Presidential speeches are often remembered for one great phrase, memorable line, or rhetorical flourish that makes its way into the history books. But they should be seen as more than collections of memorable words - in fact, as documents of their time and place. Great presidential speeches are made in the context of crises, challenges, and times of great peril. But they can also inspire, uplift, and encourage. The truly great speeches manage to do both at once.
What's less well-known about many of the great addresses by presidents that they're short. Maybe the most famous speech in American history, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, is just over two minutes long. Many others, rather than being long rambles of adjectives and superlatives, are fewer than one thousand words, and lasted just 10 minutes. They didn't need thousands and thousands of words to make their point, just a few well-chosen ones given by a dynamic speaker.Here are the greatest and most inspiring presidential speeches of all time, be sure to upvote those that inspire you the most!
- Photo: George Eastman House / Flickr1
The Gettysburg Address
President Lincoln delivered his most famous speech just five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, at the dedication of the site's military cemetery. There is no existing final copy, and the five surviving manuscripts of the speech all have slightly different word choices. The speech was just 10 sentences long, and took two and a half minutes to deliver.Famous quote:
"[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, 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."920213Should this be higher or lower?
Kennedy's Inaugural Address
President Kennedy's only inaugural address was one of the shortest on record, fewer than 1,400 words and taking only 13 minutes and 42 seconds. But it perfectly encapsulated the social change, economic prosperity, and political upheaval Kennedy was walking into.Famous quote:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”729198Should this be higher or lower?
- Photo: Wally Gobetz / Flickr3
Washington's Farewell Address
President Washington actually wrote a version of his farewell to the American people after his first term, but decided to run for a second given the precarious state of the country. It was first published in the American Daily Advertiser newspaper, then in papers and pamphlets around the country. Washington never actually gave the address as a speech.Famous quote:
"With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes."415107Should this be higher or lower?
- Photo: NASA on The Commons / Flickr4
Kennedy's "We Choose to Go to the Moon" Speech
While President Kennedy had declared the United States's intention to put a man on the Moon in May 1961, the idea didn't truly resonate with the American people until his speech in September of the next year. In front of a massive crowd at Rice University, Kennedy managed to make Americans enthusiastic about spending billions of dollars on a prospect with no guarantee of success.Famous quote:
"But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."470137Should this be higher or lower?