Many great orators have walked the face of this planet from time to time. From the great Demosthenes and Cicero of ancient times to Lincoln and Roosevelt, there has never been any dearth of great speakers. To select the top 10 speeches out of them would be an almost impossible feat but nevertheless we are going to give it a try. A lot many good ones might be left out but you will definitely come across a great many fantastic ones, some of which you might have never heard before.
There are a lot of criteria that may be used to judge the greatness of a speech out of which the content, the setting and the impact are the most vital. But most importantly, it is the oratory skills of the speaker which can transform a seemingly commonplace speech into a fascinating one and embed it in history’s pages for years to come. So without much ado, let us take a plunge into some of the greatest speeches ever made in the history of mankind.
1. “The Gettysburg address” by Abraham Lincoln
Short yet impactful, there are very few people and hardly any American who haven’t read this famous speech by Lincoln. Even Lincoln’s “second inaugural address” is very famous but it pales in comparison to the Gettysburg address. If you have seen the recent movie on Lincoln by Spielberg, you must be aware of it. There is widespread difference opinion as to the exact words of the address as the copies that remain all vary in content. Nevertheless, the statement that “all men are created equal” caught on the imagination of the people and is still widely quoted in every other speech and writing. Whenever people talk of the American Civil War, they will remember the Gettysburg address. No wonder Lincoln is regarded by many as the greatest American President. Words do matter after all.
2. “Give me blood and I will give you freedom speech” by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose
These words became a slogan of India’s freedom struggle against the British. Delivered on July 4, 1944 at a rally in Yangon (present day Burma), this is the most electrifying speech ever given by a freedom fighter. It was a siren-call to the nation’s youth to stand up and fight. In stark contrast to M.K. Gandhi’s non-violent ways and preference for dialogue, Netaji preferred a more drastic way of handling things. When rallies and dialogues seemed to go nowhere, he formed the Azad Hind Fauj to fight the British and gave a great many historic speeches to churn the spirit of freedom inside the Indians. It was during one such speech that he uttered these famous words that still ring in the ears of every true patriot irrespective of their country of origin.
3. “I have a dream speech” by Martin Luther King Jr.
These simple yet profound words have been uttered innumerable times by some of the greatest of men in the years following Martin Lither King Jr.’s death. No other speech has acquired such a cult status. This speech was delivered in August 28 in the year 1963, not too long ago in comparison to the other speeches in this list. More than just the words, it was the truth and passion with which these words were uttered that made them even more fascinating. Even though it had been a century or so that slavery had been abolished in America, the black Americans still faced extreme prejudice from the whites. Racism was as normal as bread and butter. It was in this setting that King Jr. delivered this historic speech and uttered: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed”. It was only fitting that this speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln memorial.
4. “I am the first accused speech” of Nelson Mandela
There is hardly a sane person walking the face if earth who hasn’t heard if Nelson Mandela. His perseverance and ability to endure the hardship of 30 years in prison has set a precedent for citizens all over the world. In Pretoria, South Africa in April 20, 1964; at the opening of his trial on false charges of sabotage and treason, Mandela delivered this famous speech standing at the dock and facing years of imprisonment. His unflinching faith in equality and courage to stand up against the toughest is what makes this speech really historic. Talking about democracy and free society, Mandela said: “…it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
5. “We shall fight on the beaches speech” by Winston Churchill
On June 4, 1940; shortly after Churchill became the Prime Minister of England, he gave this historic speech. Just reading the title may leave one amused. Fights and beaches don’t exactly go together, do they? But in the context of the Battle of France, it fitted perfectly. This speech was actually the second in Churchill’s famed trinity of speeches, the others being his speech on “blood, toil, tears and sweat” and “this was their finest hour” speech. But this speech in particular has become synonymous with Churchill. This speech was given following the miraculous evacuation of troops from Dunkirk by “Operation Dynamo”. A major military setback was thus projected as a heroic endeavour. Only Churchill was capable of such a thing.