Over the course of history of the United States, U.S. Presidents have had some of the most memorable and powerful speeches. These speeches were given in a time of war and peace, good times and also bad times.
Selecting the best speeches by U.S. Presidents is subjective, and can be debated by everyone. We will provide a list of some of the top speeches in history. While this may not be the definitive top ten list, it is a starting point for discussion.
In no particular order, here is a listing of the Top Ten Presidential Speeches:
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While the speech itself was only two minutes long, it is considered one of the most powerful speeches ever. The speech touched upon the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the constitutional rights of all men. The speech was the first step to try and re-unite the country that was torn by the Civil War.
Facing a possible nuclear showdown with the Russians who were stockpiling weapons in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy Jr. delivered an address to the world on October 22, 1962. The speech told the nation of the missiles in Cuba and sent a message to Russia that, while the United States was a peaceful nation that did not want nuclear war, they would not back down. The result of the speech was the easing of the missiles in Cuba, and averting a possible war.
On August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon gave a speech resigning the Presidency of the United States. Nixon’s speech was in the wake of the Watergate scandal, which proved a link to the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters to the White House. The speech touched upon his failings, but also his triumphs as President.
During a visit to Berlin, Germany on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to the divided city of East and West Berlin. The city was divided by the Berlin Wall which separated Communist East Berlin from Free West Berlin. The most famous line of the speech was aimed at Russian President Gorbachev, when President Reagan urged “President Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” A few years later, the Berlin Wall came down re-uniting Germany, and bringing a new capitalism for the country.
On September 19, 1796, President George Washington delivered his farewell address. The address announced that he did not want to run for re-election as President. Since the only media available at that time was the newspaper, Washington’s Farewell Address was a written document that was printed and distributed by newspaper. The Address laid the foundation that had started for the new country and also touched on many of the philosophies that the country would follow in the coming years. This Address became a blueprint of our countries government for many years.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. This was the first attack on American soil and on December 8, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation. The Speech declared that the 7th was a “date that shall live in infamy”. It outlined the actions of Japan and asked Congress to declare war on Japan. The rousing speech was delivered by radio and was a call to action for the American public. As a result, millions of Americans lined up to volunteer for the armed forces, and the war on Japan had begun.
President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech to Congress on April 2, 1917 giving reasons why the United States should declare war on Germany. The speech outlined the military actions that the German government was doing that constituted an act of war. As such, President Wilson urged Congress to declare war on Germany. The United States Congress agreed and the country entered into World War I.
President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961. The speech addressed the issues of the day with the Communists posing a threat to the world, and how peace needs to be attained. President Eisenhower made a plea for a continued strong military presence to ensure world peace. The address also urged the country and its leaders to unite to face the threats of Communism.
In the mid-1960’s the country was in the middle of race riots and on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech in front of Congress. The speech was a week after a deadly race riot in Selma, Alabama and in the speech; President Johnson used the phrase “We Shall Overcome” which had been used by African-American civil rights leaders. In the speech, Johnson asked all Americans to unite in the cause of equal rights for all. He asked that the country not think in terms of black and white, north and south, but think of everyone as Americans.
The 1980’s was a time of great difficulties for the United States. With gas shortages, inflation running out of control and our government is powerless to stop the downward spiral. On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation on the subject of the energy crisis and the current state of the economy. President Carter announced that this was a crisis of confidence that is eroding the country. In the speech, President Carter attempted to take command of the difficult situation that the country was facing.