerous books, including his best-selling biography, Kennedy , and Let the Word Go Forth , a selection of the best JFK speeches. He is also an international lawyer, lecturer and writer.
If you’ll allow me one anecdote, I once had the privilege of going through our Museum with Mr. Sorensen, his wife Gillian, who is here with us today and will be a featured speaker at our next Kennedy Library Forum, and their daughter Juliet. After watching the renowned 1961 inaugural address, I asked Mr. Sorensen the following question. Recalling the catechism of my youth, I speculated that some of the religious references in President Kennedy’s speeches were more Unitarian in their world view than Roman Catholic. And I asked Mr. Sorensen, who was raised Unitarian in Lincoln, Nebraska, if that topic had ever come up in conversation with the President. It turns out it had. He recounted to me an exchange in which President Kennedy once asked him, “So, Ted, has my Catholicism begun to rub off on you yet?” Mr. Sorensen’s reply was, “No, I’m sorry, Mr. President. On the contrary, it’s my Unitarianism that's finding its way into your speeches.” [laughter]
We're honored to have three other presidential speechwriters joining in today’s conversation who I’ll introduce chronologically. It was exactly 40 years ago on this very holiday, Washington’s Birthday in 1967, that Raymond K. Price received the phone call that would change his life. It was an invitation to join the campaign staff of Richard Nixon, who was considering mounting a second run for the presidency in 1968. Over time, Mr. Price became a close friend, advisor, speechwriter, and special consultant to the President. He was the President’s collaborator on both inaugural addresses, all of his State of the Union speeches, and President Nixon’s 1974 announcement from the Oval Office that he would resign. Mr. Price had a distinguished career as a journalist, editor and public policy analyst and served for many years as the President of the Economic Club of New York.
Chriss Winston was the first woman to head the White House Office of Speechwriting and she was named Director of Speechwriting for President George H. W. Bush. She was also the Deputy Director of Communications for Bush/Quayle in 1988 and oversaw communications for the Department of Labor under President Reagan. She’s the author of numerous books, including the forthcoming How to Raise an American in which, among other suggestions, she advises parents to bring their children to Boston to learn of this city’s rich history and to visit the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. We’ll provide a free plug for any book that does the same for our Museum. [laughter] Ms. Winston is currently serving as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Ted Widmer came to the Kennedy Library six years ago when he was charged by President Clinton to survey the field of presidential libraries in preparation for the design of the Clinton Library in Arkansas. It is no surprise that President Clinton would have charged him with this task, for not only is Mr. Widmer a historian by training, he also served from 1997 to 2001 as a foreign policy speechwriter and senior advisor to President Clinton. He is known for the creative programs he has designed to enliven the teaching of American history and politics to diverse groups, ranging from Muslim college students living in countries that have been historically suspicious of western culture, and to underprivileged children living in our own country with limited access to libraries and history museums. He is currently the Director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Moderating today’s forum is one of the most recognizable and trusted voices in national journalism, Linda Wertheimer. Currently Senior National Correspondent for National Public Radio, for 13 years she was the host of NPR’s flagship news magazine All Things Considered . In her 30 years with NPR, she anchored dozens of nominating conventions and election nights, and has reported on countless presidential addresses. She knows a good speech when she hears one, and we're so fortunate to have her here today to guide today’s conversation, Linda Wertheimer. [applause]
LINDA WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much. Thank you. As perhaps you know, the format of this event will be to hear from the speechwriters, to hear some of the speeches that presidents have given, and to then have an opportunity for you all to ask questions. So I'm going to keep my part of this very brief, since these are all people who have a way with words. I don’t need to do very much. So let me just begin by saying that the first clip you will hear, this is a speech that John Kennedy gave at American University. And it was an important policy speech, because he introduced the idea of a test ban treaty and said that the United States would take the voluntary step of banning atmospheric testing. So it was a very important speech in terms of making news for people like me, but it was also a tremendously important speech because it talked about world peace, as you're just about to hear. We have two clips that have been put together, so this is a somewhat telescoped version of the speech.
PRESIDENT KENNEDY: I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic on earth, peace.
What kind of a peace do I mean? What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children. Not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women. Not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time.
I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and a generation yet unborn.
Today, the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles, which can only destroy and never create, is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational man. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
For we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combat ignorance, poverty and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter weapons.
In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours. And even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interests.
So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.
MS. WERTHEIMER: President Kennedy speaking at American University. That speech was … Let’s see, what was the date of that speech?
THEODORE SORENSEN: June 10 th , 1963. [laughter]
MS. WERTHEIMER: And Theodore Sorensen who is, I think, perhaps the best known of all the presidential speechwriters, is here with us to talk about why that speech happened the way it did and tell us about writing speeches for President Kennedy.
MR. SORENSEN: Well, thank you Linda. First, I want to say how honored I am to be back at the Kennedy Library, my favorite institution in the whole world, where I’ve been so often that you're going to get tired of seeing me. But I'm going to be back next year. And to be with you, Linda, whom I’ve been a fan for many years, as I told you during lunch. To be with my longtime friend, Ray Price, and I was glad to meet Ted and Chriss, so this is a terrific group. But Linda, I am not the best known presidential speechwriter. Abraham Lincoln was the best known.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I was going to say unless we count Abraham Lincoln, I should have said that. [laughter]
MR. SORENSEN: I picked that particular speech to be shown here today, and I must say it’s the first time I’ve seen it since June 10, 1963. I was sitting on the platform behind him at American University, and I’m rather touched to see it again and to be reminded how wonderful a human being John F. Kennedy was, how well he spoke. But I picked that particular speech to be shown today because I'm still on a crusade that I’ve been on all my life, to try to make this a better world and nobody is more disheartened than I by what has happened to this country and its foreign policy over these last six years or so. [applause]
And I wanted you in the audience and those who watch this later on television to remember that America had a tradition of peace once, we were a peaceful country. We did have a President who wasn't waging unilateral war and preemptive strikes, but who believed … I hope you’ll weigh carefully the particular words that were in those two excerpts that were shown there, because they are the very opposite of what our policy has been since 2001. So I think it’s very, very important to get that message out.
I like to think that that was John F. Kennedy’s best speech. Certainly his most important speech. I know many people think the inaugural was his best, but this was better and more important, because it said more. In addition to the moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere, Linda, which you mentioned, that speech called for a reexamination of the Cold War. No President had ever done that. It called for a reexamination of our relations with the Soviet Union. No President had ever done that. It called for a reexamination, part of which you heard, of what we mean by peace itself.
So it was an important speech, and I had a lot to do with it, yes. The President had gone out to Hawaii, he made a swing through some western states, and then he spoke to the American Conference of Mayors in Honolulu. Like other young men, I had reasons to go to Hawaii, but I had to stay back and work on the speech. I then flew out with it. He gave his speech on June 9 th , 1963, in Hawaii, in Honolulu, and we then flew back. I brought the draft with me. We then flew back overnight, in those days, from Honolulu to Washington. I went directly to the campus of the American University in Washington, unshaven. He was President, so he went to the White House and changed his shirt and got a shower and then came before … and he had a little time before delivering the speech.
But it was still the height of the Cold War. But the previous October, the President had led the country through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that had made a tremendous impression on him.
And I will say it made a tremendous impression on Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev as well. And both of them learned from that serious experience and Kennedy wanted to speak about it, and there are words in this speech that talk about the follies of war and the follies of backing your adversary into a corner.
And on the way back, he made the decision and cleared it on the Air Force One telephone with Bob McNamara in Defense and McBundy back in the White House to add to that speech the moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere, which he hoped would help bring the Soviets to the bargaining table. And it did, and later that same summer a treaty was signed in Moscow, the first step toward arms control in the nuclear age, the limited nuclear test ban treaty. So speeches can have consequences, they aren't just empty words, and that speech was selected because it was both his best and his most important.
MS. WERTHEIMER: There are lots of wonderful quotes in this speech. If I were presenting a piece, I would be very torn about which ones to use. He said, “Our problems are manmade, and therefore they can be solved by man, and man can be as big as he wants.”
MR. SORENSEN: Now, that's good Unitarianism. [laughter]
MS. WERTHEIMER: And here's one of those parallel constructions for which Mr. Sorensen is so famous. Talking about seeking peace, the speech says, “So let us persevere, peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.” And then there's a wonderful … The ending is fabulous. But one of the things that he says in the last paragraph of the speech, which I think resonates today, is “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”
Now, the next speech is another one of those speeches which just caused shivers to run right down the back of everyone who heard it, because it was such a terribly important speech. And we have Ray Price, who had a hand in drafting it. It was delivered by President Nixon on August 8 th , 1974. You want to talk about the Great Occasion?
RAY PRICE: Yeah, I chose the resignation announcement, partly because it’s significant, partly because there have been fewer of those than there have been inaugurals. And it was quite a wrenching one to do, but I was glad to be the one doing it with him. The part you’ll hear now is just the last concluding portion of it. If we had more time, I would have included what came before. What came immediately before it dealt more with the world, with what we had succeeded in doing, but what was yet left to do in making this a better world. And that section that is before it, before this closing, very personal part, was something that was largely worked out through a series of phone calls from him to me beginning at … It was Thursday night he delivered it, beginning 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and ending at 5:07 a.m. Thursday. That part that we did end leading, about the world, leads into this very personal conclusion.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Let’s hear it.
PRESIDENT NIXON: For more than a quarter of a century of public life, I have shared in the turbulent history of this nation. I have fought for what I believed. I have tried to the best of my ability to discharge those duties and meet those responsibilities that were entrusted to me.
Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort with error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I pledge to you tonight that as long as I have a breath of light in my body, I shall continue in that spirit. I shall continue to work for the great causes to which I have been dedicated throughout my years as a Congressman, a Senator, Vice President and President, the cause of peace not just for America, but among all nations, prosperity, justice and opportunity for all our people.
There is one cause above all to which I have been devoted and to which I shall always be devoted for as long as I live.
When I first took the oath of office of President 5 ½ years ago, I made this sacred commitment: “to consecrate my office, my energies, and all of the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations.”
I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today not only for the people of America, but for the people of all nations and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war.
This, more than anything, is what I hoped to achieve when I sought the Presidency. This, more than anything, is what I hope will be my legacy to you, to our country, as I leave the Presidency.
To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer. May God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Ray Price, early in the speech, the President said the thing that I think just was so shocking to hear, even though we knew it was coming, where he talked about the country needed him to leave, basically. And then he said, “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency, effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour, in this office.” I'm sure that everyone who heard that will never forget those words. This speech had an enormous emotional content, something we were not generally accustomed to hear from President Nixon.
MR. PRICE: Well, he tried not to be emotional in his speeches. But it had been a difficult week for him, too. [laughter] And he had been up and down on whether to resign or not, but figured the resignation finally was having to turn over a bunch of tapes to the court and the prosecutor, having lost the case in the Supreme Court. And they included one which we were pretty sure would be fatal anyway, that we could have handled earlier, easily if we had known about it earlier; we could not at that point. And that week had begun, really, a week earlier.
I’ll tell you a little bit on the lead up to that. On Thursday the 1 st , the speech was Thursday, August 8, 1974. On Thursday, August 1 st , Al Haig was then the Chief of Staff, convened a meeting in his office of a few department heads and so forth, including me, and had a lot of charts and so forth, laying out the strategy for the battle in the Congress over the impeachment. From there on, it was at a crucial point and assigning what people would do and all the patterns for reporting and reconvening and so forth. And then we left. And had chalkboards laying this all out … And then we left and a few of us were talking outside, and his secretary motioned to me to come in, and I came back, and he told me that was all a sham. He wants to go on the air on Monday, he wants a speech for Monday announcing his resignation. So I started then on Thursday, the 1 st . And then on Friday, the next day, Friday the 2 nd , was called back over to Al’s office again, and by then we had an actual transcript of what was called the smoking gun tape, in which he had temporarily, only temporarily, but temporarily approved having the CIA try to head the FBI off in wanting an investigation.
Incidentally, just one parenthetical aside, this, which was a trigger to the resignation, was an investigation into a Mexican connection that could have run into some other things. And so he was told in a meeting, this was a meeting with Bob Haldeman, and Haldeman is reporting to him on what he had learned, what he had been told, and he said that John Dean and John Mitchell -- Bob later told me that not Mitchell had told him this, but Dean had told him this -- that recommended asking the CIA to head the FBI off from the Mexican connection. And he said okay.
