Ten Great Presidential Speeches

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Inspired by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, perhaps the most famous of all presidential speeches, here are nine other instances of powerful presidential rhetoric on topics ranging from political parties to foreign policy to race relations.

Portrait of George Washington (painter: Gilbert Stuart)

Portrait of George Washington (painter: Gilbert Stuart)

Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796
Washington wrote this farewell address toward the end of this second term to say that he would not run for a third term. It was printed in newspapers and circulated in pamphlet form.

“There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

Read the full address »

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  • Rick in OK

    This speech is often over looked, but many in the field consider it to be one of the best speeches ever written/given. It is inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial (to the right on entering, as I recall).

  • Patrick Arbuckle

    For someone who with Truman actually help create the very complex he was warning us of, pretty amazing!

  • nidur

    Eisenhower saw war for what it is: a tragedy, and a waste of resources. He tried to negotiate with Khrushchev to end the Cold War, but was unsuccessful. He did a lot behind the scenes, so I don’t think the public realized all that he was trying to do to promote peace. He acknowledged, that in the world as it was, we needed arms, as the USSR,and other nations certainly had their own Military Industrial Complexes. There are other speeches in which he made some of the same points he made in his Farewell Address. He worried that some future president wouldn’t understand “those boys” at the Pentagon as much as he understood them, and the nation could be in danger. He did not believe in war to be used for the advancement of a political agenda, but only as a last resort.

  • Anonymous

    Kennedy’s American University speech is my favorite where he looks to a future beyond the Cold War.