I love a great speech. We have all heard a thousand speeches in our lifetime. Independence Day celebrations like those that are going on all across the nation this week have their speech makers. Some speeches are inspirational and others are just, “deadly.” Many slide into the deep recesses of our mind, never to be heard from again. However, there are some that grab you and never let go.

Every history student knows of Patrick Henry’s speech that ended with the memorable words, “as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” He delivered that speech just before the revolution with Great Britain that created a nation out of 13 colonies.

Abraham Lincoln delivered several speeches that grabbed the psyche of America in the tumultuous Civil War years. Many are still quoted such as his Gettysburg Address that began, “Four score and seven years ago,” and ends with, “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Other quotations from Lincoln, both profound and humorous, include….

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

“If I was two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

“The people will save their government, if the government will allow them.”

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

Great speech makers during my lifetime include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. King delivered the famous “I have a Dream” speech that is a part of the American lexicon. Who could forget the phrases that impressed that speech on the American conscience?

“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vault of opportunity.

“I have a dream today that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,”

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children will be able to join hands and sing …

“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

One could argue whether King or John F. Kennedy was better at making a memorable speech. With their different styles they were hard to compare. Content and delivery are equally important in giving memorable speeches and King and Kennedy were great at both.

President Kennedy’s first inaugural address burst into our consciousness with sentences that resonated like ...

“We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom.”

“… symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change.”
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

“… and so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Every great speech has a beginning that captures the audience and an ending that delivers a message designed to stay with you. That “ask not” line was Kennedy’s challenge to America, one we still have before us, one that still challenges us.

If you are praying for our nation and I hope you are, pray for inspired leaders with the soul of our nation in their heart. Pray they have the best of American ideals in their minds, and can challenge us with a vision for tomorrow.

— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states. Books by Hopkins currently available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble include “Journey to Gettysburg” and “The Wounds of War,” both Civil War-era novels, and “The World As It Was When Jesus Came.” Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.