It’s been said history is written by the winners – but history is shaped by great leaders capable to uniting armies, or political parties, or violent mobs, or an entire population through great speeches that changed the world. For better or for worse, these leaders made great speeches that changed the world. Never underestimate the power held in a great speech – if it inspires a group of people, they may rally together and get to action. I’m sure similar speeches are being made today – some would point to either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders depending on their political leaning. But some of such speeches were made hundreds, or even thousands of years ago. Here are 10 great speeches that changed the world.
William Wilberforce’s Abolition Speech
William Wilberforce was the leader of the British movement for the abolition of slavery. His society was eventually successful in having slavery outlawed, partly because he was a charismatic and dedicated leader. A member of parliament, he had the opportunity to give this speech encouraging other politicians to vote for abolition:
“I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty-we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business.”
Joseph Stalin’s Scorched Earth Speech
You might not list this among speeches that changed the world, but the huge outcome of it’s effect is undeniable. Joseph Stalin was the most notorious leader of Soviet Union, leading Russia during the second world war. He was absolutely shocked by the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. But this shock didn’t hold of the Soviet rage for long. Joseph Stalin soon gave this speech to encourage resistance:
“Is it really true that German Fascist troops are invincible, as is ceaselessly trumpeted by boastful Fascist propagandists? Of course not! History shows that there are no invincible armies, and never have been. Napoleon’s Army was considered invincible, but it was beaten successively by Russian, English and German Armies. Kaiser Wilhelm’s German Army in the period of the first imperialist war was also considered invincible, but it was beaten several times by Russian and Anglo-French forces, and was finally smashed by Anglo-French forces. The same must be said of Hitler’s German Fascist Army today.
Georges Danton’s Always Dare Speech
Georges Danton was a vastly important figure in the French revolution. For a while, he was looked up to as a leading architect in the new French republic. But eventually he was executed by the very forces he summoned in speeches like this one. He gave this speech in order to rally ordinary French people against the foreign armies invading France to reverse the revolution:
“We ask that any one refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms shall be punished with death. We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here. The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country. To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare…”
Saladin’s Jerusalem Speech
Saladin was the man who united the Arabs to rise up against European forces during the third crusade. Before then, the Arabs didn’t put up much of a fight, allowing Christian forces to control the holy land for almost a century. But Saladin successfully drove the christian forces back to Europe by inspiring Islamic unity. Much of it was done through this speech:
“For Jerusalem has been controlled by the enemy for ninety-one years, during which time God has received nothing from us here in the way of adoration. At the same time, the zeal of the Muslim rulers to deliver it languished. Time passed, and so did many indifferent generations, while the Franks succeeded in rooting themselves strongly there. Now God has reserved the merit of its recovery for one house, the house of the sons of Ayyub, in order to unite all hearts in appreciation of its members.”
Ronald Reagan’s Tear Down This Wall
US president Ronald Reagan went to west-Berlin in 1987 and gave a speech in which he produced one of history’s most memorable soundbites: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! At the time, a huge wall stood which had been built by the Soviets to imprison the population of East-Berlin. Western leaders would regularly visit west-Berlin to show their opposition to the walls existence. This was Ronald Reagan’s turn:
“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Muhammad’s Final Sermon
Just weeks before his death, the Islamic prophet Muhammad gave his last speech “the Final Sermon”, in which he instructed his followers to obey the Islamic laws already written by him and to further spread the Islamic faith.
“Behold! Everything pertaining to the Days of Ignorance is under my feet completely abolished. Abolished are also the blood-revenges of the Days of Ignorance. The first claim of ours on blood-revenge which I abolish is that of the son of Rabi’a b. al-Harith, who was nursed among the tribe of Sa’d and killed by Hudhail. And the usury of the pre-Islamic period is abolished, and the first of our usury I abolish is that of ‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib, for it is all abolished. Fear Allah concerning women!”
Bismarck’s Blood And Iron Speech
Otto von Bismarck was the most important figure in the unification of Germany. Before then, what is now Germany was split into dozens of individual kingdoms. But Bismarck was able to unify the German people through speeches that changed the world just like this one:
“Prussia must concentrate its strength and hold it for the favorable moment, which has already come and gone several times. Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.”
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Abraham Lincoln wrote this three minute long speech while on the train journey the the battlefield he gave it at. In it, he praised the bravery of the soldiers standing before him, and the legacy of those who died in battle. If you’re listing speeches that changed the world, you cant ignore this one:
“We can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Kennedy’s We Choose To Go To The Moon
US president Kennedy famously dreamed of putting a man on the moon. His incredible dream was made clear in this speech:
“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.
Winston Churchill’s We Shall Fight On The Beaches
Winston Churchill is known for being one of history’s greatest wordsmiths. If we’re being honest there are many of his speeches that changed the world – but this one is surely the most famous.
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”