Top 10 Greatest Speeches

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Sometimes words can be more powerful than actions and when spoken by great orators, they inspire us to greatness and connect us to the world around us. These are the greatest speeches ever spoken; a collection of messages from some of the greatest and most notable orators in history.

10. Socrates “Apology”

socrates

The Day: 399 BC

The Place: Athens, Greece

One of the greatest teachers in history, Socrates would wander throughout the streets of Athens talking to his fellow citizens about discovering the truth in all things. Socrates gained a following of young men, whom he taught to question everything, including the Athenian military. For this he was arrested on the charges of corrupting the youth, not believing in the gods and creating new deities. This speech acted as his defense as he attempted to persuade his jury with reason. Despite this, he lost and was sentenced to death by hemlock, dying as a martyr for free thinking.

Excerpt:

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me.”

9. Mahatma Gandhi “Quit India”

The Day: August 8, 1942

The Place: Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay, India

At the time India had been under the direct rule of Britain for almost an entire century. Mahatma Gandhi and the National Indian Congress began a movement to push the Brits out of India by nonviolent means. On August 8, 1942, Gandhi passed the Quit India Resolution that demanded independence from the British.

Excerpt:

“I believe that in the history of the world, there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours. I read Carlyle’s French Resolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal. In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.”

8. John F. Kennedy “Inaugural Address”
 

The Day: January 20, 1961

The Place: Washington, D.C.

One of the greatest inaugural addresses in American history, by the youngest ever U.S. President to be elected. Kennedy was young, dapper and incredibly intelligent, which made him one of the top celebrities of his time, but many of his critics believed he was too inexperienced to be the President of the United States. His speech addressed these issues and called the American people to act as one and uphold their duty to society.

Excerpt:

“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

7. Queen Elizabeth I “Against the Spanish Armada”

elizabeth

The Day: August 8, 1588

The Place: Tilsbury, Essex, England

In the 1500s the battle over the seas was between Britain and Spain, and by 1588 Philip II of Spain had several grounds on which to wage war on England.  Elizabeth had been mistreating Catholics within her borders, she had had Mary Queen of Scots (Philip’s ally) beheaded and she had aided William of Orange’s 1572 revolt. Philip and the entire Spanish Armada sailed for England, reaching the southeastern shore on July 12, 1588. Due to a combination of miscalculation, misfortune and an attack of English fire ships, the Spanish Armada was obliterated. From there, Elizabeth made her way to Tilsbury to inspect her army and it was there that she made her famous speech.

Excerpt:

“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart 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 realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should 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. I know already, by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject; not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and by your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation”

The Day: December 8, 1941

The Place: Joint Session of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The attack on Pearl Harbor completely stunned all of America, a nation that was trying desperately to avoid any significant contribution to the Second World War.The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a speech that shook every American family and in a few more hours it became official: America was going to war.

Excerpt:

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….

…but always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.  I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounding determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God.”

5. Winston Churchill “Their Finest Hour”

The Day: June 18, 1940

The Place: The House of Commons, London, England

During the Battle of France in World War II, Winston Churchill made three famous speeches the third of which was the “Their Finest Hour” speech. This speech came four days after Paris fell into Nazi hands and the day after the French requested an armistice.  The British were now alone in the fight against the Nazi war machine and Churchill tried to bring hope in one of Britain’s darkest hours.

Excerpt:

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

4. Nelson Mandela “I am Prepared to Die”

The Day: April 20, 1964

The Place: Pretoria Supreme Court, South Africa

The son of a Tembu tribal chieftain, Nelson Mandela became a lawyer and in 1944 he joined the African National Congress. On August 5, 1962, he was arrested and along with twelve other members of the ANC (who were arrested on July 11, 1963 at a farm in Rivonia) they were charged with the capital crimes of sabotage and crimes that were equivalent to treason, as well as for plotting a foreign invasion of South Africa. At his trial, Mandela represented himself and in his statement from the dock at the opening of the defence he made this speech. Despite this he was found guilty and spent the next twenty-seven years between Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison.

Excerpt:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

3. Abraham Lincoln “The Gettysburg Address” – read by Gregory Peck

The Day: November 19, 1863

The Place: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Despite being only three minutes long, the Gettysburg Address, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is the cornerstone of American freedom. Four and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg, enough money was raised to properly bury the 8,000 corpses that were left behind. On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Lincoln gave his famous speech. He had been invited to speak almost as an afterthought and that day he followed a 2-hour speech by Edward Everett as well as music and a prayer by Reverend T.H. Stockton.