And then two weeks later … So he made the call to the director of the FBI. And two weeks later, the President got a call from the CIA saying they no longer had a problem with the Mexican connection. Or, rather, he got a call from the head of the FBI saying that the CIA had told him they no longer had a problem. So the President said, “Go ahead, do a full investigation.” Which they did. The only practical impact of that intervention, which ultimately brought him down, was a two week delay in interviews of two witnesses, nothing more. But things had gotten to a point, at that point, where that was enough.
But anyway, by Friday, he had decided no, he wanted a different speech. He still wanted to make a speech on Monday. But instead of saying he was going to resign, he was going to explain the transcripts which he was turning over, explain the context and so forth, and pledged to fight on in the … To answer questions under oath in the well of the Senate and fight on. I thought that was a mistake. At this point, I thought we could not save it.
Then I saw the transcript, and it looked to me at first glance as though it was something we could not survive. Then Saturday, Al called. The President wanted us to come up to Camp David on Sunday. We did, and meanwhile I’d been working on the draft and so on, but thinking it was probably a mistake. We did meet up there. While up there, he changed his mind and instead of pledging to fight on or resigning, he was going to put out the transcripts with a written statement explaining what they meant and see if the reaction was as bad as we thought it was going to be. I thought that made sense, a lot was at stake, and let’s really see what it is.
We did put out the transcripts on Monday; the reaction was what we expected. Tuesday, I got a call from Al. We're back on the resignation track, but still very secretly. And so Tuesday to Thursday is when we were working on the resignation speech, back and forth.
Linda, as a parenthetical aside, we did not call ours the speechwriting section, we called it the writing and research. And this was accurate because in Nixon’s case, most of his speeches were not written and he never used notes. My educated guess, having only a guess but educated because I did run the writing staff, is that 19 out of 20 speeches were not written, 1 out of 20 was. And he never used notes. He was always more comfortable without a text than with one. But some were, and this of course, was one of those that were. The State of Unions were all written, the inaugurals were written, and some others where he particularly wanted a text for some special reason, but he preferred not to have one. But anyway, so that was the background.
But then on the night before we’d been going back and forth on it. Then the day before, the Thursday, rather, Wednesday, we were sitting in his old executive office building office. I had my office a couple doors down and going over it. And he mentioned to me that the head of the, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate were both going to be coming and together with Barry Goldwater, were going to come in to see him at five. And a lot of notes made a couple of years ago when this story really hit about how they had come in and bearded the lion in his den and persuaded him to resign. We discussed this at 3:00 before they came in. He had already written in the margin of the draft we were working on what he expected them to say.
He was already working on a resignation. But he explained to me at 3:00 that he thought it was important to hear them out so that it would be more like an impeachment and thus to less damage the future presidency. But then we worked on through and those calls that I mention, beginning at 8:30 on Wednesday, we were talking through and then really honing it down. And then it went on through two or three calls that evening. As he began to get into the kind of world view, the foreign policy stakes and what we’d done, what needed to be done. And then these continued up until about 11:00 or so. And he mentioned he wanted to get in that man in the arena quote and to find that, and that had been located and so on.
Then finally, around 1:00, I left the office. Well, piece to that, shortly before one, I got a call from Jerry Warren, who was the Deputy Press Secretary, but he was Acting Press Secretary, saying that he’d gotten … very cautiously, saying that he was getting some calls from reporters who were still on duty there, noticing the lights were on in my office and wondering if that meant that Nixon was planning to resign. And Jerry said, very cautiously, I told them I don’t know, or I told them or …How should I handle it? And I thought a second, I said, “Jerry, you can tell them you don’t know.” This was very careful, and he understood what I was doing. He was a man of total integrity. I was alerting him that he shouldn’t deny it, but not giving him actual knowledge so he didn't have to affirm it. But then we went on.
And then finally I went home and about 3:45, got a call from him. He was working more. He was working in the Lincoln sitting room, that's up in the family quarters, which was his working area up there. He’d been working on the end and fleshing out more about one thing after another that we’d been doing, but there was this much left to do and so on. And it was in those calls there that 3:45, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, he really kind of worked out the meat of that. And then finally at 5:07, the last call, was from him saying, “Just bring it over in the morning.” He wanted it at 8:30. “But don’t run it by Al Haig, don’t run it by Henry Kissinger or anyone else. Just you and me, I want this to be my speech.”
MS. WERTHEIMER: Goodness. For those of us who spent as many hours, weeks and days as I did covering Watergate, it’s fascinating to hear the behind the scenes moments. We're going to move on to Chriss Winston who is, as you heard, the first woman, to head a speechwriting office. And it was in the Bush Administration, but she has chosen, instead, to include a speech which was delivered by the Great Communicator. Chriss?
CHRISS WINSTON: And I'm not casting any aspersions on my boss. I actually started out, I was going to do one of his speeches. He did a series of speeches in Europe just before and just after the fall of the Berlin Wall that were very exciting places to be, Prague and Poland and Budapest and a number of other places that we went in eastern Europe. So, initially, I was going to pick one of those speeches and talk about what it was like to be in these countries at that moment in time and hopefully in the Q&A, we’ll have some time to talk about that.
But kind of in the last minute, I had a change of heart and I decided to go with Ronald Reagan’s farewell address from the Oval Office, an excerpt from that speech. And the reason I did that was because it’s Presidents’ Day, and I started thinking about how important Presidents are as our models and have been since the beginning of our country. Abraham Lincoln talked about the fact that as a young boy, George Washington was his hero and his model. And I started thinking about what I’d been studying for the last couple of years, which is how do we create good citizens today in the sort of political and cultural climate in which our children are being raised.
And one of the ways we do that, I think, is to teach our children about America’s great story and our history is something that can inspire them. So I started thinking about Presidents’ Day and that made me think, well, Ronald Reagan talked about exactly that issue in his farewell address. It was sort of his final … He called it the warning as he left office. And so I wanted to focus on that in part because he is such a wonderful communicator and it seemed to me to have a panel here without something from Ronald Reagan would be a glaring omission.
But also because I thought about a quote from a Czech writer who wrote that if you want to destroy a nation, destroy its memory. And so I wanted to use this excerpt on Presidents’ Day to remind us all that our presidents are our models for our children, and heroes like John Kennedy was to me when I was a young girl at the time. And how important it is for our children to have those kinds of models in their lives to become good citizens. That's why I chose this excerpt.
PRESIDENT REAGAN: Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that's been on my mind for some time. And oddly enough, it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past eight years: the resurgence of national pride that I call the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught very directly what it means to be an American, and we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea, or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-‘60s.
But now we're about to enter the ‘90s and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise, and freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile, it needs protection.
So we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion, but what's important. Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40 th anniversary of D Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father who had fought at Omaha Beach. Her name was Liza Zanatta Henn and she said, “We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson number one about America: all great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen, I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents hadn't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let them know and nail them on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Chriss, this is a wonderful example of President Reagan’s long conversation with the American people. It’s not a particularly good example of Presidential speechwriting, however, because the President wrote it, according to David Gergen, he wrote it himself. But why does it stand out for you, besides the … I mean, just in terms of the writing of a speech?
MS. WINSTON: Well, I do think conversation is the right word. I think his final address from the Oval Office was very much a conversational kind of speech. The language was that way, and if you remember at the very end of the speech, he says something to the effect of all in all, we didn't do too badly, not bad at all. And it was very Reagan in so many ways. The language, the love of America. He was always optimistic about America. I think that's one of the reasons the American people always responded to him. He was hopeful and optimistic and clearly loved his country, and that was evident in so much of what he had to say to the American people over the eight years he was in office.
The other thing that I think was so typical of him was the humor. Ronald Reagan used humor sometimes to attack the other side, and they really wouldn’t feel it coming. I mean, he always did it in a way that would bring a smile to the faces of sometimes even the other side. So humor was a really great strength.
I brought the speech with me, and if I can do this without putting my glasses on, which is debatable, but I will try and read you what he said in this speech about being a great communicator. He said, “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference. It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things. And they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.” And I think that really was his style. He always attributed his success to the country he grew up in. And he may not have wanted to take the credit, but he was, in fact, a great communicator. So I found this a very moving speech watching it at the time. And having reread it over the last couple of years several times, it just struck me as an appropriate speech today, when times are tough in the country again, that it might be something that we could maybe agree on.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I very much liked listening to Ronald Reagan’s speeches, I have to say. He ends this one talking about the shining city on the hill; he talked about it so much in his speeches. And he says how stands the city on this winter night? One of the things that you’d hear from him was what I think of as kind of cowboy rhetoric, talking about the Soviet Union.
He says that he wants the closeness that the United States had, and that he had, with the new Soviet leader Gorbachev at the time, to continue. And he says that as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner, and then he said, “If and when they don’t, first pull your punches. If they persist, then pull the plug. It’s still trust, but verify. It’s still play, but cut the cards. And watch closely, and don’t be afraid to see what you see.” I mean, that kind of thing, I think the American people used to love.
MS. WINSTON: I think that's one of the reasons why the current President has often been criticized for the same kind of rhetoric. I believe cowboy has been used frequently to describe this President as well, but there are some similarities between Reagan and Bush in terms of some of the rhetoric they've used over the years. Obviously, I think President Reagan had a real ability to communicate through a prepared text, through a speech, which is difficult to do, very difficult as a matter of fact, prepared text. And it was interesting hearing about how many prepared texts were done with President Nixon. It’s something we might want to talk about later, the whole technical process side of speechwriting in the White House today has become, I think in large part because of a change in how much coverage there is at the White House, Presidents today will have a fairly substantial speechwriting operation. We had seven speechwriters in our shop and seven researchers. And President Bush would give sometimes as many as four speeches a day. So you can see how things have really changed substantially. And most speeches were not written by President Bush.
But as Linda said, David Gergen, just after we finished lunch here today, we were talking about the speech and he said that he thought that President Reagan in this case had written this one, for the most part, himself though he did have a fairly large speechwriting operation, too.
MS. WERTHEIMER: We're going to move on to Ted Widmer, who was writing speeches in the administration of President Clinton, and as you heard, is instrumental in setting up the Clinton Library. So the speech you have chosen was given in Ireland.
TED WIDMER: It was given in a small town called Armagh, outside of Belfast, in Northern Ireland in September, 1998. Before I describe it, I want to thank the Library for organizing this thoughtful panel. It’s a great pleasure to be with my fellow speechwriters. And I want to particularly thank Ted Sorensen, who by the way, he asked me at lunch which speeches by President Kennedy I included in an anthology I’ve just published with the Library of America, Great American Political Speeches . And he correctly guessed all five speeches. [laughter] And I believe he would have known the dates of them also. And I want to thank Ted for a very personal reason. His speeches were not only moving and persuasive to the American people, leading to the election of then-Senator Kennedy, but they were exciting and persuasive to many of the young volunteers in the 1960 campaign, including two college students from Massachusetts who joined the campaign, met each other and got married, and they were my parents. So we speechwriters tend to beget more speechwriters. [laughter]
Well, this particular speech by President Clinton is probably not that well known to most of you, although it was an important foreign policy speech at the time. It was his first day in Northern Ireland since brokering the Good Friday Accord, and it was a very exciting day. We had been on a trip to Russia and then to Ireland and Northern Ireland, and you couldn’t find two more different regions of the world. Russia was dark and cold and people were not in a very good mood at the time. They had had a severe economic setback and we touched down in Ireland; I remember that day vividly. It was one of those days where you fly all around the world, it seems, giving speeches at different locations. And we left Moscow at about six in the morning and landed in Ireland. And everywhere we went, just driving from the airport into a city, the roads were thick with enthusiastic people waving at the motorcade and it was tremendously exciting, and he gave a number of speeches.
One of my great challenges today was to pick a single Bill Clinton speech after he gave so many of them. There are 17 volumes in the collected speeches of President Bill Clinton. I don't think any other President comes within five or six of that number. They were sent to me by the Clinton Library, and I remember thinking, “Would one UPS man be strong enough to carry all of these volumes?”
But this was a magical day and a magical particular speech. He gave it in the late afternoon. It’s September, early September, and the light was beginning to diminish. And we had chosen a location in this beautiful small town called Armagh. And there was a Catholic church facing a Protestant church across the town green. So it was a beautiful location for so many reasons. And it was a speech outdoors, which I fear is a disappearing presidential tradition. I loved the quote that President Nixon chose from Teddy Roosevelt, about the man in the arena. And I think for most of the 20 th century that was something that American presidents loved to do, certainly when they were campaigning, but then after they became president. And one thinks a little bit about JFK’s speech in Berlin, or Ronald Reagan’s speech in Berlin. And part of the drama is it’s this man who’s the embodiment of American openness and confidence standing amidst huge throngs of foreign people who are listening very closely. And so much of it is the body language. And I fear for many reasons, including unavoidable reasons stemming from 9/11, but also from the great unpopularity of the Iraq war and other U.S. policies, that it will be a long time before we return to that tradition.
