Throughout history, political speeches have changed the world. For better or worse, they have inspired millions to follow a rhetoric usually voiced by one person. In many ways, the power of one voice, even to this day, remains incredibly significant.
But with access to many sources of information, why are we still riled up when one person speaks? Is it their cult of personality? Or the way they look? Or is it, as many people might argue, their ability to engage with an array of demographics?
There is never a straight answer, but if you journey back in time and look at some of history’s most prominent figures, they all had one thing in common: a gift for public speaking.
Here are 10 such examples.
1. Blood, Sweat and Tears- Winston Churchill (1940)
Winston Churchill was voted Britain’s greatest historical in a public poll conducted by the BBC, and it’s isn’t hard to see why. Primarily famed for his phlegmatic personality and strong leadership qualities, Churchill gave a plethora of speeches during the war period but his most famous is arguably the Blood, Sweat and Tears speech on May 13th, 1940.
In fact, it would be his first speech at Britain’s House of Commons, and one which coincided with the early days of the war effort. Undaunted, Winston Churchill proved he was the man for the job with a pleasant yet commanding rhetoric which echoed Theodore Roosevelt’s famous phrase of “blood, sweat, and tears.
2. Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech- Wiliam Faulkner (1950)
While English buffs have likely read a handful of Faulkner novels, others may be less familiar with his works. Nonetheless, William Faulkner of As I Lay Dying’ fame penned one of the most impassioned speeches in the Nobel Prize’s history when he collected his award in Stockholm on December 10th, 1950.
Explaining the importance of what writing meant to him at a time where two of the world’s most powerful nations (America and the USSR) were at loggerheads over their race to develop the most sophisticated nuclear arms, he eloquently said,” There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
3. Duties of American Citizenship- Theodore Roosevelt (1883)
Built on libertarianism and the consensus that government should govern rather than impose, the American political system as we know it today is perhaps best illustrated by this 1883 speech from Theodore Roosevelt.
Moreover, the speech holds great significance in an America that is becoming divided by those who wish for more socialist-style intervention
4. Quit India- Mahatma Gandhi (1942)
British colonial rule has long been a part of Britsh history that many Britons are keen to forget, and this is perhaps best shown in the exploitative practices employed in India during the nation’s 100-year reign. Described as ‘The jewel of the British Empire.’ Britain’s global trading performance in the early 20th century was in good health thanks to the vast array of Indian textiles and spices exported to other parts of the world.
But the Indian’s, thanks in large part to the humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi gradually became aware of their exploitation and eventually the Quit India movement was created. Preaching non-violent practices and peaceful protesting, the speech would lead to the passing of the Quit India Resolution, which granted the country independence from British governance.
5. I Have a Dream- Martin Luther King (1963)
King’s awe-inspiring words from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on August 28, 1963, in Washington DC came a century after the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. Knowing full well racial equality wasn’t fulfilled. King’s message made world leaders listen and in doing so, elevated the debate on racism and inequality. Even today, with the tragic police shootings that persist in many parts of the States, King’s words remain incredibly poignant.
6. We Choose to go to the Moon- John.F. Kennedy (1961)
By 1961, America and the USSR’s feud had switched from a nuclear arms race to a space one. So when the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, Soviet officials showcased such a feat as evidence that communism far outweighs the benefits of crony capitalism.
Incensed by the audacity, President John F. Kennedy, on May 25th, 1961, boldly declared America’s intention to put the first man on the moon, which was successfully achieved by the end of 1960. In many ways, it was a giant leap for American global dominance, as well as mankind.
7. War on America- Adolf Hitler (1941)
Arguably the most hated figure in political history, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power stemmed from his unwavering ability to talk to large crowds. One such speech which illustrated this was his War on America speech on December 11th, 1941. Speaking after America’s attack on Japan’s Pearl Harbour, Hitler declared war on America, much to the joy of his colleagues. But by bringing America into the fold, Hilter’s brash intentions sparked the beginning of the end for a nation that thought it could handle the sheer magnitude of America’s armed forces
“As for the German nation,” he said, “it needs charity neither from Mr Churchill nor from Mr Roosevelt, let alone from Mr Eden. It wants only its rights! It will secure for itself this right to life even if thousands of Churchills and Roosevelts conspire against it.”
8. In Support of John Kerry- Barack Obama (2004)
While Barack Obama, global icon and 44th President of the United States has delivered many hair-raising speeches, his most significant- as many people believe- is not his inauguration speech. In fact, if you go back 12 years, you’ll realise that Barack Obama’s first big break came when he was invited to speak in his home state of Illinois to endorse the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry.
Being introduced to America for the first time as a would-be senator, the-then Chicago lawyer wowed Convention members with his rhetorician that few in the Democratic Party had managed since Bill Clinton’s departure in 2000.
9. The Third Philippic- Demosthenes (351 BC)
Arguably the greatest orator of the period, Demosthenes’ passion for the city-state of Athens was never in doubt, and it was his rousing speeches that gave many Greeks a zealous and chivalrous spirit that served them well in battle.
However, with the city at the time being one of the most powerful places on Earth, the daring Philip II of the Greek-Kingdom of Macedon smelled blood and his incursions in the Greek peninsula left many Athenians feeling hopeless. Needing to lift his people into an energetic stupor, he gave a rousing speech that led to an outpouring of emotions. Many are believed to have cried, “To Arms! To Arms!”
The Athenian troops would successfully defeat Philip at Thermopylae,
10. Sermon on the Mount- Jesus Christ (33 AD)
Whatever religious beliefs you do or don’t hold, there’s no doubting the global significance and debate Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount has caused. It’s for these reasons, above anything else, that the speech has become one of the most quoted and referenced of all time.