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Great American Speeches

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John McCain: Acceptance Speech (2008)

Arizona Senator John McCain was nominated as candidate for president at the Republican National Convention held in St. Paul, Minnesota September 1–4, 2008 at the Xcel Energy Center. His acceptance speech was delivered on the last day of the convention.

In October 1967, during the Vietnam War, McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and held prisoner until 1973. He was brutally tortured while in captivity which has left him with lifelong physical limitations.

McCain was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1982, and then to the Senate in 1986. He previously ran for president in 2000.

Barack Obama: Acceptance Speech (2008)

Illinois Senator Barack Obama was nominated as candidate for president at the Democratic National Convention held in Denver, Colorado August 25–28, 2008 at the Pepsi Center.

Obama is the first African-American nominated by a major party to be on the national ticket.

In a break with tradition, Obama gave his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High with more than 70,000 in attendance. It was delivered the last day of the convention which, ironically, was the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s landmark I Have a Dream speech.

Obama was first elected to the United States Senate in 2004.

Sarah Palin: Acceptance Speech (2008)

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was nominated as candidate for vice president at the Republican National Convention held in St. Paul, Minnesota September 1–4, 2008 at the Xcel Energy Center. Her acceptance speech was delivered on the third day of the convention.

Palin is the first woman nominated by the Republican Party to be on the national ticket. She was first elected Governor in 2006.

Joe Biden - Acceptance Speech (2008)

Delaware Senator Joe Biden was nominated as candidate for vice president at the Democratic National Convention held in Denver, Colorado August 25–28, 2008 at the Pepsi Center. His acceptance speech was delivered on the third day of the convention.

Biden was first elected to the United States Senate in 1972 at age 29 and previously ran for president in 1988 and 2008.

Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death (1775)

The speech ending with one of the most famous lines in American history, "give me liberty or give me death," was Patrick Henry's attempt to persuade the Virginia House of Burgesses, meeting at St. John's church in Richmond, to pass his resolutions favoring Virginia joining the American Revolutionary War.

Without use of notes Henry delivered his rousing speech March 23, 1775, and shortly afterwards his resolutions passed by a narrow margin. Some believe both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were in attendance during the powerful oration.

George Washington: Farewell Address (1796)

President George Washington's Farewell Address ranks high among America's greatest speeches. Ironically, it was never delivered in the ordinary sense; rather it was published as an open letter to his country September 19, 1796 in Philadelphia's American Daily Advertiser, and subsequently in many of the nation's other newspapers and periodicals.

In 32 hand-written pages Washington announced he would not seek a third term and expressed appreciation for the opportunity to serve as president. But more historically important, he also urged citizens to avoid domestic political factionalism, which Washington feared would divide the country, and warned against long-term foreign alliances.

Alexander Hamilton wrote parts of the address, and James Madison drafted an earlier version in 1792 before Washington reluctantly agreed to a second term.

Frederick Douglass: The Church and Prejudice (1841)

Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became one of the greatest American anti-slavery and civil rights leaders of nineteenth century. His The Church and Prejudice lecture was one of his first major anti-slavery oratories.

It was delivered November 4, 1841 at the Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society in Massachusetts. Just three months earlier Douglass spoke at an anti-slavery convention on Nantucket Island, however, the speech was not recorded.

Douglass was born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, but in 1838, at age 20, he escaped to freedom in New York.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Seneca Falls Keynote Address (1848)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s keynote address at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention was the opening shot of the women's rights movement. In it she demanded freedom and political representation for women, including the right to own property and the right to vote.

It was delivered July 19, 1848 on the first day of the first women's rights convention meeting in Seneca Falls, New York. The next day 68 women and 32 men signed Stanton's Declaration of Sentiments which called for equality with men before the law, in education and in employment.

Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address (1863)

Beginning with the famous words "fourscore and seven years ago," the Gettysburg Address is the most celebrated speech given by President Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln delivered it November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863) where between 46,000 and 51,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing.

Lincoln was not the featured orator at the event—that was Edward Everett who spoke for over two hours. However, the president's two-minute, 272-word Gettysburg Address is arguably the most famous and most quoted in United States history.

William Jennings Bryan: Imperialism (1900)

William Jennings Bryan's acceptance speech at the 1900 Democratic Party's presidential nomination was an eloquent condemnation of imperialism in the Philippines. While anti-imperialism emerged as the party’s leading cause that year, the issue resonated poorly with the public, and he lost by 861,757 votes to incumbent President William McKinley.

Bryan’s Imperialism speech was delivered August 8, 1900 at the Democratic National Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Bryan, one of the most renowned orators in American history, was also the Democratic candidate for president in 1896 and 1908, each time loosing by a wider margin. In 1912 he became President Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State.

Theodore Roosevelt: The Man with the Muck-Rake (1906)

In his The Man with the Muck-Rake speech, President Theodore Roosevelt denounced the "muckrakers" he believed were smearing and slandering honest men. The muckrakers were the purveyors of "yellow journalism" that published sensationalized investigative stories meant sell newspapers, but which were often exaggerated and not entirely based in fact.

The Man with the Muck-Rake speech was delivered April 15, 1906 at the laying of the corner stone of the Cannon Office Building in Washington, D.C. Later that same year Roosevelt, also known as TR and by the nickname Teddy, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending Russo-Japanese War in 1905—the first American to receive the honor.