But on this particular day, Clinton was in full form. He was very much the man in the arena, and he strode out to the lectern and an enormous roar came from the crowd and he gave a speech that was both beautiful with some literary allusions and deeply humane. He said he’d wanted to come back to his hometown in Ireland, but his ancestors were so poor that no one knew what that hometown was. And he just talked about peace, and I think that's very much related to the idea of the open air speech. He talked about how important the peace was that the Irish people had discovered for themselves, and I think he would have phrased it that way, he had just helped bring them together.
And the end of the speech I felt was moving because he said, “Look, you're not just doing this for yourselves. You have your own tradition. Part of the problem has been that you haven’t always been able to look at yourselves objectively outside these two traditions. And what is fantastic about the peace of Northern Ireland in 1998 is that all peoples indulging in similar feuds around the Earth will see this and see that peace is achievable.” And so, he ended the speech with a long section that wasn’t about Ireland at all, but it was about what this would mean to all other peoples on Earth. And I think that sort of contrarian approach, going a little bit beyond what is expected, can make a speech truly distinctive.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We wanted to come here in person to thank you, to thank you for the peace, to thank you for strengthening the hand of everyone, everyone anywhere, who is working to make the world a little better. When I go about to other troubled places, I talk to you as proof that peace is not an idle daydream, for your peace is real and it resonates around the world. It echoes in the ears of people hungry for the end of strife in their own country.
Now, when I meet Palestinians and Israelis, I can say, “Don't tell me it’s impossible, look at Northern Ireland.” When I meet Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, I can say, “Don’t tell me it’s impossible, look at Northern Ireland.” When I hear what the Indians and Pakistanis say about each other over their religious differences, I say, “Don’t tell me you can’t work this out. Look at Northern Ireland.” Centuries were put to bed and a new day has dawned. Thank you for that gift to the world.
And never underestimate the impact you can have on the world. The great English poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote those famous lines, “No man is an island. We are all a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Tonight, we might even say in this interconnected world, not even an island, not even a very unique island, not even Ireland, is fully an island. On this island, Northern Ireland, is obviously connected in ways to the Republic as well as to England, Scotland and Wales. And in ways, the Republic of Ireland is connected to them also. All of you on this island increasingly are connected to Europe and to the rest of the world as ideas and information and people fly across the globe at record speed.
We are tied ever closer together, and we have obligations now that we cannot shirk to stand for the cause of human dignity everywhere. To continue John Donne’s beautiful metaphor, when the bells of Armagh toll, they ring out not just to the Irish of Protestant and Catholic traditions, they ring out to people everywhere in the world who long for peace and freedom and dignity. That is your gift.
We Americans will do what we can to support the peace, to support economic projects, to support educational projects. Tomorrow, the Secretary of Education will announce a cooperative effort here to help children bring peace by doing cross community civic projects. We know we have an obligation to you because your ancestors were such a source of strength in America’s early history., because their descendents are building America’s future today. Because of all that, we have not forgotten our debt to Ulster. But we really owe an obligation to you because none of us are islands. We are all now a part of the main.
Three years ago, I pledged that if you chose peace, America would walk with you. You made the choice, and America will honor its pledge. Thank you for the springtime of hope you have given the world. Thank you for reminding us of one of life’s most important lessons, that it is never too late for a new beginning. And remember, you will be tested again and again, but a God of grace has given you a new beginning. Now, you must make the most of it, mindful of President Kennedy’s adage that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own. Your work is the world’s work, and everywhere, in every corner, there are people who long to believe in our better selves, who want to be able to say for the rest of their lives in the face of an act of madness borne of hatred, over religious or racial or ethnic or tribal differences, they want to be able to shake their fist in defiance and say, “Do not tell me it has to be this way. Look at Northern Ireland.” Thank you, and God bless you.
MS. WERTHEIMER: An extraordinarily inspirational speech. I want to, because I want to get to the questions as quickly as possible, let me just ask you all to just talk for a few minutes about some of the technical aspects of speechwriting, and I suppose some of you will have questions of that sort as well. I’d like to begin with Ted Sorensen whose memoir, as you heard, is going to be published, but we don’t know the name of it yet. That I understand, in part of it, you talk about how you did what you did, how to write speeches for presidents. Could you just share a little bit of that with us?
MR. SORENSEN: Well, thanks for the plug. It’s true, I’ve been working for five years on my life story, and I'm at the finish line at last. And I expect it will be out next year, and I hope you’ll invite me back. One of the chapters is entitled, “Speechwriting.” And looking over the latest draft, and it’s still a draft …
MS. WERTHEIMER: And too long ... (inaudible)—
MR. SORENSEN: Oh yes, I couldn’t possibly. But I did find one excerpt that I thought I would read to you.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Great.
MR. SORENSEN: This is what somebody else said about the Kennedy/Sorensen collaboration, and I thought you might be interested in that. Now, these are not my views, please understand. “You need a mind like Sorensen’s around you that's clicking and clicking all the time. You can get a beautifully tooled speech, but at best just one sentence of it will make the difference. It takes an intellectual to come up with a phrase that may penetrate. Sorensen is tough, cold, not carried away by emotion, and he has the rare gift of being an intellectual who can completely sublimate his style to another individual. And in his case, it’s the right combination. Sorensen is analytical and unemotional, so was Kennedy. There hasn’t been such a combination of speechwriter and president since Raymond Moley and Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
And a little bit later, “A public figure shouldn’t be just a puppet who echoes his speechmaker. The ideas should be his, the opinions his, the words his. It’s easy for Kennedy to get up and read Sorensen’s speeches. But I don't think it’s responsible unless he believes in it deeply himself.” That's Richard Nixon. [laughter]
MS. WERTHEIMER: Well, that is the essential problem of being a presidential speechwriter, it does seem to me. You know, the big question, who wrote that? Which you always have to stand back from, deny, efface yourself from. What is that like? Ray Price, what was that like?
MR. PRICE: I didn't have that problem so much. I had been a professional writer before I joined up with Nixon, and I’d been a debater and things like that, and at times a speechwriter, as well as a parliamentary debater. But he taught me speechwriting. He’d been a master of the craft. And again, as I said, my rough count was probably 19 out of 20 speeches in the White House were not written. Most of our writing was things like the legislative messages to Congress and so forth, long written things in which we laid out what we wanted and made the argument for why and so on. And these were delivered in written form, they're not spoken.
Nixon had a first rate mind, a very organized mind. I was always appalled at speechwriters who would brag, as I heard a number of them do from time to time, about how they had snuck something into a president’s speech, or how they’d gotten him to say what they, the speechwriters, wanted him to say. I felt my role, both as a writer and as head of the writing department, was to make sure that nothing got into the President’s speech that was not what he wanted to say, the way he wanted to say it. And in the process of back and forth with him, in his case when we went back and forth on a written speech, it was usually through about six or seven or eight drafts. But he would be using that, and we’d be editing and revising and so on. He would be using that process as a means of refining ideas. As you find they don’t work out on paper, you find maybe they don’t work quite right. You get different views on it.
I did all State of the Unions with him, and every one of those worked out, coincidentally, did 14 drafts. But these were much more complicated things and much longer. But again, he was an organized thinker. He himself had been a champion debater from high school on, and debating teaches you something about rhetoric and about organizing thoughts and so forth. And he was a lawyer, and this was part of his background. But again, he was more comfortable without. He just felt he connected better with the audience without it, and he didn't need a text. And he was a natural, natural speaker.
MS. WERTHEIMER: So your habit of self effacement has completely overtaken you here. [laughter] Chriss, among other things, you had a principal who was not the orator that President Reagan was or President Clinton was. I remember many times reading a speech and thinking, “There's my quote,” and then he would get to it and he would stumble somewhere in the middle of the money quote.
MS. WINSTON: Right. [laughter] I remember that, too. One of my favorites was we were in one of those eastern European trips, and I believe it was -- I have to really go back to my memory bank here -- but I think it was Hungary, we were in Hungary. And Rubic, who did Rubic’s Cube, the man who had created Rubic’s Cube, was one of the first entrepreneurs in Hungary after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he’d been living there, he was Hungarian. So in one of the speeches that President Bush was giving there, Mr. Rubic was going to be in the audience and we were talking about entrepreneurship and capitalism and all of these things, and we were going to use him as a good example. When President Bush got to that section of the speech, he started talking about it, and he proceeded to call it Rubic’s Cone, which was one of those, we're just sitting there, “Well, great.” [laughter] And those things did happen sometimes with him.
But I think it’s true with anyone that you write for. One of the things that's most difficult to do is to try and learn that person’s voice, because you are reflecting not your thoughts and not your voice, but his or hers. And President Bush, when we started to write for him, none of us had written speeches for him during the campaign. We were in another part of the communications operation, and then we brought in some new speechwriters. And so we had to learn that, and we had to learn it on the ground as we went along. And one of the first things we discovered with him happened … Well, there were two things, really. First of all, frequently when a speech draft would come back, in the margin would be the phrase that all of us came to really hate. And it would say, “Too much rhetoric.” Okay, that's the phrase, and it was the kiss of death. Anything very flowery, the kind of language that speechwriters like to indulge in, he found it to be just overly dramatic or too flowery for him. He liked very plain language. So that was the first thing we learned.
The second thing we learned, and it happened just a few months after we were in office, and the U.S.S. Iowa had a terrible explosion and I think over 100 sailors were killed, a terrible accident. The President was going to speak to the memorial service. Now, this was the first military speech that we had written, and of course it was a very difficult moment. And so in the speech, the speechwriter, who was a very good speechwriter by the name of Mark Davis, wrote these really wonderful memorial remarks. And he, in it, used a phrase from a poem referring to the men behind the gun. And at one point in the speech, there was a paragraph where the President was to say something to the effect that he remembered as a young airman, Navy pilot in World War II, coming back to the ship at night after a mission — (pause on tape) -- and then we heard the President to be sniffling and kind of … And both of us were kind of, “What?” And as the speech went on, it was clear he was becoming more and more choked up as the speech went on. And as we got to that dramatic moment in the speech that we knew was coming, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, he’s really going to have a tough time getting through it.” Well, he didn't have any trouble getting through it at all because he just leapfrogged right over it and dropped the paragraph out of the speech and went on, and that paragraph never saw the light of day. And I thought Mark was going to commit suicide right there in my office. We're both sitting there, like, “He dropped it.” But that is what we learned -- was that President Bush, and I think this President Bush is much like his father, that they have a great difficulty talking about the military and military sacrifices. It is something very near and dear to their heart, and we learned to write in a way that he could get through that kind of language without breaking up. But that's what you have to do. It’s part of the process of learning to write for someone, whatever level.
MR. PRICE: If I could throw in a p.s. to that one, my guess would be that—President Bush, Senior., is an old friend of mine—That particular one would have been especially hard for him because as a Navy pilot in World War II, one of the most traumatic events of his life was being shot down. He survived, and his two crewmates did not.
MS. WINSTON: Right, and he still can’t talk about it. He has a lot of difficulty discussing that.
MS. WERTHEIMER: But some presidents, I keep going back to President Reagan, President Reagan, for example, could make an emotional speech in which tears would come into his eyes and then 3 ½ hours later, you know, in the next town, he would make the same emotional speech, and the tear would come into his eye. And four hours later. But the thing that was always just so dazzling to me was that tears would come into my eye! You know, and I had heard that speech …
MS. WINSTON: Every time.
MS. WERTHEIMER: For 11 times. [laughter] But he just had that capacity to cause you to share in the emotional content of the speech. Now, I was very impressed, Ted, with your boss’s …
MR. SORENSEN: Which Ted?
MS. WERTHEIMER: Other one. [laughter]
MR. WIDMER: I’m always going to be the other Ted in speechdom. [laughter]
MS. WERTHEIMER: Ted Widmer. Somebody pointed out at the beginning that we had lots of people whose names begin with W and two people named Ted. Let me just show you this. This is Ted Widmer’s book, The Anthology of American Speeches . And if you are interested in reading some of these speeches, it’s a very good place to go. I’ve been reading it all morning. One of the things that happened in the Clinton Administration, obviously, was that like the Nixon Administration, you had a very bad patch to go through and the President was not permitted to hide in the Rose Garden and never speak. And that, it seems to me, must have been a very difficult thing to do for you, for him as well?
