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Presidents’ Day: Some of the greatest speeches given by U.S. presidents

Portrait of 35th President John F. Kennedy at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 11, 1963. (Office of the Naval Aide to the President/National Archives)
February 15, 2021

Today is Presidents’ Day.

Here are some of the greatest speeches given by past U.S. presidents:

Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” in 1863:

“Four Score and Seven Years Ago” was an unforgettable line in this speech at a Civil War battlefield. At 271 words, it was concise and inspiring.

Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” in 1910:

Roosevelt, giving a speech in France, spoke out against those looking down on others who are trying to make the world a better place. Parts of the speech have been quoted by Richard Nixon, used in the 1995 World Cup, and tattooed on Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth.

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in 1961:

Kennedy used his first speech as president to encourage Americans to take part in public service.

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” was a memorable line.

Ronald Reagan’s “Berlin Wall” speech in 1987:

The president had questioned why the wall was there throughout his term and his speech helped spark protests which to the wall being torn down in 1989.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was a memorable line.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Pearl Harbor Address” in 1941:

Franklin D. Roosevelt gave an important message to the country on the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which led to the United States entering World War II.

“Yesterday, Dec. 7th, 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” was a memorable line.

George W. Bush’s address to the nation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks:

The president looked to lift up the country after terrorists attacked New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania in the morning.

“Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger,” he said.

Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in 2008:

Obama addressed controversial remarks made by Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, at a campaign speech.

“But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America,” he said.

These are just some of the greatest speeches in U.S. presidential history.


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