10 Best Modern Political Speeches

We'll be hearing a lot of great speeches this election season, but let's take a second to remember the true giants of political rhetoric.

10. Martin Luther King: I've Been to the Mountaintop


King delivered this speech in Memphis, Tennessee, the day before he was assassinated. After talking for a while about the Memphis Sanitation Strike, he builds to a climax about the possibility that he'll die before his time: "I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will."

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray, his future killer, was only a few miles away attending a rally for racist presidential candidate George Wallace, whose speech that day allegedly inspired Ray to go through with the deadly plot.
Full text here

9. Margaret Thatcher: The Lady's Not for Turning


The Conservative Party wanted Thatcher to reverse her position on economic issues, but she told them what's up. At the time she thought "You turn if you want to" was the big moment in the speech, but the following line, "The lady's not for turning," got way more attention and became an unofficial motto for her career.

Unbeknownst to her, it was actually a pun off a play called The Lady's Not for Burning, about an accused witch trying to avoid burning at the stake.
Full text here


8. Malcolm X: Ballot or Bullet


In this hourlong speech, Malcolm X talks about voting rights and the need for force with his unique combination of searing anger and witty intelligence. A lot of great one-liners in here: "As long as you are South of the Canadian border you are South." As you can probably guess, this speech freaked out white America and fed their fear of black nationalism.
Here's the link for the whole thing


7. John F Kennedy: Inaugural Address


JFK spent over two months crafting this iconic 13-minute speech, widely considered the greatest presidential inaugural address. But some people speculate that JFK wasn't the principal author. In fact, it's possible the famous line "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" came from speechwriter Ted Sorensen or JFK's prep-school headmaster. Nevertheless, journalists swooned over the masterpiece, which set in motion a long Kennedy honeymoon, at least until Bay of Pigs.


6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation


After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR gave this speech declaring war. Everyone remembers the line "a date which will live in infamy," especially because of the way FDR says it, but an early draft of the speech has the line down as "a date which will live in world history." He later edited everything to emphasize the lowness of the unprovoked attack and stir up public anger at Japan.

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1 comments
Khalil McMillan
Khalil McMillan

Great column/post!  Can't believe the intelligentsia (*snark*) didn't bite on this one....

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