MR. WIDMER: It was, but I think you could say that 1998, which was my first full year as a speechwriter, was in many ways his best year as well as his worst year, if you can say both things at the same time, which I think you can. He achieved an enormous amount with his foreign policy and I think we tend to forget what an effective foreign policy President Bill Clinton had. Besides Northern Ireland, he had quite an important trip to Africa, still the longest trip to Africa of any U.S. President, an important trip to China. And throughout the year, terribly serious things were happening that he was handling effectively and his political ratings were rising. So it was a funny year in that he was in dire political peril, but he was performing better than ever. No foreign policy jitters whatsoever, and the American people were growing to appreciate that.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Well, one of the things I remember was the State of the Union which came just days after all the Monica Lewinski revelations. I mean, that must have been an amazing drafting session?
MR. WIDMER: It was. [laughter] I was only involved peripherally; I’d been there just a couple of months. I was a very junior speechwriter. But until about the day of the speech, I had a single line in it, which was based on a repair that was happening in my house at the time where my wife had said the best time to fix our roof is when the sun is shining. And so I thought, “That's a pretty good line.” [laughter] That was about fixing the economy when things are— Fine tuning it when things are good, and that line survived until almost the moment of delivery, and then it was scratched at the last minute because apparently President Kennedy had said something very similar in a rather obscure place and time, and it was not a line I remembered. I truly had just heard my wife say it. And I was disappointed, it was my only line and it disappeared. But then the next day …
MR. SORENSEN: Wait until I tell you about President Kennedy and your wife. [laughter]
MR. WIDMER: Fortunately, we don’t get C-SPAN, we don’t have cable, you can say anything you want. [laughter] The next day, President Clinton said, “You know, when I was a kid growing up in Arkansas, we had a saying. The best time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining,” so a good line has many fathers.
MS. WERTHEIMER: But he really did knock that State of the Union speech out of the park.
MR. WIDMER: It was unbelievably dramatic. He never looked more confident than that day, and he was probably never in more peril than at that moment. It wasn’t just that he survived. In that same speech he saved the social security system with four strategic words, “Save social security first.” So it was like watching Nureyev, it was just an extraordinary thing to watch. I just watched it on TV in the White House with the other speechwriters, but it couldn’t have been more exciting.
MR. SORENSEN: You know, I got to thinking listening to this, I think one thing you really have to understand in understanding the presidency itself, setting speechwriting aside, is that you cannot function effectively as a president unless you're very good at compartmentalizing.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Yeah. Okay, your turn folks. Chriss is going to make one more comment, but you might want to start forming lines behind the microphones. Chriss?
MS. WINSTON: I was just going to mention a story about a line that we tried to get into a speech also, which was a speech -- this was in the run-up to the Gulf War, and the President was going to speak, I believe it was at the Defense Department to employees at the Defense
Department. And we were doing a whole series of speeches in terms of building support for the Gulf War. And we had decided in speechwriting, we were going to make a comparison of Saddam to Hitler. This sounds very familiar to some of you now, I suspect. But we thought that that was an apt description, given the … Remember at this time, it wasn't that long a period of time from when he had gassed the Kurds and so forth, and we thought this was an apt comparison and we put it in the draft of the speech and it went through the process. And it came back, and I believe it was the NSC, the National Security Council, had Xed it out. And I went in and I argued for it, and I said, “What's the problem? We need … “ “No, no, this is not the kind of rhetoric we want to use.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So we took it out. We went off to the Defense Department, the President got up there and gave the speech. And when he got to that point in the speech, and though he'd never seen this line, it never even made it into the Oval Office for him to even consider doing it, he got up there and he gave the speech and halfway through the speech, lo and behold, he just ad libbed it anyway. And, of course, speechwriting was cheering over this whole thing.
So the next speech we had to do for the Gulf War, we thought, “All right, he’s already said it, we're golden.” We put it back in the speech, it went through the process. Lo and behold, NSC scratched it out again. So even when the President says it, the bureaucracy can sometimes do you in, so I sympathize.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Okay, let’s start over here?
AUDIENCE: I’d like to address my opening remark to Ted Widmer. I was fortunate enough to be in Independence, Missouri, when President Clinton -- he wasn't President then -- but he accepted the nomination of his party to run for President. And then the next time I was in his presence was at the 50 th anniversary of D Day in Normandy. Senator Dole was also there, and he got a much bigger response, a much bigger response from the people who were there. President Clinton was not very popular with veterans at that point. But when he made his speech on Omaha Beach, he closed it with the words, “They walk with a little less spring in their steps, and their ranks are growing thinner. But we must always remember when these men were young, they saved the world.” And my voice is cracking a little bit and that is in keeping with Linda Wertheimer’s reaction to some other speeches.
But I also hark back to President Reagan’s speech when he quoted the woman who said that they would always be grateful to the American people. And when I go back to Europe, in Luxembourg, and in Belgium and France, and even when I meet, and I’ve been in Germany, and when people find out that I'm a D Day veteran, they—especially the Germans—they say, “Thank you for liberating my country.” And so I'm harking back to what President Reagan quoted that woman as saying, that we will never forget what the Americans in Normandy did for us. And since that time, I have read polls that say that they have interviewed young people, and fully onethird of them believed that the Germans were our allies in World War II. And I'm just wondering, Linda, I mean Chriss, what has happened to history? And why is this situation prevalent today?
MS. WERTHEIMER: Thank you. Chriss, you want to take a very quick …
MS. WINSTON: I’ll try and make this really short, and by using an example. In working on the book that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, at one point I sat down and read my son’s 11 th grade American history textbook, all 1,000 pages and some of it. And this will give you an example. Part of the problem, I think, with the teaching of American history today is how the textbook authors decide what subjects to tackle and how much space they're going to get. And so let me just give you an example, and I think this will say it all.
I looked at his book and I started counting words. And there was a section called The Disco Generation, and it got 214 words. And Steven Spielberg got his own section, and that was 381 words. Nicaragua, Iran Contra, but a lot on the history of Nicaragua, got over 1,000 words. And Neil Armstrong and the moon landing got a whopping 78 words, which I think is shocking. And I actually thought very seriously today of using President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, which is one of my favorite speeches, because I think that the space program is one of America’s most wonderful and inspiring stories for our children. There's no downside, it’s courageous, it embodies all of our values and spirits and has brought so much new science and technology to the world. And yet, American history today all but ignores it.
And so I would just use that example to tell you that's part of the problem. And I would suggest that people read their child’s textbooks.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Let’s try to keep this to relatively concise questions, yes?
AUDIENCE: Absolutely. My question is for Ted No. 1, and I believe that President Kennedy’s favorite orator, from my understanding, was Sir Winston Churchill. And so my question is, in your workings with President Kennedy, how much was Churchill referenced, his speeches or his actions or deeds? And could you possibly give an example?
MR. SORENSEN: The answer to everything you just said is yes. President Kennedy admired Winston Churchill, both as a public figure and as an orator. And I believe you will find references to Churchill in Kennedy’s speeches and in his off the cuff remarks, such as press conferences. And I have to tell you that I read a lot of Churchill in my role in helping Kennedy on some of the things that he said and wrote. And I have often, when I occasionally lecture to students on speechwriting, invoke Churchill as the example of what -- Who was it? I guess Tom Putnam in the introduction here today cited as being one of my principles, which is don’t use any unnecessary words of which the best example is Winston Churchill after the fall of France. He began his report to the British people over radio with what, it’s about seven words. “The news from France is very bad.” Says it all.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I was just checking—I'm not fast enough here—I was checking the index to see if I could find one. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Yes, hi. I listened to a lot of President Kennedy’s speeches personally,and also downstairs a number of times. And I’ve always wondered the source of two words that he uses repeatedly, and that's “let us.” And I wondered if there was a history to how that started and if he used it a lot before he was President, or just this part of his way of saying things when he became President?
MR. SORENSEN: I have to say I’ve never thought about that before, and I don't know the answer. I learned from the master that when you don’t know the answer, don’t give one. [laughter]
MS. WERTHEIMER: Yes?
AUDIENCE: Mr. Sorensen, it’s an honor to speak to you. My question is related to something you said earlier. You referred to the American University speech as being President Kennedy reexamining attitudes about the Cold War, including his own attitudes. And that made me think of the passage in the inaugural address, which obviously came first, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to insure the survival and the success of liberty.” And that quote is obviously magnificent oratory, but it has been criticized, unjustly in my view, but criticized nonetheless as maybe raising the bar a little too high. And do you think that in the later speech, the American University speech, President Kennedy was reexamining some of the things he’d said about the Cold War.
MR. SORENSEN: That's a very thoughtful question. I have to say that he had the same help on the inaugural as he had on the American University speech. [laughter] And so no, I don't think it was a reexamination. And I'm glad you said that he is unjustly criticized for those words in the inaugural because people who single out those words and focus on it as a Cold War rhetoric forget the rest of the speech in which he said—back to the lady’s question—“Let us, let both sides, join.” Meaning east and west, Soviets and Americans. “Let us together join in exploring the heavens and the stars. Let us enjoin in pushing back the desert. Let us explore the ocean depths, and let us fight the …“ I don’t remember it exactly. “Fight the common enemies of disease, poverty, tyranny and war itself.” No American President had ever said that before.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Here's another one. “Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Cold War.” This is from the American University speech. Yes?
AUDIENCE: This is directed primarily to Mr. Sorensen, but the other …
MS. WERTHEIMER: We’ve got to broaden out here.
AUDIENCE: When did it become apparent that in working with John Kennedy that you two were of a mind, or more significantly, of a voice together, and that your writings pretty much represented his voice, or captured his thoughts and the rhetoric captured the way he preferred to communicate them?
MR. SORENSEN: First, I have to say this is all in my book and you’ll have to buy it. [laughter]
AUDIENCE: And I happily will.
MR. SORENSEN: But I would say that our compatibility was not apparent until the afternoon of the first day we met. [laughter] I had worked for him almost a year before he asked me to help on speeches. And interestingly enough, here in Boston, the reason was—I still remember him coming into my office adjoining his, or actually a waiting room in between—He came into my office and he said, “I have to give three speeches, I believe all in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day. How about helping?” I’m a Unitarian from Lincoln, Nebraska, where we never observed St. Patrick’s Day, but I thought it’d be an interesting challenge. And I turned out three speeches for St. Patrick’s Day, and he loved them, and I never got rid of the job for the next ten years.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Ted, the other Ted, let me just ask you to speak to the, as Chriss already has, about finding the voice of your principal?
MR. WIDMER: Well, you just read his speeches. I came well into his Presidency, I came in in ’97, and you begin by just reading. And then you learn a lot from your fellow speechwriters. We were similar numbers, we were up to nine or ten, I think, in Clinton. We had two staffs, by the way. We had a foreign policy staff inside the NSC, which I was part of, and then a domestic staff. And so it’s imitative. You're just trying to get that voice, and for me, the best coaches were my fellow speechwriters at first. But then after a certain amount of time, it becomes more natural.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I remember on a couple of occasions when I was standing right behind President Reagan because I was in the tight pool, I saw him change his speech while he was giving it, into a locution that was more comfortable for him. You know, it’s just something that, I guess, they just get good at it after they do it for a while. Over here?
AUDIENCE: My name is Alison Shapiro, I work at the Kennedy School and I'm a public speaking and speechwriting consultant. My question is I’d like to hear from any of our distinguished speechwriters about the unique relationship between our speechwriter and a principal, and how that manifests itself on a presidential level, especially given the large number of speechwriters who are involved in writing a speech?
MS. WERTHEIMER: Shall we start with Ted Sorensen?
MR. SORENSEN: Occasionally, since I left the White House, I have been asked by others if I would write speeches for them, which I have for the most part not done. And I have tried to explain to them that for ultimately 11 years, I was with John F. Kennedy day and night. I knew what he thought and what he said on almost every subject. Between the convention of 1956 and the convention of 1960, we traveled to all 50 states together. We ate together, we lived together, we formed a bond that unless you have that kind of bond, you don't have the same relationship. And with a stranger calling me up on the phone asking me to write a speech for him, it’s not going to be in his voice the way I was able to help JFK with words that he was comfortable with.
But I would add one other important fact at the presidential level, as you suggest. We've heard quite a bit today about speechwriting and research departments. We didn't have a speechwriting and research department in the Kennedy White House. Occasionally, and on some important occasions, Arthur Schlesinger would help. He was our resident historian. During the first ten months of the presidency, as during the Presidential campaign, that is the post convention campaign, Dick Goodwin was a very good speechwriter who made a lot of contributions. But the speechwriting department was essentially John F. Kennedy and me.
And I had the advantage of being counsel to the President, special counsel to the President and policy advisor, as mentioned by Tom in his introduction, so that I was able to take part in the policy decisions, and the great speeches are communicating great decisions. And I would listen to the evidence being presented to the President and watch his reaction. I could tell what impressed him, what ideas, what themes, what thoughts, even what words or what data made a difference to him. And then walk down the hall to my office and put it together in the form of a draft speech. That is so much easier than being across the street at the executive office building, in a speechwriting and research department with six or nine other people and getting a phone call from the Chief of Staff, “The President wants a speech on agriculture. Who wants to write the speech on agriculture?” Thank goodness I didn't have to do that. And I sympathize with Chriss and the fact that the clearance process sometimes interfered with good lines, except on State of the Union messages and on the Cuban Missile Crisis speech, which was a totally different story. I didn't have a clearance process. My drafts went to John F. Kennedy.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Would anybody else like to add something? Chriss?
MS. WINSTON: Only, you know, the phrase good old days comes to mind because it would have been wonderful to have that kind of a relationship. I think maybe a couple of things changed over time. One was the demands of the numbers of speeches that presidents gave. I know I was working on a book and I called Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidential Library to get a five or six month schedule, a particular time to look at his speeches, to see where he’d given speeches. And in that five month period, he gave four speeches, which was staggering to me. I just assumed presidents gave lots of speeches, they didn't.
I think that's one change that is different. And I also think the intense media scrutiny of speeches, now there's so much. There's just so much more media out there to cover speeches; I think sort of intensifies that. But, you know, I agree with everything Ted said. The ideal is the kind of relationship that he had with President Kennedy. I mean, you can always do a better job if you're very close to the principal you're writing for.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I'm going to move on because we can really only take, I think, one more question. We have planes to catch here, people are about to leave.
AUDIENCE: To those of you who’ve done both, which is more challenging and which more enjoyable: writing for the presidential candidate or writing for the man in the Oval Office?
MS. WERTHEIMER: That's a good question. Ted, do you want to start?
MR. WIDMER: I haven’t written for a campaigner, I only wrote for President Clinton. The first speech I ever wrote was for President Clinton, and I haven’t written any after. So I can’t compare.
MS. WINSTON: No, I was on the campaign but I had other responsibilities on the campaign.
MR. PRICE: I’m not sure how to answer. In the ’68 campaign, I was part of—His key writer, and I did a lot of speeches there, although a lot of these—We did our policy things in ’68 campaign on radio. We didn't use television, we used radio. That worked much better. It was cheaper, and—[laughter] No, quite seriously, we could buy half an hour of radio for 2,000 bucks, and also we wouldn't preempt “I Love Lucy.” And we got anywhere from half a million to two million people actually sitting and listening to what was said.
And so for serious policy things, we used radio. That's more cerebral than television is. But in terms of satisfaction, I'm going to suggest a different thing. The first presidential campaign is an exciting thing in itself. The second campaign is less exciting. The presidency is very demanding, the campaigns are very demanding. And my guess it would be more, not so much more one to the other as within each one, was more or less.
MS. WERTHEIMER: Mr. Sorensen?
MR. SORENSEN: There's a total difference, vast difference, between writing speeches for the presidential candidate and writing speeches for the president of the United States. First of all, the campaign, I warn those of you who want to be a speechwriter, is the most exhausting ordeal of your life. The candidate gets a little sleep at night, but the speechwriter doesn’t. That's when he has to work.
Second, the speeches themselves are much easier to write. When a crisis arises during the campaign, the candidate can give a speech raising the right question, pointing with alarm, demanding an investigation. That's no good when you're president of the United States. You're in charge, you have to come up with the answer. And every word the president utters is fraught with implication. If it’s in foreign policy, the president’s words become the policy. Not in domestic, because Congress has to authorize it and appropriate the money for it. But in foreign policy, every word is policy. Moreover, as president, you are simultaneously addressing many different and inconsistent audiences. Your supporters and your opponents at home, Congress, the allies, the adversaries abroad, every one of them is going to look and listen to that speech very differently, and all of that has to be weighed. So it’s much tougher for the president.
MS. WERTHEIMER: I think that this is it for us. And thank you all so much. My apologies to the people who are still waiting in line, but we have a group that has to leave. Thank you all so much. [applause]
A great speech writer to write it for you!
Why use Great Speech Writing?
We’re here to do whatever is required to get your speech right. Some clients ask us to write it from scratch, others to take a look at a draft they have already written. Some ask us to coach them on how best to deliver their script. Our role is to help make your speech:
1. Relevant to your audience
2. Original (avoiding online cutting and pasting at all costs)
3 . Clear ; using as few words as possible
And to sprinkle your words with a little magic to ensure that people remember it for all the right reasons. The key is to help you give a speech that sounds like you at the very top of your game .
How we can work with you
Our service is entirely discreet and personal. There’s no point in us writing a good speech for you that people don’t believe you wrote yourself. And we won’t tell them you didn’t!
We never send samples of existing client work, and we operate on a basis of trust (we will agree a fixed project cost with you at the start, will make as many revisions as you require, and won’t charge you a penny until you have received a second draft from us).
If you’re after long-winded stories, recycled, cheesy wedding gags, or re-usable templates, you’re in the wrong place. We write every word of every speech from scratch and pride ourselves on each being unique. We love what we do and are passionate about getting it right. Our clients have some lovely things to say about us.
Please contact us if you’d like help in either of the following ways:
1. Our ‘Brief, Write and Edit’ service, where we will gather information from you, propose a structure for your speech, write it for you, and then edit it as many times as required to make it perfect
2. Our ‘Edit’ service, where you send us a draft and we give you feedback on it and suggestions for how we could improve it (if necessary)
3. Some clients also ask for help with their delivery. We are delighted to offer 1 to 1 coaching . Our team includes Alys Wallinger who works on all aspects of confidence and delivery.
What’s your role at the event?
Whether you are the best man , groom , bride , maid of honour or father of the bride at a wedding , hosting a birthday or anniversary party, the captain of a golf club , organising a Bar Mitzvah , giving a toast at Burns Dinner or speaking at any social function, we can help you create something truly memorable and original.
Relax! We’re here to chat
Some clients have called with six months to spare, others with four hours to go; many want to meet face-to-face, others want coaching afterwards; some live round the corner, others ten thousand miles away; quite a few did everything by email and Skype. Whether you’re worrying about anything from after dinner speeches to business pitches we can write for you, edit for you and train you to deliver with the impact your new content deserves .
We look forward to your call.
Lawrence and the team.
(If you are looking for a speech writer to help with speeches for business, political or fundraising events, we have a separate website setting-out our full communications service for professionals )
Great Speech Writing Tips and Advice
We regularly write articles about the world of speech writing advice, presentations and public speaking. Here’s a recent sample:
- Today’s article in the Metro
- Funny? How not to Rock your speech
- If you’re giving a graduation or commencement speech this year …
- 7 terrible starts to father of the bride speeches
- Wedding speeches: 8 biggest worries
- Last night Joanna Lumley wasn’t Absolutely Fabulous
- Why we sound monotonous. And how to change that!
- World’s 5 Greatest Viral Wedding Speeches
- How To Write A Brilliant Bride Speech
- How To Plan A Jaw-Droppingly Brilliant Speech In 5 Easy Steps
- 8 essential tips for Prince William’s best man speech
- “He said WHAT?!” 7 ways to totally ruin your best man speech
- Five great ways to give an original wedding speech
- 10 wedding speech jokes to avoid
- How Meghan can help Harry conquer his wedding night nerves
- Facial Hair
Browse all Get Style
- Program Review
Browse all Get Strong
- Social Skills
Browse all Get Social
- Manly Know-How
Browse all Get Skilled
in: Character , Featured , Knowledge of Men
Brett & Kate McKay • August 24, 2020 • Last updated: August 25, 2021
The 35 Greatest Speeches in History
These famous speeches lifted hearts in dark times, gave hope in despair, refined the characters of men, inspired brave feats, gave courage to the weary, honored the dead, and changed the course of history.
How did we compile this list?
Great oratory has three components: style, substance, and impact.
Style: A great speech must be masterfully constructed. The best orators are masters of both the written and spoken word, and use words to create texts that are beautiful to both hear and read.
Substance: A speech may be flowery and charismatically presented, and yet lack any true substance at all. Great oratory must center on a worthy theme; it must appeal to and inspire the audience’s finest values and ideals.
Impact: Great oratory always seeks to persuade the audience of some fact or idea. The very best speeches change hearts and minds and seem as revelatory several decades or centuries removed as when they were first given.
And now for the speeches.
Contents [ hide ]
- 1. Theodore Roosevelt, "Duties of American Citizenship"
- 2. Winston Churchill, "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"
- 3. Lou Gehrig, "Farewell to Baseball Address"
- 4. Demosthenes, "The Third Philippic"
- 5. Chief Joseph, "Surrender Speech"
- 6. John F. Kennedy, "Inauguration Address"
7. Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Nation on the Challenger"
8. "speech of alexander the great", 9. william wilberforce, "abolition speech", 10. theodore roosevelt, "the man with the muck-rake", 11. franklin delano roosevelt, "first inaugural address", 12. charles de gaulle, "the appeal of 18 june", 13. socrates, "apology", 14. george washington, "resignation speech", 15. mahatma gandhi, "quit india", 16. winston churchill, "their finest hour", 17. william faulkner, "nobel prize acceptance speech", 18. dwight d. eisenhower, "farewell address", 19. marcus tullius cicero, "the first oration against catiline", 20. ronald reagan, "remarks at the brandenburg gate", 21. pericles, "funeral oration", 22. general douglas macarthur, "farewell address to congress", 23. theodore roosevelt, "strength and decency", 24. abraham lincoln, "2nd inaugural address", 25. patrick henry, "give me liberty or give me death", 26. ronald reagan, "40th anniversary of d-day".
- 27. John F. Kennedy, "The Decision to Go to the Moon"
28. Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"
29. general douglas macarthur, "duty, honor, country", 30. theodore roosevelt, "citizenship in a republic", 31. winston churchill, "blood, sweat, and tears", 32. franklin delano roosevelt, "pearl harbor address to the nation", 33. jesus christ, "the sermon on the mount", 34. martin luther king jr., "i have a dream", 35. abraham lincoln, "the gettysburg address", 1. theodore roosevelt, “duties of american citizenship”.
January 26, 1883; Buffalo , New York
Given while serving as a New York assemblyman, TR's address on the "Duties of American Citizenship" delved into both the theoretical reasons why every man should be involved in politics and the practical means of serving in that capacity. Roosevelt chided those who excused themselves from politics because they were too busy; it was every man's duty to devote some time to maintaining good government.
Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man's being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude military virtues which alone can assure a country's position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the great virile virtues. But this is aside from my subject, for what I wish to talk of is the attitude of the American citizen in civic life. It ought to be axiomatic in this country that every man must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty in the Political life of the community. No man has a right to shirk his political duties under whatever plea of pleasure or business; and while such shirking may be pardoned in those of small cleans it is entirely unpardonable in those among whom it is most common--in the people whose circumstances give them freedom in the struggle for life. In so far as the community grows to think rightly, it will likewise grow to regard the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men in business, or of our young men who are bent on enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if only they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties, Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age. The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.
Read full text of speech here .
2. Winston Churchill, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”
June 4, 1940 ; House of Commons, London
Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, was interestingly enough, like Demosthenes and other great orators before him, born with a speech impediment which he worked on until it no longer hindered him. One would never guess this from hearing Churchill's strong and reassuring voice, a voice that would buoy up Britain during some of her darkest hours.
During the Battle of France, Allied Forces became cut off from troops south of the German penetration and perilously trapped at the Dunkirk bridgehead. On May 26, a wholesale evacuation of these troops, dubbed "Operation Dynamo," began. The evacuation was an amazing effort-the RAF kept the Luftwaffe at bay while thousands of ships, from military destroyers to small fishing boats, were used to ferry 338,000 French and British troops to safety, far more than anyone had thought possible. On June 4, Churchill spoke before the House of Commons, giving a report which celebrated the "miraculous deliverance" at Dunkirk, while also seeking to temper a too rosy of view of what was on the whole a "colossal military disaster."
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Check out my podcast with Churchill biographer Andrew Roberts .
