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The top 5 greatest speeches ever given

Updated on September 19, 2013

The title of this article should probably be the best speeches of the 20th century. This is because we can only really judge a speech which we ourselves can see. While we can judge the writings of historical speeches, without video it is impossible for us to judge weather they were well given or not. While we can trust historical accounts to some degree, the subjective nature of such assessments makes comparing different accounts a very difficult exercise.

The other thing you must bare in mid when judging this list is that comparing speeches is a very subjective practice. Which speeches you like and which ones you don't will vary depending on your political leanings, personal tastes and personality. I have done my best however to put my preferences aside and judge the following purely based on how well the speeches were given and how much of an effect they had on their audiences.

We shall fight them on the beaches - Winston Churchill

Context: This speech was given to the British Parliament on June 4 1940. It was given at a time when France was about to fall to the Nazis and Great Britain was facing the prospect of an all out German invasion.

Why was it a great speech: WW2 was a great time for speeches. Hitler was probably one of the finest orators ever despite his shortcomings as a human being. Any list of the best German speeches would have to include a couple of his best moments. Churchill to though has multiple speeches which could have been on this list. One was given just a couple of weeks later and is famous for the "their finest hour" line. The other is the speech where Church spoke the famous words "never have so many owed so much to so few" when talking about the battle of Britain.

The reason this speech makes the list is because it was able to rally a nation in what was the countries darkest our. At the time the entire nation was frightened and scared. Churchill had the incredibly difficult task of telling his people that France was about to fall and that they were going to have to defend their homes and protect their families from German invaders. The speech makes the list because it was able to turn a negative into a positive. He was able to take bad news and make it a rallying point for a nation. He was able to capture 1000 years of history and channel it into just a few words.

Tear down this wall - Ronald Reagan

Context: This speech was given on the 12th of June 1987. It was given in front of the Brandenburg gate and a large panel of bullet proof glass to protect the president from snipers in east Berlin.

Why was it a great speech: The speech makes the list because it was bale to capture the frustration of not only those living in Berlin but everyone around the world who were sick and tired of living in fear. The wall represented division and war. Its existence meant that not only was peace impossible but that the world could be destroyed at any moment.

The speech gave hope that the end of the division was. It articulated in the simplest terms what everyone wanted. They wanted the wall gone, they wanted it torn down. While historians argue over its actual importance in terms of bringing the wall down, It is remembered as one of the defining moments of the cold war. It was rather poetic that just a couple of years later that the wall was literally torn down, not by Gorbachev but by the people.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - F.D.R

Context:This speech was given on Saturday march 4 1933 at President Frank Roosevelt's first inauguration. It was given at the height of the great depression when America was struggling both financially and politically.

Why is it a great speech: Like most of the speeches on this list, this speech came at a time when people needed hope and that's exactly what FDR's speech was able to give them. It didn't make grand promises or offer quick fixes to Americas problems. Instead it appealed to principle and peoples sense of purpose.

The words "we have noting to fear but fear itself" resonate though out history and is probably one of the most famous quotes of all time. They were said when the American people were afraid, not only of war and violence but of not having anywhere to sleep at night. FDR's words were able to assure people that that fear could be overcome and that America could once again prosper.

We choose to go to the moon - John F Kennedy

Context: Given on September 12 1962 this speech has gone down in history as one of the best pieces of oratory ever given. In front of a packed football stadium the recently elected JFK promised to take America to the stars. At the time America was just in the middle of the Cold War and while the nation was optimistic about its future, the possibility of nuclear annihilation hung heavily over everyone's heads.

Why was it a great speech: The speech is now famous because of its message and its delivery. JFK was a master of oratory and there 3 or 4 speeches that he gave that could quite easily have been included in this list. The reason I went with this one is because it is such a great example of public speaking.

Notice how he repeats the famous line 3 times, following the rule that anything important should be said 3 times. Notice too how he uses Rice University playing Texas as an example of doing something which is near impossible. Appealing to local examples (the speech was given just next to Rice) was a great way to get the audience invested in what he was saying.

The speech is memorable because of what it was able to do. It was able to make America believe not only that they could win the space race but indeed the entire cold war. He mad a nation unite and strive towards a common goal. He captured the American ideal in just a few words when he said "not because it is easy but because it is hard".

I have a dream - Martin Luther King Jnr

Context: The speech was given on August 28 1963 in Front of 200,00 civil rights supporters during the march for jobs and freedom. The speech which was given from the steps of the Lincoln memorial is seen as a defining moment in the Civil rights movement.

Why was it a great speech: This speech is considered one of the greatest speeches of all time not only because it was given so emotionally and powerfully but because of how strong the message actually was. Martin Luther King Jnr was preaching a message which few people could disagree with. He wanted to fight hate with Love, intolerance with Tolerance and exclusion with inclusion. He captured the feelings of an entire race of people when he said he dreamed of the day that their would be equality.

To this day his speech is seen as a pivotal moment in 20th century history and its effect was so far reaching that he was shot by those who didn't want equality. The I have a dream line is now commonly invoked by many who want to associate themselves with the civil rights movement but none of them have ever managed to emulate the sheer roar emotion with which it was delivered originally.

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    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 4 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      Ditto. Only I don't see even one of President Obama's speeches in the top 5! I wouldn't, but there are some who would say that YOU must be a racist for leaving his out of the top 5, but I would be quick to tell them that the next top 5 are all his, including the one where he gave an award to a "corpse" man or when he declared that there are 57 states. Yes his speeches really are the most memorable even if they don't make the top 5.

      Seriously, very good selections and analysis and thank God they are.

    • sweethearts2 profile image

      sweethearts2 4 years ago from Northwest Indiana

      Great hub. Some of my favorite speeches are here. Words mean nothing without emotion and all these speeches were filled with powerful emotion. Voted up, useful and interesting.