Time magazine recently posted its list of the Top 10 Speeches of all time. All are great speeches, or at least on great topics.
But I have a couple of observations - it is very Euro-American centric, with a heavy emphasis on the "American" part of that equation. Now, to be completely honest, I doubt I could name, under pain of torture, a great speech given by a leader in Asia, Africa, South America or Australia, and hold precious little hope for Antarctica. Even in “Eight Below” the speeches were given elsewhere. But I’m certain some great speeches must have been given elsewhere.
Were I to look for an Asian speech, for example, I’d start with Sun Tzu. But having read The Art of War, no examples come immediately to mind. (Note to self - go back and read The Art of War again.)
However, that is not to fault the list which Time has complied. All but one, in my estimation, are great speeches, that anyone even remotely interested in history should be familiar with.
We start with Socrates’ Apology in 399 B.C., then wait almost 22 centuries before the next on the list - Patrick Henry in 1775. I’m quite sure that other great speeches were delivered in the intervening years, but one of the great problems that must be considered is recording and distribution. Fully half the speeches on our list are recorded electronically. Thus they belong to the 20th century. Come to think of it - we are now nearly a tenth of the way through the 21st - and no suggestion I could offer would supplant any on this list. Time to get cracking, speech writers!
All right - as for the one speech I would take issue with. When great speeches come to mind, Lyndon Johnson is not in the first rank. Even given how just, and great, and difficult a cause it was, to propel the Voting Rights Act through a reluctant Congress, if I were to cite the one Johnson speech that truly had an impact on me, it was the March 1968 speech which concluded with the announcement that he would not be a candidate for re-election that Fall. I can remember to this day, turning to my Father and saying in disbelief: “Did he just say what I thought he said?” And Dad’s stunned reply, “I’m not sure, but I think so.”
The full list follows, and I think we should examine each individually. Say, one a week for the next ten weeks?
From The Bully Pulpit - Tom
- Socrates - Apology, 399 B.C.
- Patrick Henry - Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death, 1775
- Frederick Douglass - The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, 1852
- Abraham Lincoln - Gettysburg Address, 1863
- Susan B. Anthony - Women's Rights to the Suffrage, 1873
- Winston Churchill - Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940
- John F. Kennedy - Inaugural Address, 1961
- Martin Luther King - I Have a Dream, 1963
- Lyndon B. Johnson - The American Promise, 1965
- Ronald Reagan - Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987