Here in Australia, the national broadcaster conducted a poll to determine the all time most memorable speeches. ABC Radio National received 5,000 responses to its call for the public to name speeches that they considered to be unforgettable.
Dr Jane Connors, ABC Radio National Manager, said, ‘We are delighted by the enthusiastic and thoughtful response and the lively discussion this survey has inspired.’ So what came in at number one? Dr Martin Luther King’s I have a dream… took that honour. The full top twenty are:
1. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. I have a dream, 28 August 1963, Washington DC.
2. Jesus. Sermon on the Mount. c27.
3. Paul Keating. The Redfern Address, 10 December 1992, Redfern Park.
4. Winston Churchill. We Shall Fight on the Beaches, 4 June 1940, House of Commons.
5. Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863.
6. John F. Kennedy. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Inaugural speech 20 January 1961, Washington DC.
7. Earl Spencer. Funeral Oration for Diana Princess of Wales, 6 September 1997, Westminster Abbey.
8. Henry V Act IV Scene III. Author William Shakespeare c 1599. St Crispin’s Day speech made before the Battle of Agincourt (which occurred on 25 October 1415).
9. Gough Whitlam. The Dismissal, 11 November 1975, Parliament House steps.
10. Queen Elizabeth I. I have the heart and stomach of a king, 9 August 1588. (Address to the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached Britain.)
11. Nelson Mandela. An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die. Statement at trial, 20 April 1964, Johannesburg.
12. Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence is the first article of my faith, 23 March 1922, Ahmadabad.
13. Socrates. Statement at trial condemning him to death, 399BC, Athens.
14. Robert Kennedy. Address to National Union of South African Students, 7 June 1966, Cape Town University.
15. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We Now Demand Our Right To Vote, Keynote Address to Women’s Rights Convention, 19 July 1848 New York.
16. William Wilberforce. Abolition of Slavery, 12 May 1789, House of Commons.
17. Alfred Deakin. These are the times that try men’s souls, 15 March 1898, Bendigo.
18. Pericles. Funeral Oration for the fallen of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BC.
19. Mark Antony. Friends, Romans, Countrymen Lend Me Your Ears, Julius Caesar Act III Scene II. Author William Shakespeare c1599.
20. Ben Chifley. The Light on the Hill, 12 June 1949, ALP Conference.
Given that it was an Australian poll and conducted by Radio National (with a fairly narrow demographic by global standards), the list is interesting. There’s a nice mix of political and social speeches and a good spread across history, from Socrates, through the fictionalisation of speeches by Shakespeare to modern politics.
Do a web search and have a read of some of the speeches listed.