Famous speeches that changed the world

A list of famous speeches that changed the world.

The Sermon on the Mount – Jesus Christ (AD 30.)

“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.” Read more

The Sermon on the Mount is considered the heart of Jesus’s teachings which emphasise the role of compassion, forgiveness and those who dedicate their life to God.

The Gettysburg Address – A. Lincoln (1863)

“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.

…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.”

– Abraham Lincoln  19th November 1863. Read more

I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King – 28th, August 1963

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, 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.”

– Martin Luther King gave this speech at the Lincoln Memorial in the summer of 1963. It was a rallying call for the Civil Rights Movement and helped bolster the liberal Civil Rights Movement. King drew on the mythical foundations of America but pointed out how far there was still to go for the dream of equality to be realised. After highlighting the injustices of the current age, King offered a vision of how society and race relations could be transformed.

Solitude of Self (1892) – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself.”

– Speech delivered to US Congress by Elizabeth Cady Stanton making a passionate case for equal rights for women.

Address to the World Parliament of Religions (1893) – Swami Vivekananda

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and nations of the earth.”

–  Speech by Swami Vivekananda, 11th September 1893. A call for religious tolerance and religious harmony was a highlight of the Inaugural World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893). It raised the possibility of interfaith harmony and tolerance.

The World Must be made safe for Democracy 2nd April 1917. – Woodrow Wilson

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

In this speech by Woodrow Wilson, he announced the US entry into the First World War, but also maintained the ideals of international friendship and the hope for a future League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations and the ideal of international cooperation. Read more.

Speech to United Nations on UN declaration of Human Rights (1947) – Eleanor Roosevelt

“At a time when there are so many issues on which we find it difficult to reach a common basis of agreement, it is a significant fact that 58 states have found such a large measure of agreement in the complex field of human rights. This must be taken as testimony of our common aspiration first voiced in the Charter of the United Nations to lift men everywhere to a higher standard of life and to a greater enjoyment of freedom. Man’s desire for peace lies behind this Declaration.”

Delivered by Eleanor Roosevelt on 9 December 1948 in Paris, France. It marked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

Freedom or Death (1913) – Emily Pankhurst – Call for Women’s suffrage.

“We women see so clearly the fact that the only way to deal with this thing is to raise the status of women; first the political status, then the industrial and the social status of women. You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country.”

– Call for Women’s suffrage by British suffragette Emily Pankhurst

Power to the Soviets – (September 1917). – Vladimir I. Lenin

“Democracy is the rule of the majority. As long as the will of the majority was not clear, as long as it was possible to make it out to be unclear, at least with a grain of plausibility, the people were offered a counter-revolutionary bourgeois government disguised as “democratic.” But this delay could not last long. During the several months that have passed since February 27 the will of the majority of the workers and peasants, of the overwhelming majority of the country’s population, has become clear in more than a general sense. Their will has found expression in mass organisations—the Soviet’s of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies.”

– Lenin makes the call for Bolsheviks to cease power during the Russian revolution and the triumph of Communism over Tsarist Russia.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – (March 4th 1933) – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

– First Inaugural address of F.D. Roosevelt 1933 at the height of the Great Depression in America. Roosevelt went on to be president for the next 12 years. Read more

I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears – Winston Churchill, 13th May 1940.

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

Winston Churchill  speaking to the Houses of Parliament on accepting the job of Prime Minister in Britain’s darkest hour. Firmly rejecting a deal with Nazi Germany, Churchill resolved to carry on the fight.

The Meaning of the Fourth of July to a Negro (1852) – Frederick Douglass

“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery.”

Frederick Douglass, escaped slave who was a noted abolitionist activist. The speech was made nine years before the start of the American Civil War and eleven years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom of choice – Mikhail Gorbachev, 7 December 1988.

“Freedom of choice is a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions…. Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States of America span 5 1/2 decades. The world has changed, and so have the nature, role, and place of these relations in world politics. For too long they were built under the banner of confrontation, and sometimes of hostility, either open or concealed. But in the last few years, throughout the world people were able to heave a sigh of relief, thanks to the changes for the better in the substance and atmosphere of the relations between Moscow and Washington.”

Speech to UN General Assembly by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988. It marked the transition of the USSR to non-Communist state and a thaw in Cold War tensions.

A Tryst with destiny – Jawaharlal Nehru, August 14th 1947

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance. ”

On the eve of India’s historic independence, Jawaharlal Nehru speaks on the challenges and aspirations of the world’s largest democracy.

