The Top 5 Best Speeches in American History

Photo: CNN

Photo: CNN

Luke Denahey, Writer

Words have power. Words connect with us. Words move us to be better humans. The best political speeches in US History are often referenced and talked about in our classrooms, at dinner tables, and in casual conversation. These historical speeches have influenced us and have often created pathways and collaboration for a better world. Through these motivational and poignant speeches, change has occurred and as a result, we have become a better world power, known as the United States of America. 

Number Five –  The Inauguration Speech of President FDR in 1933


President FDR won a historic Presidential race in 1932. After three years of economic depression, under Herbert Hoover, who we all know all too well, Americans decisively rejected President Hoover and the ruling Republican Party. FDR defeated Hoover in a landslide and won with 57.4% of the vote, and Democrats seized control of Congress for the first time in 16 years. They dominated the Senate by a ridiculous margin of 60 to 35 and enjoyed a comfy 310 to 117 majority in the House. Safe to say people were ready for a change at this time. In Washington, on March 4, 1933, it was cold and overcast. The country was reeling from its financial crisis and they wanted a change as they made it clear from electing FDR. The new and improved president offered hope to the desperate people and country by saying famously: “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper.” Then, in bold words that reverberate in public memory, he went on to proclaim one of the most famous quotes in history, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That sentence calmed a lot of nerves as Americans finally recognized that there is someone here to help them and help the country out of this black hole.

Number Four – RFK Speech After Dr. MLK Gets Assassinated In 1968

Photo: Washington Post

On April 4, 1968, United States Senator at the time Robert F. Kennedy delivered an improvised speech several hours after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy, who was campaigning to earn the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, made his remarks while in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before boarding a plane to attend campaign rallies in Indianapolis, he learned that King had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee. Upon arrival, Kennedy was informed that King had died. The thing that makes this speech stand out above all the rest as it was improvised by Kennedy. He made comparisons with his brother’s assassination, former President JFK. He called that we shall not indulge in anger but in love and compassion. Despite fears of riots and concerns for his safety, RFK went ahead with plans to attend a rally in the heart of Indianapolis’s African-American ghetto. That evening he addressed the crowd, many of whom had not heard about MLK’s assassination. Instead of the rousing campaign speech they all expected, Kennedy offered impassioned remarks for peace that are considered to be one of the greatest public addresses of the modern era.

Number Three – FDR’s Address to Congress 1941

Source: Washington Post

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, A date which will live in infamy” is what President FDR said in his address to congress in 1941 after the Empire of Japan decided to go to war with America by attacking the Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii. President FDR showed great patriotism in this speech as he was talking to an audience of 81% of Americans that tuned in at the time. That being the largest radio audience in history. Roosevelt’s speech had an immediate and long-lasting impact and is one of the most famous speeches in America and American politics. Thirty-three minutes after he finished speaking, Congress declared war against Japan. The speech sent shockwaves throughout America as with one great speech we are in war just like that. This speech calmed the nerves and doubt America had heading into war and the rest is history. Without FDR and this speech, the war could have gone very differently especially with support from the public. 

Number Two – The Gettysburg Address 1863

Photo: National Geographic

The only speech on this list that was not recorded but was written and spoken by one of the best U.S Presidents in American history, Abe Lincoln. This speech was spoken at the height of the Civil War and Abe Lincon was speaking to not just one side but the whole broken country of America and to unify the whole country to come together once again. In just 271 words, beginning with the now-famous phrase “Four score and seven years ago,”‍ he calmed the whole nation down. The whole point of this speech was to call for unity and for President Lincoln to show and tell the world and country that slavery is evil and that we as humans bleed the same color.


Number One – I Have a Dream By Dr. King In 1963

Photo: WTOP

Arguably the best speech in American history was the “I Have A Dream” Speech. This speech by Dr. Martin Luther King shaped modern America for 60 years. Dr. King used every single rhetorical device known to mankind. In the speech, Dr. King called for civil, economic, human rights, and an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters both black and white, men and women, young and old, all from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Dr. King’s speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement and among the most iconic speeches in American history. Dr. King referenced all sorts of past events that had to do with civil rights including the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to millions of slaves in 1863. 100 years later he’s delivering one of the greatest speeches known to man for the same reason, civil rights. The speech not only touched the hearts of all the black folk but also all the white folk, as there was a decent turnout of white citizens who were all for civil rights. I believe that this speech is so powerful because the right man delivered the right message to the right people at the right time when they needed it most.