Woodrow Wilson: War Message (1917)

President Woodrow Wilson's War Message warned Congress and the nation that diplomatic relations with Germany were severed, and meticulously outlined his reasons why war should be declared. Additionally he called for a league of nations, which Wilson called a "league of honor," and suggested the United States must make the world "safe for democracy."

Wilson delivered it before a special session of Congress April 2, 1917 in Washington, D.C. Four days later Congress overwhelmingly passed the War Resolution entering the United States in World War I.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: First Inaugural Address (1933)

On March 4, 1933, from the East Portico of the United States Capitol, and in the midst of devastating national and worldwide economic disaster, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his inaugural address declaring "war" on the Great Depression.

In the United States at this time 14 million were unemployed, the stock market had dropped to 20 percent of its 1929 value, manufacturing output was cut in half, farming was in crisis and 11,000 of 25,000 banks had failed.

Roosevelt’s famous line, "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself," is from this speech, which served as the first sign of hope for a beleaguered population.

Roosevelt, also known as FDR, was elected president three more times, in 1936, 1940 and 1944.

Harry S. Truman: The Truman Doctrine (1947)

The Truman Doctrine proclaimed the United States would support Greece and Turkey economically and militarily to prevent their falling under the control of the Soviet Union, and was part of a containment policy that also included the Marshall Plan.

President Harry S. Truman announced it before a joint session of Congress March 12, 1947 amid the crisis of the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Truman believed that if Greece and Turkey fell to communism there would be consequences throughout the region.

Douglas MacArthur: Farewell Address (1951)

This is the "old soldiers never die; they just fade away" speech given at the end of General Douglas MacArthur's military career. It was delivered April 19, 1951 before a joint session of Congress.

MacArthur was one of the most famous generals of World War II, and also served in World War I and the Korean War in a sometimes controversial career spanning almost 50 years. He was fired by President Truman for insubordination April 11, 1951 from his post as Allied Commander of United Nations forces in the Far East.

Richard M. Nixon: Checkers Speech (1952)

Richard M. Nixon, vice presidential running mate with Dwight D. Eisenhower, delivered the Checkers Speech in response to accusations he accepted $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions and amid suggestions that Eisenhower remove him from the ticket.

Nixon appealed to the nation giving his side of the story and revealed the results of independent audits exonerating him. And it worked—Nixon remained on the ticket.

The Checkers Speech was televised September 23, 1952 from the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California, and is notable as one of the first uses of television to appeal directly to the voters.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Farewell Address (1961)

After eight years in the White House, preceded by a nearly 40-year military career, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known by the nickname Ike, delivered his Farewell Address via television from the Oval Office January 17, 1961, three days before he left office.

He spoke about the Cold War, the role of the United States armed forces and government spending Eisenhower believed was unjustified, but the speech is most noted for its warning about unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex.

John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address (1961)

President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address was short, only 1364 words and 14 minutes to deliver (the fourth-shortest inaugural address), but it is considered among the greatest presidential inaugurals. It announced the dawn of a new era as young Americans born in the 20th century first assumed leadership of the nation.

The most famous line from the speech is the emphatic "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy delivered it January 20, 1961 on a frigid day from the East Portico of the United States Capitol.

Kennedy, also known as JFK, was assassinated November 22, 1963 while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream (1963)

Arguably the most memorable and inspiring oratory in American civil rights history, the I Have a Dream speech was a powerful statement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s desire for better relations between and among individuals of all races.

King, also sometimes known as MLK, delivered it from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Ironically, the famous "I Have a Dream" portion near the end was almost dropped from the speech because his advisors believed he had been over using the phrase.

From 1957 until his death by assassination in 1968, King, a Baptist minister and civil rights leader, traveled over six million miles, gave more than 2,500 speeches and wrote 5 books. In 1964, at age 35, he became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Voting Rights Act Address (1965)

Considered one of President Lyndon B. Johnson's most eloquent speeches, his Voting Rights Act address was given one week after deadly racial violence erupted in Selma, Alabama. In it he uses the phrase "we shall overcome," borrowed from the civil rights movement.

It was delivered March 15, 1965 before a joint session of Congress, and was part of the Johnson's efforts to persuade Congress to pass his Voting Rights Act. The Act prevented states from imposing restrictions on who could vote, such as literacy tests prevalent in the Deep South, which were primary aimed at African Americans and other minority groups.

The Voting Rights Act passed the following year with large majorities in both the United States House of Representatives (333 to 48) and the Senate (77 to 19). Johnson, also known as LBJ, signed it into law August 6, 1965.

Ronald Reagan: Brandenburg Gate Speech (1987)

President Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" address, usually titled the Brandenburg Gate Speech, was delivered to the people of West Berlin, but it was audible on the east side of the Berlin wall.

The Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall separated Berlin into east and west sides, and the speech emphatically challenged the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to dismantle the wall that separated them. With this Reagan was symbolically advocating for greater freedom for the entire Easter Bloc.

It was delivered June 12, 1987 during a commemoration celebrating the 750th anniversary of Berlin, and it is considered by many to be a highlight of Reagan's presidency. The wall finally fell at 10:30 p.m. November 9, 1989 with the peaceful opening of the gate at Bornholmer Strasse, and later that night at many other border crossing.

{style-sidebarquote}Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."

{style-sidebarquote}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 it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. 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 hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

{style-sidebarquote}It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation 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.

{style-fontsize110pct}President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.