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All Presidents are expected to be able to communicate eloquently and effectively, and, especially in critical moments, inspire our nation through coherent, thought-provoking and sometimes game-changing speeches.
Of course not every Commander-In-Chief has possessed the oratory ability to make it through a paragraph blunder-free (ahem, here's looking at you G.W.), but, thankfully, the White House has seen its fair share of spellbinders. From Roosevelt to Reagan, Eisenhower to Obama, both parties have produced a President or two with the verbal skills befitting our nation's highest office. And a few have even addressed the nation with a little swagger.
As a hat tip to these notable moments, we bring you--in no particular order--some of the most famous Presidential speeches in our nation's storied history.
George Washington's Farewell Address
September 19, 1796
Issued as a public letter (TV was still a few years off in 1796) to "The People of the United States," Washington used his Farewell Address to decline a third term, thereby establishing the two term maximum for American Presidents. Guided by his sense of civic duty, Washington's letter reflected his Republicanism ideals (liberty, undeniable rights and rejection of aristocracy) and helped create our nation's foreign policy.
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863
Speaking at the dedication ceremony of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, President Lincoln issued the famous opening words "Four score and seven years ago…" In two minutes, he not only honored the thousands of soldiers who had died during the bloody three-day battle that July, but he also reiterated our nation's founding ideals, helped redefine the Civil War and took the first steps toward abolishing slavery.
Teddy Roosevelt's Milwaukee Address
October 14, 1912
Though best known for his speech condemning muck raking journalist, we can't ignore the fact that Teddy once gave a speech only minutes after being shot. Addressing a crowd in Milwaukee with a bullet still lodged in his flesh, the tough as nails President flowed forth with arguably the greatest opening lines to any speech ever: "Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Straight. Gangsta.
Franklin D. Roosevelt's Inaugural Address
March 4, 1933
With the nation crippled by the Great Depression, FDR prepared American citizens for his bold New Deal and increased federal powers by attacking the mindset of the era, declaring "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Dwight D. Eisenhower Farewell Speech
January 17, 1961
In his final televised addressed as President, former five-star general in the U.S. Army (this title was reinstated after his Presidency) Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American people of the dangerous rise of Communism as well as the "military-industrial complex," which could threaten the liberty of the nation.
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961
JFK issued many a legendary speech, from declaring "Ich bin ein Berliner" to telling Congress America needed to put a man on the moon. But it was the handsome President's innaugural address, when he urged Americans to be active citizens by famously proclaiming "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," that truly stands out.
Lyndon Johnson's "We Shall Overcome" Speech
March 15, 1965
Following the violent attacks on peaceful civil rights protestors during the Selma to Montgomery marches, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Congress and implored Americans to embrace equal rights in order to "overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice." The Texas native drove the point home by closing with the popular civil rights cry of "we shall overcome."
Richard Nixon's Resignation Speech
August 9, 1974
Though not exactly our nation's highpoint, Nixon's resignation speech makes our list not only because he remains the only President in U.S. history to step down from office, but also for it's unapologetic nature. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Nixon didn't wallow in humiliation on national television as expected, but instead boasted about his accomplishments and defended his record.
Ronald Reagan's Berlin Wall Speech
July 12, 1987
President Reagan took his silver tongue from the silver screen to the White House, becoming one of our nation's finest public speakers. And while many of the Gipper's speeches stand out, none are more acclaimed than his remarks beside the Berlin Wall--the symbol of Soviet rule and a divided Europe--when he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!" In so doing, Reagan effectively began the process that would help end the 40-year-long Cold War.
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