3. Lou Gehrig, “Farewell to Baseball Address”
July 4, 1939; Yankee Stadium
It seemed as if the luminous career of Lou Gehrig would go on forever. The Yankee's first baseman and prodigious slugger was nicknamed the Iron Horse for his durability and commitment to the game. Sadly, his record for suiting up for 2,130 consecutive games came to an end when at age 36, Gehrig was stricken with the crippling disease that now bears his name. On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held a ceremony to honor their teammate and friend. They retired Gehrig's number, spoke of his greatness, and presented him with various gifts, plaques, and trophies. When Gehrig finally addressed the crowd, he did not use the opportunity to wallow in pity. Instead, he spoke of the things he was grateful for and what a lucky guy he was.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert - also the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow - to have spent the next nine years with that wonderful little fellow Miller Huggins - then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology - the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy! Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something! When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter, that's something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing! When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break - but I have an awful lot to live for!
4. Demosthenes, “The Third Philippic”
342 B.C.; Athens, Greece
Demosthenes, master statesman and orator, loved his city-state of Athens. He cherished its way of life and abundant freedoms. And he believed in standing strong against anyone who might attempt to infringe on these privileges. This passion, unfortunately, was seldom shared by his fellow Athenians. While Philip the II of Macedon made bolder and bolder incursions into the Greek peninsula, the Athenian people seemed stuck in an apathetic stupor. For years, Demosthenes employed his powerful oratorical skills in attempts to awaken his fellow citizens from sleep to the realization of the imminent danger Philip posed. When Philip advanced on Thrace, the Athenians called an assembly to debate whether or not to finally heed the great orator's advice. Demosthenes was sick of his brethren taking liberty and the Athenian way of life for granted and he boldly called upon them to rise up and take action. After his rousing speech, the assembly all cried out, "To arms! To arms!"
It is this fate, I solemnly assure you, that I dread for you, when the time comes that you make your reckoning, and realize that there is no longer anything that can be done. May you never find yourselves, men of Athens, in such a position! Yet in any case, it were better to die ten thousand deaths, than to do anything out of servility towards Philip [or to sacrifice any of those who speak for your good]. A noble recompense did the people in Oreus receive, for entrusting themselves to Philip's friends, and thrusting Euphraeus aside! And a noble recompense the democracy of Eretria, for driving away your envoys, and surrendering to Cleitarchus! They are slaves, scourged and butchered! A noble clemency did he show to the Olynthians, who elected Lasthenes to command the cavalry, and banished Apollonides! It is folly, and it is cowardice, to cherish hopes like these, to give way to evil counsels, to refuse to do anything that you should do, to listen to the advocates of the enemy's cause, and to fancy that you dwell in so great a city that, whatever happens, you will not suffer any harm.
5. Chief Joseph, “Surrender Speech”
October 5, 1877; Montana Territory
In 1877, the military announced that the Chief Joseph and his tribe of Nez Perce had to move onto a reservation in Idaho or face retribution. Desiring to avoid violence, Chief Joseph advocated peace and cooperation. But fellow tribesmen dissented and killed four white men. Knowing a swift backlash was coming, Joseph and his people began to make their way to Canada, hoping to find amnesty there. The tribe traveled 1700 miles, fighting the pursuing US army along the way. In dire conditions, and after a five day battle, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles on Oct. 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana Territory, a mere 40 miles from the Canadian border. The Chief knew he was the last of a dying breed, and the moment of surrender was heartbreaking.
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
6. John F. Kennedy, “Inauguration Address”
January 20, 1961; Washington, D.C.
Young, handsome, with a glamorous family in tow, John F. Kennedy embodied the fresh optimism that had marked the post-war decade. On January 20, 1961, Kennedy took the oath of office as the 35th President of the United States. The youngest president in United States history, he was the first man born in the 20th century to hold that office. Listening to his inaugural address, the nation felt that a new era and a "new frontier" were being ushered in.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. 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.
Listen to the speech.
January 28, 1986; Washington, D.C.
On January 28, 1986, millions of Americans, many of them schoolchildren watching from their classroom desks, tuned in to see 7 Americans, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37 year old schoolteacher and the first ever "civilian astronaut," lift off in the space shuttle Challenger. Just 73 seconds later, the shuttle was consumed in a fireball. All seven aboard perished. These were the first deaths of American astronauts while in flight, and the nation was shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy. Just a few hours after the disaster, President Ronald Reagan took to the radio and airwaves, honoring these "pioneers" and offering comfort and assurance to a rattled people.
We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the school children of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them...... The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'
Check out our podcast with Ronald Regan biographer Bob Sptiz.
326 B.C.; Hydaspes River, India
In 335 B.C., Alexander the Great began his campaign to recapture former Greek cities and to expand his empire. After ten years of undefeated battles, Alexander controlled an empire that included Greece, Egypt, and what had been the massive Persian Empire.
That wasn't enough for Xander. He decided to continue his conquest into India. But after ten years of fighting and being away from home, his men lacked the will to take part in another battle, especially against an opponent like King Porus and his army. Alexander used the talent for oration he had developed while studying under Aristotle to infuse his men with the motivation they needed to continue on, to fight and to win.
I could not have blamed you for being the first to lose heart if I, your commander, had not shared in your exhausting marches and your perilous campaigns; it would have been natural enough if you had done all the work merely for others to reap the reward. But it is not so. You and I, gentlemen, have shared the labour and shared the danger, and the rewards are for us all. The conquered territory belongs to you; from your ranks the governors of it are chosen; already the greater part of its treasure passes into your hands, and when all Asia is overrun, then indeed I will go further than the mere satisfaction of our ambitions: the utmost hopes of riches or power which each one of you cherishes will be far surpassed, and whoever wishes to return home will be allowed to go, either with me or without me. I will make those who stay the envy of those who return.
Check out the AoM podcast about the life of Alexander the Great.
May 12, 1789; House of Commons, London
When William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, converted to Christianity, he began to earnestly seek to reform the evils he found within himself and the world around him. One of the glaring moral issues of the day was slavery, and after reading up on the subject and meeting with anti-slavery activists, Wilberforce became convinced that God was calling him to be an abolitionist. Wilberforce decided to concentrate on ending the slave trade rather than slavery itself, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other. On May 12, 1789, Wilberforce made his first speech on the abolition of the slave trade before the House of Commons. He passionately made his case for why the trade was reprehensible and needed to cease. Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the trade, but it failed, a result he would become quite familiar with in the ensuing years. Yet Wilberforce never gave up, reintroducing the bill year after year, and the Slave Trade Act was finally passed in 1807.
When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House-a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause-when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;-when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;-when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage-I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.
April 14, 1906; Washington, D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt was president during the Progressive Era, a time of great enthusiasm for reform in government, the economy, and society. TR himself held many progressive ideals, but he also called for moderation, not extremism. The "Man with a Muck-rake" in Pilgrim's Progress never looked heavenward but instead constantly raked the filth at his feet. TR thus dubbed the journalists and activists of the day who were intent on exposing the corruption in society as "muckrakers." He felt that they did a tremendous amount of good, but needed to mitigate their constant pessimism and alarmist tone. He worried that the sensationalism with which these exposes were often presented would make citizens overly cynical and too prone to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
To assail the great and admitted evils of our political and industrial life with such crude and sweeping generalizations as to include decent men in the general condemnation means the searing of the public conscience. There results a general attitude either of cynical belief in and indifference to public corruption or else of a distrustful inability to discriminate between the good and the bad. Either attitude is fraught with untold damage to the country as a whole. The fool who has not sense to discriminate between what is good and what is bad is well-nigh as dangerous as the man who does discriminate and yet chooses the bad. There is nothing more distressing to every good patriot, to every good American, than the hard, scoffing spirit which treats the allegation of dishonesty in a public man as a cause for laughter. Such laughter is worse than the crackling of thorns under a pot, for it denotes not merely the vacant mind, but the heart in which high emotions have been choked before they could grow to fruition.
March 4, 1933; Washington, D.C.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt handily beat incumbent Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election. The country was deep into the Great Depression, and the public felt that Hoover did not fully sympathize with their plight and was not doing enough to alleviate it. No one was quite clear on what FDR's plan was, but as in today's election season, "change" was enough of an idea to power a campaign. In his First Inaugural Address, Roosevelt sought to buoy up the injured psyche of the American people and present his case for why he would need broad executive powers to tackle the Depression.
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
Read the full text here .
June 18, 1940; London
In June of 1940, it was clear that France was losing their country to the German invasion. Refusing to sign an armistice, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Marshal Philippe Petain who made clear his intention to seek an accommodation with Germany. Disgusted with this decision, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, escaped to England on June 15. De Gaulle asked for, and obtained permission from Winston Churchill to make a speech on BBC radio. De Gaulle exhorted the French to not give up hope and to continue the fight against the German occupation and the Vichy Regime.
But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No! Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States. This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not over as a result of the Battle of France. This war is a worldwide war. All the mistakes, all the delays, all the suffering, do not alter the fact that there are, in the world, all the means necessary to crush our enemies one day. Vanquished today by mechanical force, in the future we will be able to overcome by a superior mechanical force. The fate of the world depends on it.
399 B.C.; Athens
Socrates is perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of the Western world. He wandered around Athens engaging in dialogues with his fellow citizens that focused on discovering the truth of all things . He taught his pupils that the "unexamined life is not worth living."
The Athenians saw Socrates as a threat, especially to the Athenian youth. Socrates acquired quite a following among the young men of Athens. He taught these impressionable minds to question everything, even Athenian authority. Eventually, Socrates was arrested and put on trial for corrupting the youth, not believing the gods, and creating new deities.
The "Apology" is Socrates' defense to these charges. Instead of crying and pleading for mercy, Socrates accepts his charges and attempts to persuade the jury with reason. He argued that it was his calling from the gods to seek knowledge and that it was through his questions he uncovered truth. To not fulfill his calling would be blasphemy. In the end, Socrates lost and was sentenced to death by hemlock. Socrates accepted this fate willingly and without grudge against his condemners, thus dying as a martyr for free thinking.
Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me.
Check out our article on the philosophy of Plato .
December 23, 1784; Annapolis, Maryland
As the Revolutionary War drew to a close, there was much speculation that George Washington, then Major General and Commander-in-Chief, would follow in the footsteps of former world leaders by making a grab for supreme power. Some even wished he would do so, hoping he would become the king of a new nation. Yet Washington knew that such a move would wither the fragile beginnings of the new republic. Looking to the Roman general Cincinnatus an exemplar, Washington rejected the temptations of power and resigned his position as Commander-in-Chief. Choosing the right is almost never easy, and as Washington read his speech in front of the Continental Congress, the great statesman trembled so much that he had to hold the parchment with two hands to keep it steady. "The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. His voice faltered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations." When finished, Washington bolted from the door of the Annapolis State House, mounted his horse, and galloped away into the sunset.
While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress. I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.
Check out my podcast about the self-education of George Washington.
August 8, 1942; India
While the battle for freedom and democracy raged across the world, the people of India were engaged in their own fight for liberty. For almost a century, India had been under the direct rule of the British crown, and many Indians had had enough. Mahatma Gandhi and the National Indian Congress pushed for a completely non-violent movement aimed at forcing Britain to "Quit India." Gandhi, pioneer of the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience, called for their use on August 8, 1942 with the passing of the Quit India Resolution demanding complete independence from British rule.
I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle's French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.
June 18, 1940; House of Commons, London
On May 10, 1940, the Germans began their invasion of France. On June 14 Paris fell. In a matter of days, France would surrender and England would stand as Europe's lone bulwark against the twin evils of Fascism and Nazism. At this critical moment, Churchill gave his third and final speech during the Battle of France, once again imparting words meant to bring hope in this dark hour.
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'
Check out my podcast about how Churchill led during the Blitz.
December 10, 1950; Stockholm, Sweden
A true master of the written word, William Faulkner did not often make public his gift for the spoken variety. So there was some interest as to what he would say when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for his "powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel." The year was 1950, the Soviet Union had tapped the potential of the atomic bomb, and the atmosphere in the the United States crackled with the fear of them using it. Faulkner challenged poets, authors, and all mankind to think beyond the questions of "When will I be blown up?" and instead continue to "create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
January 17, 1961; Washington, D.C.
