Landmark Political Speeches and Rhetorics that Incited Historical Change

One of the most earnest driving forces in the political landscape of human history has been the influence of revolutionary and powerful speeches. Some of the most well-written public speeches which attempt to influence audiences are a masterful combination of strong political emotions, the art of language and writing, efficient public speaking, clarity of stance, tensile communicative gestures and a tethered grip of the listeners’ attention. Such speeches combine a gravitative sense of the right pauses, accurate emphasis on event-centric phrases, truthful and emotional connection with the audience, and a perfect translation of thoughts into words.

Some of the most impactful speeches are delivered post remarkable events in history. All groundbreaking spectacles of human history are followed by a prideful example of magnificent public speaking. The speeches elaborated upon here have held hearts in dark times, provided hope in despondency, inspired the characters of men, ignited some brave feats, given courage to the downtrodden, kept the dead’s honour and changed the course of history.

The Third Philippic - Demosthenes, Athens, Greece, 342 BC

Perhaps the most ancient speeches should receive their due in setting historical standards. Demosthenes was a statesman and orator of Athens, his city-state, which he cherished with his life. He was born with a speech impediment—a very unbelievable fact. He would go to any lengths against anyone who might attempt to infringe on the privileges of life and freedom people enjoyed in his state. Unfortunately, this passion was seldom shared by his fellow Athenians. When Philip II of Macedon made unstoppable, bolder incursions into the Greek peninsula, the Athenians fell into a coursing dilemma. Demosthenes kept engaging with his powerful oratorical skills to awaken his fellow citizens from the rousing danger Philip posed. Philip slowly advanced on Thrace, and Demosthenes was sick of how his kinfolk were taking liberty for granted. He called a speech to induce action, at the end of which the assembly cried out, “To arms! To arms!” This speech has always been a classic example of a passionate leader guiding his people by calling out the follies they were succumbing to and rescuing them from subjugation under evil counsels.

Ain’t I A Woman? - Sojourner Truth, Ohio, USA, May 29, 1851

Sojourner Truth was an escaped slave, an evangelist, an activist of feminism, and a preacher of abolitionism, who dared to deliver this iconic speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. This speech was a passionate response and an accusatory call out of male ministers who had protested the Convention believing that women were weaker and intellectually inferior to men. The men protested with citations trying to prove their horrid stance. They said that Jesus had been a man and that the original woman, Eve, had sinned — as documented proof to feed their egotistical male chauvinism. Sojourner Truth herself was a devoted Christain, and she used her own interpretation of the Bible to put the men in their place and become an inspiration to women for centuries to come. “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 [are] asking to do it, the men better let them.” She ignited many human rights crusaders through her empowering wisdom and instilled ideals of gender equality amongst the youngest of girls not just in her time, but for generations to come.

The Gettysburg Address - Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

272 words of perfectionist rhetoric, The Gettysburg Address is like a founding pillar of American freedom. The Battle of Gettysburg left eight thousand men dead, the land reeking murky of death, violence and absolute horror. It was meant to be solemnised by Edward Everett’s speech and Abraham Lincoln was meant to only add a few remarks to it. He did in two minutes what Everett couldn’t, even in his own ways, in two hours. Lincoln created the speech to be something far larger than merely memorialising the fallen. He invented a discourse and questioned, most importantly, whether the government can maintain the proposition of equality. It was at Gettysburg where the Constitution was etched with its forever embedded ideals of equality and liberty as the Civil War saw the same ideals crumbling.

We Shall Fight on the Beaches - Winston Churchill, House of Commons, London, June 4, 1940

Winston Churchill was one of the greatest orators to be born out of the 20th century. Like many great orators before him, he was born with a speech impediment. It is tough to grasp that fact considering the massive tensile strength of his voice, one that riled up Britain during some of its darkest hours.

During the Battle of France, Allied Forces lost connection with their troops deployed south of the German penetration. These troops were precariously trapped at the Dunkirk bridgehead. On May 26, 1940, a rampant evacuation of these troops under the name ‘Operation Dynamo’ began. The Royal Air Force made an unimaginably successful effort (even for aerial warfare) at keeping the Luftwaffe at bay while thousands of ships, from military destroyers to small fishing boats, were used to safely rescue and ferry French and British troops. Churchill spoke before the House of Commons on June 4, delivering a speech celebrating the ‘miraculous deliverance’ at Dunkirk. He stood and spoke as he gave one of the most momentous speeches in the House of Commons as he defended Britain and France and it created history.

I Have A Dream - Martin Luther King Jr., Washington D.C., USA, August 28, 1963

This legendary speech of Martin Luther King Jr is unarguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, piece of oratory in world history. King creates a league of his own with his personality and charisma, skills in rhetoric and passionate precision. A century after African-Americans were promised full equality, black people were being run down in the streets, looked down upon, turned away from public places and denied treatment as human beings. Amidst this horrendous track record of being discriminated against, Dr King embodied a humanity-driven, compelling message of hope. He talked about a dream he had, where egalitarianism thrived and discrimination was forgotten. The emotional quotient of this speech truly touched the most human parts of anybody listening. It is a masterpiece with the expression of a once in a lifetime kind of deliverance, yet with the layered ideals of humanity which we should all ethically thrive for as any society. This speech is, in its entirety, just as exhilarating and moving today as it was in 1963.

All the aforementioned speeches have some gripping takeaways that will impact generations to come, so they can trace their ancestral passions and encapsulate an understanding of what preceded them. There have been innumerable speeches from the remotest of places that have ingrained the purposes of humanity and politics within the most different communities. It will take a lifetime to reflect on it all. Take this as a proposition to do so. One might find a leader in the most local roads trying to build oneness.


Saachi Gupta Ghosh

A keen Journalism undergraduate from Delhi University, continually striving to learn and explore. I like to read, write, and contribute to the society in a way that leaves a profound and lasting impression. Provoke thought, and incite change!

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.