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7 Uplifting Historical Speeches

 There is something special about a truly great speech. It allows us to be inspired not only by someone’s words but also by the energy of the speaker. Unlike reading a poem or a story, a speech can move a whole crowd at once. May it be thousands of people or just a dozen, it is a unique kind of experience.  
Leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill managed to inspire millions, and sometimes, even change the course of history through their speeches. Take a look at these 7 speeches, which had an incredible impact on the world, even long after they were delivered.

1. The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, 1963

The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, 1963
Despite being only 272 words long, the speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, became one of the greatest and most influential moments in American history. As brief as it was, Lincoln managed to convey two important messages in the Gettysburg address. The first one is the idea that America is both a place and a concept, and as brutal the fight may be, it’s worth fighting for both. The second is the importance of remembering each and every person who fought and died on the battlefield because all people are created equal. Despite the prominence and popularity the address gained, the exact words are under dispute. In fact, there are five different manuscripts in circulation. 

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we 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.”

Read the full speech here.

2. Luckiest Man on Earth, Lou Gehrig, 1939

Luckiest Man, Lou Gehrig, 1938
Image Source: Youtube / MLB

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig revealed he was suffering from ALS in one of the most touching speeches of the 20th century. Gehrig had a stunning baseball career. He was known for playing 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees and entering the Hall of Fame. His farewell from baseball was no less epic than he was on the field. The speech was delivered on Independence Day on the Yankee stadium, and although he was bearing devastating news, Gehrig's message was one of hope. In essence, he told the public not to worry about one dying man, but to celebrate all that life has to offer. He then went on to list all the wonderful things in his life, which made him the luckiest man.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans … So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Click here for the full speech.

Related Article: The Most Influential People In History

3. I Have a Dream, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

I have a dream by Martin Luther King Jr.

The speech Martin Luther King gave at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, is probably one of the most legendary pieces of oratory in history. The audience was larger than expected - an estimated 250,000 people came to take part in what was then the largest gathering in the Capitol’s history. King’s speech was eloquent and inspiring, making smart use of universal themes and references to depict the African American struggle for freedom. What may surprise you, is that the famous ‘I have a dream’ segment was improvised. It did not appear in the written text King had prepared. In fact, he only completed the draft of the legendary speech the previous night after arriving at his hotel around midnight.  

"I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice," he said in the speech. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."

Click here for the full speech.

4. Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy, 1961

Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy, 1961

Like many other speeches that went down to be remembered in history, Kennedy’s Inaugural address had that one unforgettable line. That is not to say that the rest of the 1,366 word-long speech was not well written and meaningful. But it was the moment in which Kennedy turned directly to the American people and asked them to stay united and stand for their country that forever remained in the collective memory. Another inspirational and noteworthy speech of President Kennedy is the one he delivered in Congress in May 1961, announcing to the world that the US intended to send a man to the Moon. But it all started with those lines:

“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.”

Click here for full speech.

5. Give Them Hope, Harvey Milk, 1977

Give Them Hope, Harvey Milk, 1977

Harvey Milk’s ‘Hope Speech’ became his stump speech - he gave a short version of it when he declared his candidacy in 1977 and an expanded version in 1978 for the Gay Freedom Day Parade, later known as the Gay Pride Parade. Harvey Milk’s activism for equal rights for the LGBT community during the late 1970’s indeed brought hope to many individuals. As Walter Caplan, who was Milk’s lawyer, put it, ‘You could just see that people stood a little taller’.

"And the young gay people in Altoona, Pennsylvanias, and the Richmond, Minnesotas, who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only are the gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the 'us-es.' The 'us-es' will give up."

Click here for full speech.

6. Harvard Commencement Speech, JK Rowling, 2008

Harvard Commencement Speech, JK Rowling, 2008

In 2008, the Harry Potter author delivered a powerful graduation speech at Harvard University. It was so compelling it went on to become the most-viewed commencement speech on Harvard's website and was later printed and distributed as a booklet. Rowling shared with the recent graduates her experiences from working at Amnesty. She told them about the nightmares that would haunt her after reading letters and testimonials of people living in fear under totalitarian regimes. The novelist urged the crowd to use their imagination for compassion by putting themselves in the shoes of the less fortunate and to use their influence to bring forth positive change for those who need it the most. 

“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. “


Click here for full speech.

7. We Shall Fight On the Beaches, Winston Churchill, 1940

7. We Shall Fight On the Beaches, Winston Churchill, 1940

Interestingly, Winston Churchill, who is remembered as one of the greatest orators, was born with a speech impediment he worked hard at correcting. And he certainly rose above it - the past leader has quite a few memorable speeches we could talk about. The one referred to as ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ stands out as a symbol of perseverance through hard times. The address, delivered before the house of commons on June 3rd, 1940, managed to lift the spirits of troops and politicians after the devastating results of the battle of France and restore belief in the nation’s strength. 

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Click here for full speech. 

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