Famous Speeches That Shaped US History

There have been potentially thousands of speeches given by thousands of leaders that have changed the course of history.  To try and narrow down the most influential speeches is an impossible task, but there are certain moments and markers that can be pointed to in shaping our current world.  A ‘great’ speech is more than just words; it is the inflection of the speaker, the ability to incite emotion, and the energy that the speaker brings forward.

Patrick Henry, 1775

For American history, one speech can be pointed to that shifted the fight for freedom.  This speech is known as “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” and it was given by Patrick Henry in Richmond VA on March 23, 1775.  Henry was a well known revolutionary, and his speech roused the audience, encouraged people to fight, and ended with the famous line, “give me liberty or give me death!”.

George Washington, 1784

Nine years later in December of 1784, George Washington gave what has been called his ‘Resignation Speech’.  This speech changed the trajectory of the United States because many would have accepted Washington taking the title of King.  Instead, he chose to model the new nation after the Romans and resigned.  His speech was impassioned and many listeners openly wept when hearing his words.  He ended his speech, “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.”  He then bolted from the hall, jumped on his horse, and galloped away.

Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Many years later, on 19 November 1863, another President gave a speech that changed the direction of the country.  Abraham Lincoln gave the speech known as The Gettysburg Address and many have said that this speech should be considered one of the founding documents of American freedom.  The speech was awkwardly received, but the power of the words has lasted hundreds of years.  One of the most famous lines from this speech is; “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.”

John F. Kennedy, 1961

Almost a century later John F. Kennedy asked American citizens, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  The 35th President of the United States was well known for his rousing speeches and flair for inciting emotion for those he was speaking to.  These words come from his Inauguration speech where he pointed out the new frontier that the world was moving towards.

Martin Luther King Jr, 1963

And truly there has been no speech more quoted and inspiring than the speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 in Washington DC.  King had a way of speaking that inspired listeners and, in fact, continues to do so today, long after his death.  This speech was about equality for all American citizens and is referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Ronald Reagan, 1987

Finally, in 1987, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Berlin, which many attribute to the Berlin wall being torn down.  As a President he was committed to ending what American’s had dubbed “the evil empire” and much of his work is what brought the Cold War to an end.  The most famous line from this speech was, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Steven Lambert
Steven is an in-house writer at FreshEssays.com – an online company that provides custom essay writing service and thesis papers help.