Anyone who’s had to give a talk or make a speech in public knows how intimidating and challenging it can be! The most famous speeches are a combination of impeccable writing and a polished delivery. Some of great speeches have been given either by charismatic speakers of the day, or under adverse circumstances that made them famous. Here then are 10 of the Greatest Lines you may have never heard. Not included below are the ubiquitous Churchill, King, or Kennedy speeches, whom you’ve likely already heard many times over.
1- ALEXANDER THE GREAT – Speech to his Troops before the Greek invasion of India, 335 B.C. in northwestern India.
His troops were exhausted after 10 long years of fighting a war with neighboring Persia. Many wanted to simply to return home to their families. He somehow had to motivate his men and convince them to fight again.
You and I, gentlemen, have shared the labour and shared the danger, and the rewards are for us all. The conquered territory belongs to you; already the greater part of its treasure passes into your hands, and when all Asia is overrun, the utmost hopes of riches or power which each one of you cherishes will be far surpassed, and whoever wishes to return home will be allowed to go. I will make those who stay, the envy of those who return.Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia and Persia, 335 BC
2. QUEEN ELIZABETH I – Speech to the Army, 1588, at Tilbury, England before the Spanish Armada Invasion.
Spain and England were at war and a Spanish invasion of the English coast by sea was imminent. She spoke to the doubting army of soldiers defending London to motivate her military and build their resolve.
“I am come amongst you, at this time, being resolved, in the midst the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king. And think foul scorn that Spain should dare to invade the borders of my realm: So I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general in the field.”Queen Elizabeth I of England, 1588
3. GEORGE WASHINGTON – Farewell Address, 1796, Retiring after 20 long years of public service, to Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Published in U.S. newspapers, President Washington attempts to reunite the country. It had begun to devolve into the two warring political parties of his friends and successors, John Adam and Thomas Jefferson.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of passions. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against foreign intrigue, and to guard against pretended patriotism.President George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
4. SOJOURNER TRUTH – former Black slave, 1851 Speech to a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
Years before the U.S. Civil War, she gave a speech at one of the first Women’s Rights Convention. It was in response to white gentlemen at the time stating that all women were “frail and should be treated as the fairer sex.” Her fiery response was:
Ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man, if I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children, and seen most all sold off to slavery; and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?Sojourner Truth, Former Slave, 1855
5. NEZ PERCE CHIEF JOSEPH – 1877, Surrender speech to the U.S. Army in the mountains of northern Montana.
The Nez Perce Indians were one of the last indigenous tribes still fighting “The Indian Wars.” They were forced off their native land in Oregon and fled for Canada. The U.S. army relentlessly pursued and ultimately caught them.
I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. The old men are all dead. He who led on the young men are dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food, perhaps freezing to death. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.Chief Joseph, Thunder Travelling to the Mountain Heights, 1877
6. BRITISH KING EDWARD – His Abdication Speech, 1936, from Windsor Castle via radio.
King Edward VIII shockingly abdicates the throne to his younger brother George, when the British Cabinet would not allow him to marry twice-divorced American, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, as his consort.
I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was something thing I had to judge entirely for myself. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.British King Edward VIII, 1936 abdication
7. LOU GEHRIG – Farewell to Baseball Speech, 1939, Yankee Stadium, New York City.
NY Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehring was suffering from ALS, a degenerative disease, that prevented him continuing to play the sport he loved. He gave his famous speech to the fans from the infield at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans … I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”New York Yankees Lou Gehrig, 1939
8. JOSEPH WELCH – Chief Counsel for the U.S. Army, speaking to Senator Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy Communist Infiltration Hearings, Washington DC.
Junior Senator Joe McCarthy and his reckless Red Scare Conspiracy had run rampant across America, from Washington to Hollywood, labeling innocent people as Communists. That is, until he was finally challenged by Joe Welch.
Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? … Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you.Joseph Welsh, Army-McCarty Hearings, 1954
9. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER – Manhattan Project Director, 1965 Interview during a TV broadcast on the Atomic Bomb.
By the 1950’s, the famous Robert Oppenheimer had come out opposing the deadlier hydrogen bomb. As a results he had been stripped of his security clearance, and was dying of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking cigarettes.
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1965 TV broadcast on the Atomic Bomb
10. MARGARET THATCHER – Member of Parliament, 1965, at a National Union of Townswomen’s Guild Conference, London.
Margaret Thatcher was a staunchly conservative and outspoken member of Britain’s Parliament since 1959. She was also blunt when it came her opinion of the role of women and men in British politics and society.
Practical work gets done by women. They don’t waste time. If there’s a job to do, a project to organise, they get on with it. … In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything accomplished, ask a woman. … There will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime – the male population is simply too prejudiced.MP Margaret Thatcher, 1965
So there, you have it – 10 famous lines from 10 great speeches from history. They have perhaps been overshadowed over the years by the albeit many great speeches from the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy. Today’s public speakers have a high standard to meet in order to top any of them. Always remember that great speeches must be well written, impeccably delivered and well timed.