10 inspirational political speeches

This is our first guest blog, written by Nicholas Rogers. Please get in touch if you would like to  submit a guest blog. We welcome all blog ideas.

Over to Nicholas…

Political speeches are more art than science. The very best of them capture the essence not only of the character of their author, but also of the situation they describe. Churchill’s ‘fight on the beaches’ speech, for example, superbly reflects Churchill’s own personal stubbornness and the willingness of the British to resist the Nazi threat.

Below are just some of the hundreds and hundreds of inspirational political speeches made throughout the years. 

1. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is probably the most well-known speech in US political history. At just 272 words it is also surprisingly short. In this masterpiece of political brevity, Lincoln summed up why the American Civil War was being fought and why the sacrifice of those who died at Gettysburg was not in vain.

‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.’

2. Winston Churchill's 'We shall fight on the beaches'

Winston Churchill is rightly very well known for his speeches and this one is almost certainly his most famous. If anyone was unclear about his intentions and therefore the position of Britain after this speech, they didn’t hear it. Conviction and clarity personified.

“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”.

3. Ronald Reagan's Challenger disaster speech

Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is one of those speeches that still tugs at the heart strings today. Reagan adapted a poem by World War 2 pilot John Gillespie Magee, infusing it with new emotion.

‘The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’

4. Ken Livingston's 7/7 speech

London experienced the best and worst news in early July 2005. On 6th July, the city rejoiced at winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. On 7th July, London mourned the death of more than 50 of its citizens in a series of terrorist bombings. London Mayor Ken Livingstone evoked London’s famous tolerance and resilience in his emotionally-charged response.

‘They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.’ 

5. John F. Kennedy 'We choose to go to the Moon'

In the early years of the 1960s, the United States was losing the space race. Lagging behind the Soviet Union, which just weeks earlier had launched the first human into space, President John F. Kennedy used a speech in Houston in May 1961 to announce one of the most ambitious missions every undertaken by humankind. In clear, unambiguous and urgent language he set out his intentions with absolutely no room for misunderstanding.

‘We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

6. Hilary Benn Syria air strikes speech

The UK House of Commons has been the setting for many dramatic speeches. In December 2015, Members of Parliament debated whether to support the government’s plan to launch air strikes against ISIS in Syira. Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn broke with his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to support the government.

‘I hope the House will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. We are faced by fascists—not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy—the means by which we will make our decision tonight—in contempt.’

7. Ronald Reagan's Pointe du Hoc speech

Ronald Reagan was known as ‘The Great Communicator’. He had a knack of getting to the heart of a problem, of communicating directly to the people in clear and emotive language. In 1984 he stood at the top of the Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, 40 years after the D-Day landings began the liberation of Europe, and delivered an emotional speech about the momentous events of that day, directed to the ‘boys of Pointe du Hoc’.

‘Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.’

8. Margaret Thatcher's Grand Hotel bomb speech

In the early hours of 12th October 1984, an IRA bomb exploded at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where many senior members of the British government were staying during the Conservative Party Conference, which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was due to address. Although Thatcher narrowly survived injury, five people were killed and 31 injured. Thatcher reworked her planned speech into a defiant address and delivered it later that morning.

‘The bomb attack on the Grand Hotel early this morning, was first and foremost an inhuman, undiscriminating attempt to massacre innocent, unsuspecting men and women staying in Brighton for our Conservative conference. Our first thoughts must at once be for those who died and for those who are now in hospital recovering from their injuries.

‘But the bomb attack clearly signified more than this. It was an attempt not only to disrupt and terminate our conference; it was an attempt to cripple Her Majesty’s democratically elected Government. That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now, shocked but composed and determined, is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail. ‘

9. Barack Obama's A More Perfect Union speech

Barack Obama is famous for his impassioned, lyrical oratory. During the 2008 Presidential election the issue of race surfaced many times. In March, Obama – speaking in Philadelphia – addressed the issue head-on, using his own life experience as an example.

‘I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.’

10. Queen Elizabeth I speech to the troops at Tilbury

In 1588, England was still very much a rising power. In the summer of that year, the country faced a grave threat of invasion from the mighty Spanish Armada. At Tilbury in the Thames estuary, Queen Elizabeth I – wearing an armoured breastplate and sat atop a white horse – rallied her troops in an rousing speech.

‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.’

Do you have a favourite that wasn't included?

Let us know via the Speaker Circle Twitter and we’ll share our top picks.

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