The 1950's were a time of ever increasing military spending, as the United States sought to fight communism abroad and prevent it at home. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office, more than half of the federal budget was allocated for defense purposes. Eisenhower, former General of the Army, was certainly not opposed to the use of military power to keep the peace. Still, he saw fit to use his "Farewell Address" to warn the nation of the dangers posed by the "military-industrial complex," referring to the relationship between the armed forces, the government, and the suppliers of war materials. Eisenhower was wary of the large role defense spending played in the economy, and understood the political and corporate corruption that could result if the public was not vigilant in checking it.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex . The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
63 BC; Rome
Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline to his friends) was a very jealous man. Having once run against Cicero for the position of consul and lost, he became determined to win the next election by any devious method necessary. Plan A was to bribe people to vote for him, and when that didn't work, he decided to go for bust and simply knock Cicero off on election day. This plan was ferreted out by the ever vigilant Cicero, the election was postponed, and the Senate established marital law. When the election finally was held, the murderer-cum-candidate was surprisingly trounced at the polls. Now it was time for Catiline's Plan C: raise an army of co-conspirators, create insurrection throughout Italy, overthrow the government, and slice and dice as many Senators as they could get their coo -ky hands on. But Cicero was again one step ahead and discovered the plan. He called the Senate together for a meeting at the Temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, an orifice only used in times of great crisis. Catiline, who seriously didn't know when he was not welcome, decided to crash the party. With his archenemy in attendance, Cicero began his Catiline Orations, a series of speeches covering how he saved Rome from rebellion, the guilt of Catiline, and the need to whack he and his cronies.
I wish, O conscript fathers, to be merciful; I wish not to appear negligent amid such danger to the state; but I do now accuse myself of remissness and culpable inactivity. A camp is pitched in Italy, at the entrance of Etruria, in hostility to the republic; the number of the enemy increases every day; and yet the general of that camp, the leader of those enemies, we see within the walls-aye, and even in the senate-planning every day some internal injury to the republic. If, O Catiline, I should now order you to be arrested, to be put to death, I should, I suppose, have to fear lest all good men should say that I had acted tardily, rather than that any one should affirm that I acted cruelly. But yet this, which ought to have been done long since, I have good reason for not doing as yet; I will put you to death, then, when there shall be not one person possible to be found so wicked, so abandoned, so like yourself, as not to allow that it has been rightly done. As long as one person exists who can dare to defend you, you shall live; but you shall live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusty guards, so that you shall not be able to stir one finger against the republic; many eyes and ears shall still observe and watch you, as they have hitherto done, tho you shall not perceive them.
June 12, 1987; Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Since the end of World War II, Germany had been a divided country, the West free and democratic, the East under authoritarian communist control. When President Reagan took office, he was committed not only to uniting that country, but to bringing down the entire "Evil Empire." While the importance of Reagan's role in successfully doing so is endlessly debated, it beyond dispute that he exerted some influence in bringing the Cold War to an end. There is no more memorable and symbolic moment of this influence then when Reagan stood at the Berlin wall, the most visible symbol of the "Iron Curtain," and challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Listen to speech.
431 BC; Athens
Pericles, master statesman, orator, and general, was truly, as Thuciydies dubbed him, "the first citizen of Athens." Pericles was a product of the Sophists and had been personally tutored by the great philosopher Anaxagoras. His study with the Sophists made Pericles a highly persuasive orator. Through his speeches, he galvanized Athenians to undertake an enormous public works project that created hundreds of temples, including the Pantheon.
Pericles' gift of oration was put to the test during the epic battles of the Peloponnesian War, a civil war between Athens and Sparta. His speeches inspired Athenians to fight to become the number one power in Greece. In February of 431 B.C., Athens had their annual public funeral to honor all those who died in war. Pericles was asked to give the traditional funeral oration. Rather than focus his speech on enumerating the conquests of Athens' fallen heroes, Pericles instead used his funeral oration to laud the glory of Athens itself and inspire the living to make sure the soldiers had not died in vain.
Over 2,000 years later, Pericles' funeral oration inspired Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." Like Pericles, Lincoln was a leader during a time of civil war. Like Pericles, Lincoln focused on exhorting the living to live their lives in a way that would make the sacrifice of fallen warriors worthwhile.
So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue. And not contented with ideas derived only from words of the advantages which are bound up with the defense of your country, though these would furnish a valuable text to a speaker even before an audience so alive to them as the present, you must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valor, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer.
April 19, 1951, Washington; D.C.
During the Korean War, General MacArthur and President Truman clashed over the threat posed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army and their incursion into Korea. MacArthur continually pressed Truman for permission to bomb bases in Manchuria, believing the war needed to be extended in area and scope. Truman refused the General's requests, arguing that directly drawing China into the war would arouse the Soviet Union to action. MacArthur continued to press his case, and Truman, accusing the General of insubordination, made the decision to relieve MacArthur of his command. After serving for 52 years and in three wars, the General's military career was over. MacArthur returned to the United States and gave this farewell address to Congress.
I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on theplain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good Bye.
Roosevelt was an advocate of having many children and making sure the next generation would continue to uphold the great virtues of civilization. He was always concerned that young men not be coddled or cowardly, and grow up to live rugged, strenuous, and thoroughly manly lives. But he also strongly believed that being ruggedly manly and being refined in mind and spirit were not incompatible and should in fact go hand and hand. In this speech, he exhorts young men to pursue virtuous manliness. Amen, brother, amen.
It is peculiarly incumbent upon you who have strength to set a right example to others. I ask you to remember that you cannot retain your self-respect if you are loose and foul of tongue, that a man who is to lead a clean and honorable life must inevitably suffer if his speech likewise is not clean and honorable. Every man here knows the temptations that beset all of us in this world. At times any man will slip. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect genuine and sincere effort toward being decent and cleanly in thought, in word, and in deed. As I said at the outset, I hail the work of this society as typifying one of those forces which tend to the betterment and uplifting of our social system. Our whole effort should be toward securing a combination of the strong qualities with those qualities which we term virtues. I expect you to be strong. I would not respect you if you were not. I do not want to see Christianity professed only by weaklings; I want to see it a moving spirit among men of strength. I do not expect you to lose one particle of your strength or courage by being decent. On the contrary, I should hope to see each man who is a member of this society, from his membership in it become all the fitter to do the rough work of the world; all the fitter to work in time of peace; and if, which may Heaven forfend, war should come, all the fitter to fight in time of war. I desire to see in this country the decent men strong and the strong men decent, and until we get that combination in pretty good shape we are not going to be by any means as successful as we should be. There is always a tendency among very young men and among boys who are not quite young men as yet to think that to be wicked is rather smart; to think it shows that they are men. Oh, how often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to "see life," meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remain unseen!
March 4, 1865; Washington, D.C.
The Union's victory was but a month away as Abraham Lincoln began his second term as president of a bitterly ruptured United States. Like the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln keeps this speech only as long as needful. While there are those who still debate whether the Civil War was truly fought over slavery or not, Lincoln certainly believed so. To him, slavery was a great national sin, and the blood shed during the war was the atoning sacrifice for that evil.
He does not relish the prospect of coming victory; instead, he appeals to his countrymen to remember that the war was truly fought between brothers. When the war was over and the Confederacy forced to return to the Union, Lincoln was prepared to treat the South with relative leniency. He did not believe secession was truly possible, and thus the South had never truly left the Union. Reconstruction would not mean vengeance, but the return home of a terribly errant son.
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.
March 23, 1775; Richmond , VA
For a decade, revolutionary sentiments had been brewing in Virginia and Patrick Henry had always been in the thick of it, stirring the pot. Henry became particularly enflamed by the Stamp Act of 1764, which prompted him to give his so-called "treason speech," spurring the Burgesses to pass the Virginia Resolves banning the act. Tensions between the colonies and the Crown continued to build, and in 1775, Massachusetts patriots began making preparations for war. Henry believed that Virginia should follow suit. At a meeting held in St. John's Church in Richmond, Henry presented resolutions to make ready Virginia's defenses. Seeking to persuade his fellow delegates of the urgency of his message, he gave a rousing and memorable speech, climaxing is that now famous line, "Give me liberty of give me death!"
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable -- and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come! 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!
June 6, 1984; Pointe du Hoc, France
What the Army Rangers did on D-Day at Pointe Du Hoc is a tale every man worth his salt should be familiar with. Pointe du Hoc was a sheer 100 foot cliff located in-between Omaha and Utah beaches. Perched atop the cliff sat six casemates capable of being manned, armed, and taking out the men on the beaches. As the Germans fired upon them, the Rangers scaled the cliff using ropes and ladders, found the guns (which had been moved from the casemates) and destroyed them. Without reinforcements for two days, the Rangers alone held their position and fended off German counterattacks. These skirmishes proved deadly; only 90 of the original 225 Ranger landing force survived.
On the 40 th anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan gave a moving tribute to these men, many of whom were present at the occasion.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life...and left the vivid air signed with your honor'... Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
27. John F. Kennedy, " The Decision to Go to the Moon"
May 25, 1961; Houston, TX
On April 12, 1961, the Soviets launched the first man into space. Khrushchev used this triumph as prime evidence of communism's superiority over decadent capitalism. Embarrassed, the United States feared it was falling behind the Soviet Union and losing the "space race." After consulting with political and NASA officials, Kennedy decided it was time for America to boldly go where no man had gone before by putting a man on the moon. The feat would not only catapult the nation over the Soviet Union, but also allow man to more fully explore the mysteries of space. And this mission would be accomplished by the end of the 1960's. When was the last time a president had the cajones to publicly issue a straightforward, ambitious goal and set a timeline for its success?
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
July 5, 1852; Rochester, NY
Frederick Douglass, former slave, abolitionist, and engineer on the underground railroad, was a popular speaker on the anti-slavery circuit. He traveled thousands of miles each year, giving hundreds of speeches. Yet the money he earned from lecturing was not enough to become financially comfortable, and he and his family struggled. Douglass was disillusioned by the repercussions of the Fugitive Slave Act, and his abolitionist leanings grew more strident and bold. If the citizens of Rochester, New York had expected to be flattered by Douglass when they asked him to speak on the Fourth, they were soon disavowed of that idea. Douglass took the opportunity to defiantly point out the ripe hypocrisy of a nation celebrating their ideals of freedom and equality while simultaneously mired in the evil of slavery. While the speech surely made even the most liberal audience members squirm; nonetheless, the crowed let loose in "universal applause" when Douglass finished.
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. Youmay rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
Read what books had the biggest influence on Frederick Douglass.
May 12, 1962; West Point, New York
General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army and a man who fought in three wars, knew something of "Duty, Honor, Country." In 1962, MacArthur was in the twilight of his life and came to West Point to accept the Sylvanus Thayer Award and participate in his final cadet roll call. His address reflects upon and celebrates the brave and courageous men who came before, men he personally led, men who embodied "Duty, Honor, Country."
There are many great speeches in this list, but I hope you will pause to read the entirety of this one. Picking an excerpt was quite difficult, as so many of the passages are inspiring. A must read for all men.
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country . This does not mean that you are war mongers. On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country .
April 23, 1910; Paris , France
At the end of Theodore Roosevelt's second term in office, he set out to tour Africa and Europe, hoping to allow his successor, President Taft, to step into the enormous shoes TR had left and become his own man. After a safari in Africa, he traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he was invited to speak at the historic University of Paris. Roosevelt used the opportunity to deliver a powerful address on the requirements of citizenship, the characteristics which would keep democracies like France and the United States robust and strong. This speech is famous for the "man in the arena" quote, but the entire speech is an absolute must read.
Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rÃ´le is easy; there is none easier, save only the rÃ´le of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance. It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
May 13, 1940; House of Commons, London
Winston Churchill's first speech to the House of Commons as Britain's new Prime Minister got off to an auspicious start. His welcome to that assembly was quite tepid, while outgoing PM Neville Chamberlain was enthusiastically applauded (the world did not yet know just how disastrous his appeasement policies would prove and did not trust Churchill). But Churchill's first speech, the first of three powerful oratories he gave during the Battle of France, would prove that England was in more than capable hands. A seemingly unstoppable Hitler was advancing rapidly across Europe, and Churchill wasted no time in calling his people to arms. While TR had actually been the first to utter the phrase, "blood, sweat and tears," it was Churchill's use of these words that would leave an inedible and inspiring impression upon the world's mind.
I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.
December 8, 1941; Washington, D.C.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, shocked the United States to its core, outraging a nation that had hoped to stay out of the mounting turmoil in Asia and Europe. Overnight, the country united in desire to enter the war. The day after the attacks, FDR addressed the nation in a brief, but electrifying speech, declaring war on Japan and giving assurance that the United States would attain victory.
Be sure to listen to the audio of the speech. Imagine every American family, rattled and worried, listening around the radio to what their president would say. They knew their whole world was about to change forever. Listen to the reaction of Congress as they applaud and cheer FDR's words. The emotion is so very real and palatable; it truly transports you back to that critical moment in time.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy -the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan..... But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounding determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God.