Excerpt:

“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. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

2. Jesus Christ “Sermon on the Mount”

The Day: 33 AD

The Place: An unknown hill in Galilee

No matter what you believe about Jesus Christ, no one can deny that he was a great teacher. Set down in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount is the central tenets of Christianity. It contains both the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule and is widely considered to be a commentary on the Ten Commandments.

Excerpt:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

1. Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream”

The Day: August 28, 1963

The Place: The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

After a century of supposed freedom and equality, America was still a dangerous place for African Americans, segregation ran rampant and black men, women and children were still treated like second class citizens. From this tumultuous time in history emerged a leader and hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, who led the African American people into an era of peace and equality between blacks and whites. While most men would resort to violence, Dr. King chose to get his message across peacefully, by arranging boycotts and peaceful protests and making speeches that inspired hope for a new era in American history. The most well known of these speeches is the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Excerpt:

“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification – one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

“We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

Loni Perry

Great Speeches in History Playlist on YouTube.com

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36 Comments

  1. Great list all the way up to number 2. There is no historical evidence that Jesus ever existed, let alone delivered this surmon. If we’re going to include fictional speeches then there are literally hundreds of good ones from movies and books that should be included.

    Shame, because you ruined what was an otherwise good list.

    • Ugh, I’m so tired of this comment on Toptenz.net. Jesus did exist. Accept it and move on. Actually accepting him and then moving on, would be a better choice.

      Here is a link to get you thinking.
      http://www.gotquestions.org/did-Jesus-exist.html

      With that said, I will not let the comments on this top 10 list turn into a debate about the existence of Jesus. So before you make a comment about it, be aware, I will be removing them. There are other lists on this site where that has been debated with neither side being convinced they are wrong. Many people believe and worship him. Others don’t. I do and this is my site. So let it go.

      Comment about the speeches and debate those.

      • we live in 2011 and people still believe god exists, thats the more remarkable thing. by the way, i follow vernon. he’s the new prophet. if you can have your imaginary deities of which no proof exists, then so can i. put that in your top ten speeches and smoke it

        • i believe in myself and my friends and the people i love and care about, not something entirely imaginary and of which no proof exists other than a book that is probably as fictional as a work of shakespeare
          I may be getting off the topic of the list but as someone else said, why not include hitler? how many people have been murdered in the name of jesus?

        • Everyone can have their own belief as long as it does not get into a conflict, one of them might be real another won’t.we won’t know until it’s our last moments so we might as well enjoy as much as we have ?

      • I second Steve. Great list except the part where the sermon showed up. Although I am agnostic to the existence (or non-existence) of Jesus, but if we are going to include stuff that no one knows origins of, then there are literally thousands of pieces of literature one could pick from.

    • #2 should be another Kennedy. “… this nation should commit itself, to putting a man on the moon, and bringing him safely back to earth.” Was there ever a more eloquent and compelling speech?

  2. >> There is no historical evidence that Jesus ever existed, let alone delivered this surmon.

    Yeah, except for the thousands of people who watched him live, preach, and die and the numerous historians who recorded it.

    I find it curious that the list creator ranked Jesus at #2, and then ranked a guy at #1 who preached the religion based around… Jesus.

    • >>Yeah, except for the thousands of people who watched him live, preach, and die and the numerous historians who recorded it.

      Unfortunately, none of those “thousands of people” left any evidence. And the only contemporary historian, Flavius Josephus, only wrote one meager line that a rabbi Joshua caused some trouble. That’s all! Most historians nevertheless think that Jesus did exist. But there is absolutely no evidence other than the bible –which is as good as no evidence, since it’s not contemporary– that this certain sermon was held by Jesus and not any other early Christian priest.

      • Actually FHM, there was plenty of contemporary evidence of Jesus’ existance, by the likes of Suetonius, Flavius Josephus, Julius Africanus, The Babylonian Talmud, and others. I suggest next time you want to write on a topic, actually be informed on it before making a naive and ignorant post.

