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One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the best-known and most beloved speeches in American history. To mark the anniversary, we asked three former speech writers to tell us their favorite political orations.
Read through their picks, then tell us yours in the comments. We’ll add your contributions to this post.
Jon Lovett: Ain’t I a Woman? – Sojourner TruthJon Lovett is a writer and former speechwriter to President Barack Obama and then-senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. He also co-created the NBC comedy 1600 Penn.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest I can’t choose just one. I have two. One is Sojourner Truth’s speech to the Akron, Ohio Women’s Convention in 1851. The speech is commonly knows as “Ain’t I a Woman?” but it’s not clear she ever said those words. There’s no definitive transcript. Some recorded that she was welcomed to the stage warmly, others that there was an outcry. But what we know is that Sojourner Truth’s speech moved that room and those who heard her speak found it hard to convey the experience. I can’t think of a speech that better dispenses with the absurdity of having to argue for one’s own humanity. And it’s not without a sense of humor, too. “The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do.” Still true.
Another is President Franklin Roosevelt’s acceptance speech at the 1936 Democratic convention in Philadelphia. It’s famous for descargar loba negra the remarks in which he talked about “a rendezvous with destiny”. But it is also a powerful argument about what had taken place in our economy, and the need to defend not only political freedom but economic opportunity in the face of concentrated wealth. “For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality.” And FDR does not mince words, decrying the tyranny of “economic royalists” and confidently articulating the role of government. As we confront growing inequality today, it’s a speech I often find myself rereading.
Clarence B Jones: What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July? – Frederick B DouglasClarence B Jones is the former draft speech writer to Martin Luther King Jr. He’s written two books about King and is currently currently the visiting/diversity professor at the University of San Francisco.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest A speechwriter should always remember that the choice of words to use for spoken expression is similar to the choice a painter must exercise in choosing the right color of paint to place on his canvas to accurately portray the picture s/he seeks to paint. The power of the words in Douglass’ speech is self-evident. They are reminiscent of power of words used in the King James version of the Bible. The words in his speech are sui generis.
The speech captures the irony of the contradiction between what the real historical treatment of Negroes after slavery and emancipation has been, in reality, in contrast to the principles and precepts enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and bill of rights to our constitution and embodied in the Civil War Freedmans Bureau established in 1865. The reason I choose Frederick Douglass’ speech is because of who he was and the extraordinary “hero’s journey” of his life from being a slave to an articulate spokesman for the abolition of the institution of slavery.
Christian Nwachukwu: President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural addressChristian Nwachukwu, Jr is an appointee of the Obama White House and serves as the senior speechwriter to CEO Wendy Spencer at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Previously, Christian served as a speechwriter to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2011-13.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Whether the language is plain (as in Harry Truman’s “Powers of the President” speech) or poetic (as in George H W Bush’s inaugural address), a great political speech should speak to you and make you a part of its time and place. John Lindsay’s second inaugural address as New York City’s mayor does that. So does John F Kennedy’s “Poetry and Power” speech, which sings, and Barbara Johnson’s speech making the case for Richard Nixon’s impeachment, which sears. But there is one speech which does all of these – sing, sear, speak and soar – sometimes simultaneously and, as a result, stands alone: President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered on the East Portico of the White House on March 4, 1865:
It is my favorite political speech of all time.
Concise, direct, religiously philosophical and deeply affecting, Lincoln’s second inaugural explains the cause of the civil war – “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war;” outlines the warring parties’ motivations – “One would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came;” and looks beyond the conflict to a time of potential reconciliation and reconstruction – “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Reader picks: ManWhoFellToEarth 19 November 2013 3:55pmThis comment has been chosen by Guardian staff because it contributes to the debateAlmost anything Robert F. Kennedy said during his 1968 Presidential Campaign.
His speech at Kansas University was one of the most cogent and inspiring calls-to-arms to aim our collective sights higher and strive to do better that I’ve heard, as well as a call to re-evaluate how we judge success.
Most people know his speech on the night Martin Luther King died, but probably better and lesser-known was the speech he gave the following day to the City Club – the ‘mindless menance of violence’ speech which I still hold is the greatest political speech ever delivered by anybody, and actually nothing’s really that close.
Kansas speech is at:
City Club speech is at:
StVitusGerulaitis 19 November 2013 3:49pmThis comment has been chosen by Guardian staff because it contributes to the debateRobin Cook’s clinical dismantling of the case for war with Iraq.
Domitian 19 November 2013 4:53pmThis comment has been chosen by Guardian staff because it contributes to the debatePrime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech on the eve of Indian Independence.
ID2464378 19 November 2013 4:44pmThis comment has been chosen by Guardian staff because it contributes to the debateAnd no mention yet of Eugene Debs? For shame Guardian!
Here’s part of his Canton speech read by Mark Ruffalo