33 A.D.; Jerusalem
Whether one believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God or simply a wise teacher, it is impossible to deny the impact of perhaps the world's most famous speech: The Sermon on the Mount. No speech has been more pondered, more influential, or more quoted. It introduced a prayer now familiar the world over and uttered in trenches, churches, and bedsides around the globe. It introduced a code of conduct billions of believers have adopted as their lofty, if not not always attainable, goal. While much of the sermon has roots in Jewish law, the advice given in the Beatitudes represented a dramatic and radical departure from the eye for an eye system of justice known in the ancient world. The standards of behavior outlined in the sermon have given believers and non-believers alike plenty to contemplate and discuss in the two thousand years since it was given.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
See Matthew Chapter 5-7 for full text.
August 28, 1963; Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" is hands down one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pieces of oratory in American history. King's charisma, skills in rhetoric, and passion, place him in a league of his own. A century after slavery ended, a century after African-Americans were promised full equality, black children were being hosed down in the streets, spat upon, bused to separate schools, turned away from restaurants, and denied treatment as full human beings. In this midst of this egregious track record, Dr. King voiced a clear, compelling message of hope, a dream that things would not always be as they were, and that a new day was coming.
Many people have seen excerpts of the speech, but a surprisingly number of adults my age I have never sat down and watched the speech in its entirety. I challenge you to do just that. It is just as electrifying and moving today as it was in 1963.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
Listen to the speech here .
November 19, 1863; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
272 words. 3 minutes long. Yet, the Gettysburg Address is unarguably one of the greatest pieces of rhetoric in American history. Dr. J Rufus Fears (one of the great modern orators) argues that the Gettysburg Address, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, form the three founding documents of American freedom. And I have to agree.
The Battle of Gettysburg left 8,000 men dead. The bodies were too numerous to bury properly and many were at first placed in shallow graves. Weeks after the battle, heads and arms were sticking up through the ground and the smell of rotting flesh was sickening.
Money was raised for a proper reburial, and it was decided that the new cemetery should be dedicated, to sweeten the air of Gettysburg, to solemnize this place of death. As was traditional, a great orator, in this case, Edward Everett, was asked to give a solemn and grand speech as a memorial to the fallen men. Lincoln was asked 2 months later, almost as a causal afterthought. He was to add a few remarks to Everett's, a function much like the man with the ceremonial scissors who cuts the ribbon. Legends has it that Lincoln's remarks were the product of pure inspiration, penned on the back of an envelope on the train chugging its way to the soon-to-be hallowed grounds of Gettysburg.
On the day of the dedication, Everett kept the crowd enthralled for a full two hours. Lincoln got up, gave his speech, and sat down even before the photographer had finished setting up for a picture. There was a long pause before anyone applauded, and then the applause was scattered and polite.
Not everyone immediately realized the magnificence of Lincoln's address. But some did. In a letter to Lincoln, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
And of course, in time, we have come to fully appreciate the genius and beauty of the words spoken that day. Dr. Fears argues that Lincoln's address did more than memorialize the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg; it accomplished nothing short of transforming the entire meaning of the Civil War. There were no details of the battle mentioned in the speech, no mentioning of soldier's names, of Gettysburg itself, of the South nor the Union, states rights nor secession. Rather, Lincoln meant the speech to be something far larger, a discourse on the experiment testing whether government can maintain the proposition of equality. At Gettysburg, the Constitution experienced a transformation. The first birth has been tainted by slavery. The men, of both North and South, lying in the graves at Gettysburg had made an atoning sacrifice for this great evil. And the Constitution would be reborn, this time living up to its promises of freedom and equality for all.
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. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Some presidential speechwriters win a little fame — William Safire for Nixon, Peggy Noonan for Reagan — but few flicker outside the Beltway. I’m fairly obsessed with helping other writers get the attention they deserve and so, with the light from today’s books and a deep admiration for those who write for the spoken word, I’ll start with Cody Keenan. He’s President Obama’s chief speechwriter. He’s also the main force behind Tuesday’s state of the union address, Obama’s next-to-last.
Keenan, 33, a burly Chicago native, has crafted some beautiful eulogies, too. He wrote Obama’s tribute to the late Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009 and the victims of the Tucson shooting in 2011: “We may not be able to stop all the evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.” Keenan had been a staffer for the senator, and he admires the advice of another Kennedy man, Theodore Sorensen, who wrote for JFK. Sorensen lists four rules for a great speech: charity, clarity, levity, and brevity.
Sorensen also bears the distinction of extinction; he comes from the lost epoch of towering adviser-speechwriters, like Harry Hopkins for FDR and Clark Clifford for Truman. This era lasted from 1933 to 1969, as I learned from the lively anthology, “ The President’s Words: Speeches and Speechwriting in the Modern White House” (University Press of Kansas, 2010), edited by Michael Nelson and Russell L. Riley. We live in the days of the speechwriter specialist. The dawn of the rhetorical presidency and professional speechwriters took place in the first third of the 20th century. Our leaders didn’t speechify much before that. Indeed, after Jefferson — who thought oratory too monarchical — they wrote the state of the union and sent a copy to Congress. Wilson was the first modern president to deliver it, and he capably wrote his own speeches. You could manage that then, since so few speeches were given (Obama gave 411 in his first year in office).
But then came Harding, and his inaugural address was so bad — H.L. Mencken compared it to “a string of wet sponges” — he hired the country’s first salaried speechwriter, whose title was “literary clerk.” He was an Iowa newspaperman named Judson P. Welliver, and in the 1980s William Safire started the bipartisan (and apparently raucous) Judson Welliver Society for former speechwriters, with members like Gordon Stewart (who cowrote Carter’s “malaise” speech) and Robert Hartmann (who wrote “our long national nightmare is over” for Gerald Ford).
The book sorts through the big genres: the acceptance speech, the inaugural, the state of the union, the crisis speech. And there’s great red meat here: Without alerting the State Department or the budget bureau, bad boy Truman unveiled his Point 4 foreign-aid programs in his 1949 state of the union. “I’ll announce it and then they can catch up with me!” he said. And when Clinton had to deliver his 1998 address, right after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, the speechwriters furiously combed through it for double entendres. They advised that “abroad” be changed to “around the world.”
Robert Schlesinger’s “White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters” (Simon & Schuster, 2008) reveals that, even early on, fixers were called in. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison worked on rhetoric for Washington, while the historian George Bancroft ghosted for Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk. Even Lincoln, our greatest speechwriter, got a little help: William Seward, for instance, came up with the phrase “mystic chords.” Lincoln added “of memory,” which made all the difference.
Nixon was a true believer in the power of bold speeches (the Checkers address taught him that), but they made Carter uneasy (he associated rousing words with Southern demagogues). As William F. Gavin writes, “Isn’t demagoguery the evil twin of eloquence?” Gavin is a novelist, a former Nixon speechwriter, and the mellifluous author of “Speechwright: An Insider’s Take on Political Rhetoric” (Michigan State University, 2011). I especially liked his finely shaded discussion of writing to a president’s style. When Bob Dole accepted his party’s nomination in 1996, for instance, he gave a speech that was full of lavish phrases — and it tanked, because they didn’t suit his shrewd but plain Kansas style. A speech needs a “ perfect blending of words and persona to give it life,” says Gavin. Jon Favreau, Keenan’s predecessor, took great care to match Obama’s gift for cadence — which will.i.am picked up in 2008. Uplift is good, says Gavin, but beware of applause-line-hungry “thrill-talk” because it clouds authenticity and doesn’t admit ambiguity (he accuses Reagan here).
In “Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor” (Three Rivers, 2009), Matt Latimer reveals that George W. Bush wanted all his speeches funneled through a format he learned at Yale. Latimer calls it a “Build a George W. Bush Speech from Scratch Kit.” (It goes: joke, audience mention, three paragraphs on the subject, lifeless anecdote, God bless the United States). Speechwriters were marginalized in some administrations, but they had coveted access under Bush, regularly meeting with top advisers to gather background. This power even translated into policy: Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson is credited with birthing the president’s aid package to Africans with AIDS. Meanwhile, Latimer learned that his boss almost always OK’d jokes about Barbara Bush. This line killed: “I learned early on the importance of obedience to a higher power. Speaking of which, Mother says hello.”
Michael Waldman, who wrote or edited 2,000 speeches (including four state of the unions and two inaugurals), is the author of “POTUS Speaks: Finding the Words That Defined the Clinton Presidency” (Simon & Schuster, 2000). It’s a story of color, crisis, chaos, and charisma. Waldman explains to the other speechwriters that they must cope with Clinton’s ad-libbing and embellishing tendencies: “We give him Hemingway . . . He’ll turn it into Faulkner.” And there’s some Keystone Cops stuff on the wrong speech getting on the teleprompter. Clinton liked juicing it up, also, by asking for pre-state of the union memos from dozens of outside names, like Amy Tan, Esther Dyson, and Garrison Keillor.
In the Reagan years, however, speechwriters were “sad sacks” with little clout, says Peggy Noonan. She’d never even met the president when she composed his renowned D-Day anniversary address in 1984. In “What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era” (Random House, 2003), Noonan talks about riffling through volumes of speeches trying to get “the grammar of the presidency, the sound and tone and tense of it.” She takes FDR as her pole star and learns that Reagan is a stickler for positive language. “I’ll always remember” is good, “I’ll never forget” is bad. Noonan is gritty, uncomfortably adulatory, and funny (I like when she hides behind a pillar to avoid Nancy Reagan). And she realizes that her job is more than words: “Speechwriting was where the administration got invented every day.”
A bright new book in the category is “Confessions of a Presidential Speechwriter” (Michigan State University, 2014). Craig R. Smith, who scripted for Ford, brings a unique perspective. Most speechwriters come from journalism, but he’s from communication studies, and though the book has some fresh anecdotes (Ford was camera-shy; George H.W. Bush found rehearsing a speech unmanly), some of the best passages concern the classical origins of speechmaking. There’s a lot here, for example, on Aristotle’s thoughts on knowing your audience and how, in a campaign speech, “forensic condemnation” of an opponent is crucial.
For Tuesday night’s address, you won’t know what Keenan wrote and what Obama wrote. Seamless affinity is what counts. So Smith, with his Aristotle, would have flopped writing for LBJ, who preferred folksy and blunt. And presidents get the last word. LBJ was once going over a speech draft, for instance, when he saw a quote attributed to Socrates. He scratched Socrates out. Then he substituted in “my granddaddy.”
Katharine Whittemore is a freelance writer based in Northampton. She can be reached at [email protected] .
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this article said President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech would be his last. It will be his next-to-last.
A simple chord progression or an epic guitar solo can make a song memorable. But it takes a truly gifted guitarist to develop a sound that’s uniquely their own. These guitar prodigies stand out for pioneering or exemplifying the power that ...
When it comes to cars, nothing is more stylish than a convertible. There’s something about the wind racing through your hair as you drive that instills a sense of freedom, and everyone can get behind it.
Speech is necessary for learning, interacting with others and for people to develop. Speech begins at an early age and it develops as a person ages. There are different elements that play a role in speech.
The much-talked-about Jon Favreau first gained fame in 2008, when the then-27-year-old was named director of speechwriting for U.S. President Barack Obama.
#14 of 23 on. The Best Celebrity Game Show Hosts of All Time ; #240 of 545 on. American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures ; Jon Favreau's Been In Show
United StatesEdit · Michael Anton wrote for President Donald Trump · Aram Bakshian wrote for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford · Samuel Beer wrote for
Farther back, Jefferson, both Adams, Madison, and Lincoln wrote most of their public speeches. Jefferson wasn't much of a speaker, so preferred writing. Lincoln
Jon Favreau. President Obama is ranked as one of the best orators. Jon is the brains behind the great speeches President Obama made during his
One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the best-known and most beloved speeches in American history. To mark
Former speechwriters for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush discuss the ... McConnell: Indeed we had a great team of fact-checkers
MS. WERTHEIMER: And Theodore Sorensen who is, I think, perhaps the best known of all the presidential speechwriters, is here with us to talk about why that
Professional speech writers based in London whose sole focus is to help you write and deliver a speech that we would be proud to give ourselves.
Great oratory has three components: style, substance, and impact. Style: A great speech must be masterfully constructed. The best orators
Welliver, and in the 1980s William Safire started the bipartisan (and apparently raucous) Judson Welliver Society for former speechwriters, with