Seven score and 12 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln stood on the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, Pa. and gave what is now considered to be one of the seminal speeches of American history. Just over four months after the smoke cleared on the deadliest battle of the American Civil War, Lincoln reminded a divided nation of the principles of human equality outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
Coming in at under three minutes, the speech was famously concise—during his 1858 run for senate, Lincoln was well known for debating then-incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas in a series of seven three-hour debates—and it resonated with the American people of the time, and continues to move audiences 152 years later.
In a time when CEOs and other high-level executives have become the public face of an organization, communicators can learn much from both the brevity and gravity of Lincoln's address. But Lincoln is only one name in the long list of great orators. So to honor the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, here are eight selections from speeches that were given during a time of crisis or division and whose words have echoed through history ever since.
“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.” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863.
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, 1963.
“But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No! Believe me… The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone!” Charles de Gaulle, Appeal of 18 June, 1940.
“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.” Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave is the 4th of July?, 1852.
“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half or our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men.” Susan B. Anthony, Women’s Rights to the Suffrage, 1873.
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” William Faulkner, Nobel Banquet Speech, 1950.
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” Ronald Reagan, Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger Address to the Nation, 1986.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 1933.
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