Ten Great Little-Known Speeches

 1.      Alexander the Great

Hydaspes River, India. 326 B.C.

 Background: In 335 B.C., Alexander the Great began his campaign to recapture former Greek cities and to expand his empire. After ten years of undefeated battles, Alexander controlled an empire that included Greece, Egypt, and what had been the massive Persian Empire. He decided to continue his conquest into India. But after ten years of fighting and being away from home, his men lacked the will to take part in another battle, especially against an opponent like King Porus and his army. Alexander used the talent for oration he had developed while studying under Aristotle to infuse his men with the motivation they needed to continue on, to fight and to win.

 Excerpt:

 I could not have blamed you for being the first to lose heart if I, your commander, had not shared in your exhausting marches and your perilous campaigns; it would have been natural enough if you had done all the work merely for others to reap the reward. But it is not so. 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; from your ranks the governors of it are chosen; already the greater part of its treasure passes into your hands, and when all Asia is overrun, then indeed I will go further than the mere satisfaction of our ambitions: 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, either with me or without me. I will make those who stay the envy of those who return.

2.      St. Francis of Assisi

Sermon to the Birds 1220

 My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.

 3.      William Wilberforce

First speech to Parliament on the slave trade. 1789

 Excerpt:

 When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House-a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause-when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;-when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;-when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage-I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.

 Read full text of speech here.

 4.         Sojourner Truth  

Ain’t I a Woman?

Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio. 1851

 Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And 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 – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen 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?

 Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

 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.

 This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook.

 5.      Theodore Roosevelt

Duties of American Citizenship. 1883

 Background: Given while serving as a New York assemblyman, TR’s address on the “Duties of American Citizenship” delved into both the theoretical reasons why every man should be involved in politics and the practical means of serving in that capacity. Roosevelt chided those who excused themselves from politics because they were too busy; it was every man’s duty to devote some time to maintaining good government.

 Excerpt:

 Of course, in one sense, the first essential for a man’s being a good citizen is his possession of the home virtues of which we think when we call a man by the emphatic adjective of manly. No man can be a good citizen who is not a good husband and a good father, who is not honest in his dealings with other men and women, faithful to his friends and fearless in the presence of his foes, who has not got a sound heart, a sound mind, and a sound body; exactly as no amount of attention to civil duties will save a nation if the domestic life is undermined, or there is lack of the rude military virtues which alone can assure a country’s position in the world. In a free republic the ideal citizen must be one willing and able to take arms for the defense of the flag, exactly as the ideal citizen must be the father of many healthy children. A race must be strong and vigorous; it must be a race of good fighters and good breeders, else its wisdom will come to naught and its virtue be ineffective; and no sweetness and delicacy, no love for and appreciation of beauty in art or literature, no capacity for building up material prosperity can possibly atone for the lack of the great virile virtues.

 But this is aside from my subject, for what I wish to talk of is the attitude of the American citizen in civic life. It ought to be axiomatic in this country that every man must devote a reasonable share of his time to doing his duty in the Political life of the community. No man has a right to shirk his political duties under whatever plea of pleasure or business; and while such shirking may be pardoned in those of small cleans it is entirely unpardonable in those among whom it is most common–in the people whose circumstances give them freedom in the struggle for life. In so far as the community grows to think rightly, it will likewise grow to regard the young man of means who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men in business, or of our young men who are bent on enjoying life (as they have a perfect right to do if only they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties, Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering for it than you can win success as a banker or a lawyer without labor and effort, without self-denial in youth and the display of a ready and alert intelligence in middle age. The people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.

 Read full text of speech here.

 6.      William Booth

Founder, The Salvation Army. 1912

 William Booth entering the Royal Albert Hall – 09 May 1912 to give his last public address – accompanied by Colonel Theo H Kitching.

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison in and out and in and out, I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, I’ll fight; while there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!

 More on the speech and more excerpts here.

 7.      Edmund Hillary

Upon reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. 1953

 Well George, we knocked the bastard off.

 This famous line was spoken by Sir Edmund Hillary after he and Sherpa Tenzing had conquered mount Everest. One historian includes it as a great speech because it is such a great line and has the force of a speech!

 8.      Charles W. Colson

The Enduring Revolution

University of Chicago. 1993

 Background and full text here.

 Excerpt:

 Admittedly the signs are not auspicious, as I have been at pains to show, and it is easy to become discouraged. But a Christian has neither the reason nor the right, for history’s cadence is called with a confident voice. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reigns. His plan and purpose rob the future of its fears.

 By the Cross He offers hope, by the Resurrection He assures His triumph. This cannot be resisted or delayed. Mankind’s only choice is to recognize Him now or in the moment of ultimate judgment. Our only decision is to welcome His rule or to fear it.

 But this gives every one of us hope. For this is a vision beyond a vain utopia or a timid new world order. It is the vision of an Enduring Revolution. One that breaks more than the chains of tyranny; it breaks the chains of sin and death. And it proclaims a liberation that the cruelest prison cannot contain.

 9.      Elie Wiesel

The Perils of Indifference.

Millennium Lecture series. 1999

 Excerpt:

 In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.

 Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.

 Full speech here.

10.  Bono (Paul David Hewson)

National Prayer Breakfast. 2006

 Excerpt:

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and the speaking of wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire even in scorched places.¹

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time. You know, the only time Jesus Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. “As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” [I] believe that’s Matthew 25:40. 

Full speech text here.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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