The Cult of the Individual  – Nikita Khrushchev, – December 5th 1956.

“At present, we are concerned with how the cult of Stalin has been gradually growing, the cult which became the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious perversions of party principles, of party democracy, of revolutionary legality.”

For decades Stalin’s repressive dictatorship had tyrannised the Soviet Union. Khrushchev spoke the unspeakable and implicitly criticised the excesses of the Stalin era.

Ask not what your country can do for you – John F Kennedy, (January 20th 1961)

“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 endeavour 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.”

– Inaugural Address of John F Kennedy offering a new vision for America. His youthful exuberance set the tone for the radical decade of change which epitomised the 1960s.

An Idea for which I am prepared to die  – Nelson Mandela. April 20th 1964

“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.”

Speech given by Nelson Mandela – at his trial in 1964. He spent the next 20 years of his life in prison for opposing apartheid, but this speech helped to galvanise opinion against the unfairness of apartheid.

Love Begins at Home – Mother Teresa – 1979

“Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty. How much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.”

Speech by Mother Teresa – on receiving the Nobel Prize in 1979

The Flame of French Resistance – Charles De Gaulle June 18th 1940

“Must we abandon all hope? Is our defeat final and irremediable? To those questions I answer – No! Speaking in full knowledge of the facts, I ask you to believe me when I say that the cause of France is not lost. The very factors that brought about our defeat may one day lead us to victory. For, remember this, France does not stand alone. She is not isolated. ”

– Flame of French Resistance speech, delivered by Charles De Gaulle at BBC London, UK – June 18, 1940. With the rapid capitulation of France to the Nazi invasion. Charles de Gaulle maintained French pride and sowed the seeds of the French resistance movement.

Free at Last – Nelson Mandela – 2 May 1994

“You have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own. And joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops – Free at Last!

I stand before you humbled by your courage, with a heart full of love for all of you. I regard it as the highest honor to lead the ANC at this moment in our history, and that we have been chosen to lead our country into the new century.

Nelson Mandela  after winning first democratic election in South Africa, Johannesburg 2 May 1994.

Spanish Amarda – Queen Elizabeth I (1588)

“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach 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 realm; 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.”

Speech delivered by Queen Elizabeth I at Tilbury, Essex, England – 1588. It was given as the Spanish Armada threatened invasion of Britain. Read more

Ain’t I a Woman? – Soujourner Truth 1851

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”

Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman speech, given at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio – May 28, 1851

Socrates Apology, 399 BC

“And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and in the hour of death men are gifted with prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my departure punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you…If you think that by killing men you can prevent some one from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honourable; the easiest and the noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have condemned me.”

Socrates‘ Apology according to Plato, delivered at Athens, Greece – 399 BC.

Ten Commandments by Moses – 14th century BC

– I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

– Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

King James Bible, Exodus Chapter 20.

Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon AD 632

“O people! Listen to what I say, and take it to heart. I leave you with the Book of Allah, and the sunnah of His Prophet. If you follow them, you will never go astray.

You must know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are equal. You are members of one common brotherhood. It is forbidden for any of you to take from his brother save what the latter should willingly give. Do not oppress your people.”

Muhammad Mecca in the year AD 632

Address to Federal Convention – Benjamin Franklin 1787

“Much of the strength and efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends. on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress and confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered.”

Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – September 17, 1787.

First Inaugural Address – Thomas Jefferson 1801

“Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities”

Thomas Jefferson‘s First Inaugural Address, delivered at Washington D.C. – March 4, 1801

Monroe Doctrine 1823 on US Foreign policy

“It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course.”

President James Monroe’s Seventh Annual Message to Congress, delivered at Washington D.C. — December 2, 1823.

Let him who loves his country follow me – Giuseppe Garibaldi, July 2, 1849

“Soldiers, I am going out from Rome. Let those who wish to continue the war against the stranger, come with me. I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions. I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, and death. Let him who loves his country follow me.”

Giuseppe Garibaldi – Italian Revolutionary who united Italy. The speech was given, whilst injured, in Rome, 1849. A united Kingdom of Italy was officially established on March 17, 1861.

The Winds of Change Harold MacMillan – February 3rd 1960.

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”

Harold MacMillan, British Prime Minister speaking on South Africa’s need to reform its apartheid system.

Page citation: Tejvan Pettinger, 11th July 2014, “Speeches that changed the world“. Oxford, UK. Last updated 13th March 2017.

Speeches That Changed the World

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