There are many famous short speeches that have been a turning point in history. Here is a list of some of the most notable speeches ever.
Speech is power: Speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote brilliantly summarizes the power of a good speech. There is no dearth of famous short speeches that have irrevocably influenced mankind and history.
Although the list may seem endless, and there will always be some or the other disagreement of which of these should figure in the list of popular speeches of all time, given below is a compilation of famous speeches by famous people including former presidents, politicians, a great visionary, and a world-renowned dramatist.These have gone down in history as something that people find relevant and influential even today. It is not necessary for a speech to be long to be famous, even a short one can be great, if it has an ability to mesmerize and inspire the audience. What follows, is a list of some of the most notable short speeches of all time. These were given at historical junctions, and had a significant impact at that time, and hold true even today. As these speeches continue to inspire many, they will go down in the annals of time.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address
One of the most famous speeches given by a sitting American President, although it lasted just a little over seven and a half minutes, it managed to stir a nation’s patriotism to the very bone and was a significant point in American history. President Roosevelt gave the famous speech to a joint session of Congress, the day after the Japanese bombing of the Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. An excerpt from the speech is as follows:
December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy… 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 ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
Ronald Reagan’s Speech Following the Challenger Disaster
American President Ronald Reagan made his famous short speech on national television following the disastrous explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle. On 26 January, 1986 after only 73 seconds into its flight, the space shuttle broke apart, causing the death of all the seven crew members on board, including a classroom teacher who had been chosen to be the first ever non-astronaut classroom teacher to travel into space. President Reagan spoke of the traumatic accident saying:
Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all people of our country. This is truly a national loss… Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight. We’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.
One of President John F. Kennedy’s most famous speech, was given on 26 June, 1963, to consolidate United States’ support for West Germany a little less than two years after the Communist East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. One of the most famous phrases in history “Ich bin ein Berliner“, was in fact a last-minute brain child of Kennedy, who came up with the idea of saying it in German, while he was walking up the stairs at the Rathaus (City Hall). It was a great motivational speech for West Berliners, who lived in the constant fear of a possible East German occupation. Given below is an excerpt from this historic speech:
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘Civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]’. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’
Bill Clinton’s “I Have Sinned” Speech
The famous, or rather infamous “I have sinned” speech, was delivered by President Bill Clinton at the annual White House prayer breakfast on September 11, 1998, in the presence of several ministers, priests and his wife, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was hand-written by the President Clinton himself and was delivered on the day of the publication of the first report by Independent Counsel Ken Starr, which threatened to impeach the President Clinton on the grounds of perjury and his sexual affair with former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness… But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required – at least two more things. First, genuine repentance – a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making. I have repented. Second, what my bible calls a ”broken spirit”; an understanding that I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be; a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek; a renunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain…
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech
“I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr., which was delivered on 28 August, 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was a path-breaking moment for the Civil Rights Movement in America. Given to an audience of more than 200,000 people, this speech was ranked as the top American speech by a 1999 poll of scholars.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, 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.
William Shakespeare’s Speeches
The Bard has left behind his legacy in ways more than one. Most of the non-political popular speeches have been written by William Shakespeare. While there are many, like Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…”, and Portia’s speech in Merchant of Venice “The quality of mercy is not strain’d…” to name a few, the Bard’s most famous speech till date is the speech by Jaques in “As You Like It”, which goes as…
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Steve Jobs ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ Speech
One of my personal favorites, and a speech that today’s youth identify themselves with, is the Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ commencement speech on 12 June, 2005 at Stanford, which was replete with inspirational quotes. His last words in the address “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is one of the most famous quotes and is echoed the world over even today, and spurred on a bestselling book of the same name. It summed up his life in three parts, which he narrated in the form of three stories. This is a small excerpt from this notable short inspirational speech:
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories… When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s’, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.