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Bill Bergeman


10 of the Most Powerful Speeches of All Time

What are some of your favorite speeches?

    1. I've Been to the Mountaintop (1968) - Martin Luther King Jr.

    Martin Luther King Jr's final speech was perhaps his most powerful. Following years of speaking about the full, peaceful integration of blacks into American society, the last several years of his life found him speaking more stridently about access to quality jobs and housing. His final words in the speech darkly foreshadow the fate that awaited him the next day.

    2. The Man in the Arena (1910) - Theodore Roosevelt.

    The "Citizenship in a Republic," or more widely known as "The Man in the Arena" speech, was given in Paris a year after Roosevelt left office. It was given to a European audience with a message of the importance of citizen involvement in democracy. The speech also contained a thinly-veiled message of a coming conflict, the likes of which the world had yet to see, should the citizens of democracy sit on the sidelines.

    3. Ain't I a Woman? (1851) - Sojourner Truth.

    An escaped black slave in pre-civil war America, Truth gave this speech at the Ohio Women's Right Convention in 1851. As if it wasn't already highly unorthodox at the time for a woman to speak out about her fellow woman's rights, especially as forcefully as Truth did, it was even more unusual to have the message delivered by an African American.

    4. Gettysburg Address (1863) - Abraham Lincoln.

    Given months in the aftermath of the bloodiest and most critical battle of the American Civil War, the words of the speech were designed to remind the country why they should fight on in an increasingly unpopular war so that those who fought and died on that battlefield did not do so in vain.

    5. Second Inaugural Address ("With Malice Toward None") (1865) - Abraham Lincoln.

    Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address took place in the waning days of the American Civil War, as victory seemed clear for the North. Discussions in Congress and across the country were taking place as to how to re-integrate the Confederate States into the United States. Many people called for harsh justice for the great number of lives lost, but Lincoln, in a somber and highly introspective address, called on his countrymen to accept that the war was God's will due to the institution of slavery, but that no one side or man should be blamed. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated just over a month after the speech, and the retribution he so hoped to avoid was in many ways inflicted on the South, exacerbating the fractured relationship between the two sides for decades to come.

    6. D-Day 40th Anniversary at Pointe du Hoc ("The Boys of Pointe du Hoc") (1984) - Ronald Reagan.

    A powerfully moving tribute to the group of Army Rangers who tested the impossible by landing on the beaches of Point du Hoc, France, and successfully scaling 100-foot cliffs under fire to overtake a major German outpost during the June 6, 1944 invasion of France.

    7. I Am Prepared to Die (1964) - Nelson Mandela.

    Mandela's powerful speech about the inequalities and mistreatment of blacks in South Africa underscored the lengths to which he was willing to go for the cause. Shortly after the speech, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

    8. 9/11 Bullhorn Speech (2001) - George W. Bush.

    This was not so much a speech as an impromptu pep rally for the workers attempting to rescue survivors of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Bush arrived at the site three days after the attack and spoke to the crowd on a bullhorn - but some in the crowd still found it difficult to hear him. Several can be audibly heard to yell, "We can't hear you!" at which point the president improvises his remarks in a way that makes even the greatest cynics of the president weep.

    9. Abolition Speech (1789) - William Wilberforce.

    Wilberforce was a British politician who spoke before the House of Commons about the importance of the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom - a speech that is thought to have initiated, and in the coming decades brought about, the relatively peaceful end to slavery in the British Empire.

    10. Address to The United Nations On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) - Eleanor Roosevelt.

    This speech served as the culmination of Roosevelt's life-long endeavor to establish fundamental human rights for all people of the world, regardless of gender, religion, political affiliation, or race. It was given by Roosevelt at the outset of the newly-created United Nations, for which she served as the first Chair of the Commission of Human Rights.

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