  3. Keith Watabayashi on

    Good list but of course for all things historical for every 1 choice there 2 missing. And how do you define “great”? Did not Hitler deliver great speeches during his rise to power? Or how about Pope Urban II’s speech that moved all of Europe to Crusade? Evil speeches, but still “great”. Your list is not really “great” speeches so much as the greatest speeches about the virtues of humanity.

    …Maybe I’m nit-picking too much.

  4. Boy,it doesn’t take much to get the Jesus deniers cranked up. As if anyone cares if they believe in Him or not.

  5. Everything we know about Socrates was written 1000 years after his death. It’s doubtful he actually existed. He’s more probably a compilation of several men. Conversely, everything we know about Jesus was written within 100 years of his death.

    • (Actually, most of the things we know about Socrates were written by Plato, immediately after Socrates’ death.
      There is no doubt that Socrates existed; he appears in plays (Aristophanes’ “Clouds”) and in the writings of Xenophon, as well.

      Jesus, on the other hand, might be a compilation of several men. The New Testament describes several events that are similar (or even the same) to events previously correlated with pagan religions (the virgin birth and the resurrection, for instance).
      It has been said that there were about 50 Messiahs preceding Jesus – prophets and miracles were quite popular at that time.)

      Good list, nevertheless.

      • “There is no doubt that Socrates existed; he appears in plays”-HaHa-Yes and “Stella” appeared in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” but she really didn’t exist. Aristophanes was a playwright for God’s sake.Socrates was a character in a play..that’s it.As far as Plato:Of his “Tetralogies”, that were supposedly written 427–347 B.C. The earliest copy is A.D. 900—a gap of over 1,200 years.(Only 6 copies found). No scholar anywhere has ever suggested that Jesus was a compilation. Even the atheist’s god, Stephen Hawking admits the historical Jesus existed, he just doesn’t believe he was who he said he was. (But I do).– Jesus was crucified in A.D. 30. The New Testament was written between A.D. 48 and 95. The oldest manuscripts date to the last quarter of the first century, and the second oldest A.D. 125. This gives us a narrow gap of thirty-five to forty years from the originals written by the apostles. From the early centuries, we have some 5,300 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Altogether, including Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic, we have a whopping 24,633 texts of the ancient New Testament to confirm the wording of the Scriptures. Writers confirming His birth, ministry, death, and resurrection include Flavius Josephus (A.D. 93), the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 70–200), Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (approx. A.D. 100), the Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 115–117), Mara Bar Serapion (sometime after A.D. 73), and Suetonius’ Life of Claudius and Life of Nero (A.D. 120). There may or may not have been an actual Socrates or Plato but most likely they are fictional characters from a Greek dramatist’s head. Jesus exists and is the Son of God.

        • Dennis that was a brilliant defense of your position. Why include the last sentence? How can you have to presence of mind to present good logic and then discredit everything you’ve said by claiming Jesus was the son of god? Thats the problem with so many people: You can defend almost any position with logic or even pseudo-logict, except for the existence or nonexistence of a god. Its impossible. It just burns me to see intelligent people get mixed up in this BS. I don’t care if you believe that there are fifteen gods and they are all goldfish but as soon as you try to convince anybody of it your a TROLL.

        • You atheists left-wing nuts certainly like to throw around the word “troll” not realizing,of course,(due to lack of education) that a troll is a creature from Norse mythology that lived in the mountains. But if using that makes you feel smart, have at it. Yes, I’m a Christian. And I stated that Jesus is the Son of God. But you say I’m trying to convince others which is blatantly false. Please copy and paste where I said you should believe that also. You won’t hear that from me because I believe it’s far too late to be trying to talk others into believing. You can worship Opra Winfrey or Peruvian skunks for all I care. I’ll stand with Jesus.

  6. Good list. However, I believe William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech should be on here or at least an honorable mention. That is one of the most analyzed and reviewed speeches of all time.

  7. While you have listed some great speeches, and I agree with all of them, you left out one small point.
    Most of these speeches, while great, were made so by their orator.
    Kennedy had the passion for speaking, something the current White House residents have lacked over the last twenty years.

    And come on, in Gregory Peck read the want ads it would sound like Shakespearian literature.

    We have no great speakers in politics today. A sad, but true, situation.

  8. Say what? Racista viciosos?? Vicious in Spanish is not vicioso, it is malvado

    Vicioso in Spanish means depraved.

    It is called false friend words in language learning. Look one thing, they are a completely different one.

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