Throughout the course of history there have been tens of thousands of important speeches. Some speeches might remain hidden from knowledge, as very few speeches from before the last several hundred years have been recorded. Regardless of this though, the greatest speech does come down to perception and the ideology of an individual and if it agrees with someone’s beliefs. Due to this, the top ten greatest historic speeches ever is up for some debate, although it is difficult to have any issue with these top ten.
1. Ronald Reagan
The former actor turned politician and eventual president gave one of the most important speeches in the last 30 years. At the conclusion of the Second World War, Germany fell under control of the Soviet Union in the east and the United States and Europe to the west. The dividing line became known as the Berlin Wall, and it grew to be more than just a wall, but a symbol for communism and the split between Russia and the United States. In a moment to mark the end of communism, Reagan stated “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
2. Lyndon B. Johnson
The 60s proved to be a difficult time for the United States. After the death of civil rights marchers in Alabama, Lyndon B. Johnson said, in a portion of his speech, “There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights. I have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer.”
3. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The “I Have a Dream” speech, given by Martin Luther King, Jr. is arguably one of the most important speeches of all time, right down to the wire with the Abraham Lincoln speech. Like Lincoln though, MKL was eventually assassinated, becoming the fourth individual on this list to meet a premature end. It obviously shows how moving a speech is if it can drive someone on the opposing side to want to inflict bodily harm. While the entire speech is memorable, one of the polarizing portions of the speech is: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
4. John F. Kennedy
While John F. Kennedy is the second American President to appear on this list and the second to become assassinated, he also is one of the great speakers the United States and world has ever seen. In his inaugural address, he stated one of the most famous lines in American history: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” This single line is a reason why it is one of the top ten greatest historic speeches ever.
5. Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill had to do many different tasks as Prime Minister of Great Britain. While trying to defend his nation against Nazi invaders and the constant bombardment of its cities (which took place just a few decades after the conclusion of World War One), he also had to try and convince the United States to join the war effort. During his rallying cry to the British people, Churchill stated “You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”
6. Susan B. Anthony
As most women were regulated to the home at this time, few actually had the chance to speak out. Due to this, there are not a large number of recorded speeches by women over the last hundred years. However, while speaking on behalf of women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony stated “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.” This is one of the top ten greatest historic speeches ever.
7. Abraham Lincoln
The list of speeches is simply going by date, so the number one position is going to be the most recent, but in terms of sheer importance, Abraham Lincoln might have given some of the greatest, if not the greatest speech of all time. Lincoln had to direct the United States through its most difficult time, and although he eventually fell to the hands of an assassination, the Gettysburg Address remains one of the top ten greatest historic speeches ever. During part of the exceptionally short speech (just over three minutes long, which shows a great speech doesn’t have to drag on), Lincoln stated “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.”
8. Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglas, a born slave in Maryland, eventually escaped in 1838 and received fame from his autobiography, which he published seven years later. While invited to speak at a New York Fourth of July festival, Frederick Douglas stood up and stated “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” As a speech, and based on having the ability to speak in front of such a large crowd as a former slave, this became one of the top ten greatest historic speeches ever.
9. Patrick Henry
While some individuals might not directly recall the name from history class, they have surely heard of the line “give me liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry stated this when he assembled colonists inside of the Virginia Convention in order to bring together forces in order to go against the British. As one of the top ten greatest historic speeches ever, Patrick Henry stated “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!” This rousing speech helped bring about more support for the revolution against the British.
Socrates is known as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, yet few individuals realize he was actually put to death for, as an Athens jury put it “corrupting youth.” However, what Socrates simply did was to encourage free thinking from those who learned under him. During his final speech, Socrates has a chance to save himself and to say why he should continue living (essentially beg for his life), however, instead of begging, he simply pointed out how the mystery of death and if there is something beyond life is his to discover. In a line from his speech, Socrates stated “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows” right before drinking the hemlock that killed him.