American Rhetoric
June 17, 2013 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps slightly obscurred by its charmingly primitive web design, my new favorite website is a fantastic reference resource for delving into American speeches that have changed history as well as discovering new amazing ones.

THE TOP 100 SPEECHES is an index to and substantial database of full text transcriptions of the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century, according to a list compiled by Professors Stephen E. Lucas and Martin J. Medhurst. Dr. Lucas is Evjue-Bascom Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Dr. Medhurst is Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Baylor University (Texas). 137 leading scholars of American public address were asked to recommend speeches on the basis of social and political impact, and rhetorical artistry.

Some of my favorites include,
1976 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen for a very warm reception. It was one hundred and forty-four years ago that members of the Democratic Party first met in convention to select a Presidential candidate. Since that time, Democrats have continued to convene once every four years and draft a party platform and nominate a Presidential candidate. And our meeting this week is a continuation of that tradition. But there is something different about tonight. There is something special about tonight. What is different? What is special? I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker."

LBJ's Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Voting Legislation: "We Shall Overcome"
"In our time we have come to live with the moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues -- issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values, and the purposes, and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For with a country as with a person, "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans -- not as Democrats or Republicans. We are met here as Americans to solve that problem."

Woodrow Wilson's War Message
"We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools. Self-governed nations do not fill their neighbor states with spies or set the course of intrigue to bring about some critical posture of affairs which will give them an opportunity to strike and make conquest. Such designs can be successfully worked out only under cover and where no one has the right to ask questions. Cunningly contrived plans of deception or aggression, carried, it may be, from generation to generation, can be worked out and kept from the light only within the privacy of courts or behind carefully guarded confidences of a narrow and privileged class. They are happily impossible where public opinion commands and insists upon full information concerning all the nation’s affairs."

Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address
"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations -- corporations. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Huey P. Long's Every Man a King, 1934
I contend, my friends, that we have no difficult problem to solve in America, and that is the view of nearly everyone with whom I have discussed the matter here in Washington and elsewhere throughout the United States -- that we have no very difficult problem to solve. It is not the difficulty of the problem which we have; it is the fact that the rich people of this country -- and by rich people I mean the super-rich -- will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people. We have a marvelous love for this Government of ours; in fact, it is almost a religion, and it is well that it should be, because we have a splendid form of government and we have a splendid set of laws. We have everything here that we need, except that we have neglected the fundamentals upon which the American Government was principally predicated.
Make sure you don't miss in their sidebar,
A bank of improtant speeches from the 21st Century

Similarly obsessively compiled bank of Obama's speeches

Rhetoric of September 11th and terrorism
But really you've got to just go rooting through it yourself, happy hunting!

Previously in 2003
posted by Blasdelb (5 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I absolutely love this site!

You forgot my personal favorite: "A Time to Break Silence, Beyond Vietnam."
posted by absalom at 7:07 AM on June 17, 2013


I have had to write speeches for political candidates, and this is my go-to reference for the best ones.

I'm a big fan of Nixon's "Checkers" speech. Classic misdirection. "I didn't take thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for my own political gain. Look! A puppy!"
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:26 AM on June 17, 2013


Jesse Jackson 1988 Democratic National Convention Address
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:04 AM on June 17, 2013


Someone should say this stuff again today:

But, sir, it is not alone Members of Congress that the war party in this country has sought to intimidate. The mandate seems to have gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be silent while those things are being done by their Government which most vitally concern their well-being, their happiness, and their lives. Today and for weeks past honest and law-abiding citizens of this country are being terrorized and outraged in their rights by those sworn to uphold the laws and protect the rights of the people. I have in my possession numerous affidavits establishing the fact that people are being unlawfully arrested, thrown into jail, held incommunicado for days, only to be eventually discharged without ever having been taken into court, because they have committed no crime. Private residences are being invaded, loyal citizens of undoubted integrity and probity arrested, cross-examined, and the most sacred constitutional rights guaranteed to every American citizen are being violated.

It appears to be the purpose of those conducting this campaign to throw the country into a state of terror, to coerce public opinion, to stifle criticism, and suppress discussion of the great issues involved in this war.

I think all men recognize that in time of war the citizen must surrender some rights for the common good which he is entitled to enjoy in time of peace. But sir, the right to control their own Government according to constitutional forms is not one of the rights that the citizens of this country are called upon to surrender in time of war.

Rather in time of war the citizen must be more alert to the preservation of his right to control his Government. He must be most watchful of the encroachment of the military upon the civil power. He must beware of those precedents in support of arbitrary action by administrative officials, which excused on the plea of necessity in war time, become the fixed rule when the necessity has passed and normal conditions have been restored.

posted by chavenet at 9:28 AM on June 17, 2013


Robert Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis on the death of MLK was the high-water point of political rhetoric in this country, imo. He was warned that he might be in danger going to that neighborhood, that night; he went anyway. He was given a draft by his speechwriters; he discarded it. He read to poor, uneducated people from the works of an ancient Greek poet; it provided comfort. He shared a part of himself, discussing his brother's killing, that he'd never shared publicly before. He trusted himself and his audience at a time of the highest emotion and risk, and Indianapolis remained calm while other cities burned.

Kennedy, of course, would be killed inside three months.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:45 AM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older The Troy McClure Credits Supercut...  |  The whimsical and awe-inspirin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments