8 Most Inspiring American Speeches of All Time (and Where They Took Place)

Famous speeches can elevate a mere tourist destination into a place of historical significance. Take a trip to see where these iconic words were first uttered and relive some of the most inspirational moments in American history.

1) GETTYSBURG ADDRESS – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The three-day battle of Gettysburg effectively altered the course of the civil war for the Confederate Army with 160,000 soldiers fighting in this small town in Pennsylvania.

President Lincoln visited the site of the battle On November 19, 1863, to dedicate it as a National Cemetery.

His short, but powerful speech came to define the meaning of democracy: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

There are several monuments worth seeing in Gettysburg commemorating the brave men who fought for their ideals in the battle.

Lincoln at Gettysburg

The words of the Gettysburg Address etched into the South Wall of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington

2)  IS IT A CRIME FOR A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES TO VOTE? – Susan B. Anthony, Canandaigua, New York

One of the original pioneers of women’s right to vote, Susan B. Anthony was arrested in1872 for illegally casting a vote in the presidential election.

As her trial approached, Anthony began an extensive lecture tour that ended in Canandaigua, New York where she was tried.

Her speech citing the constitution and a citizen’s right to vote was stirring, cementing the position of the suffrage movement.

The main Susan B. Anthony historical sites can be found in Rochester, where she lived.

3) HINDUISM AS RELIGION – Swami Vivekananda, Chicago, Illinois

Definitely not a name on most Americans lips, Swami Vivekanada is credited with introducing Hinduism to America.

When The Parliament of World Religions opened at the Art Institute of Chicago on September 11, 1893, Vivekanada received a standing ovation when he began with, “Sisters and brothers of America!”

He delivered an address that stressed the need for tolerance and respect for all religions.

The Parliament of World Religions has grown into an international event that promotes inter-religion dialogue.

Spend a day at the Chicago Art Institute, walk the same halls that Swami did, catch an exhibition or attend the next Parliament of World Religions, to be held in Brussels in 2014.

4)  DAY OF INFAMY – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, DC

Referred to as most significant war speech of the 20th century, Roosevelt responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 by declaring war on Japan.

The nation reeled from the attack.

Despite the gravity of the event, Roosevelt managed to instill confidence through his words:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

5) ASK NOT WHAT AMERICA WILL DO FOR YOU – John F. Kennedy, Washington, DC

It was 1961.  America had just elected its 35th President, John F. Kennedy.

After World War II and the Korean War, America’s psyche was drained.  The country was waiting for an inspired leader, and that came in the form of President Kennedy.

He encouraged Americans to look forward to a brighter, unified future, summing up the meaning of his speech in one clear sentence:

“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind?”

The best place to learn about President Kennedy is by taking a tour of the White House.

President John F. Kennedy’s most famous words etched in stone at his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jonathan Schilling

6) I HAVE A DREAM -Martin Luther King Jr.,Washington, DC

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

And it was.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s electrifying speech in August 1963 set the tone for the African American rights. Freedom marches sprung up all over the country, forcing the government to evaluate segregation and equality.

Visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and seek out the etched marble pedestal that commemorates the exact location of King’s speech.

Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963

7)  TEAR DOWN THIS WALL – Ronald Reagan, Berlin, Germany

Ronald Reagan gave a rousing speech on June 12, 1987, commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin.

Reagan stood at the podium in front of Brandenburg Gate and challenged General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall as a symbol of Gorbachev’s desire to advance freedom in the Eastern Bloc.

“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, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Ronald Reagan speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987

8)  A NEW BEGINNING – Barak Obama, Cairo, Egypt

A speech of this magnitude is timely for the current political situation in the Middle East.

President Obama spoke at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, calling for mutual relations and understanding between Muslims and the West.

This quote says it best:

“So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace… that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.”

What historical speeches inspire you to not only travel, but to dream bigger?

If you liked this, you might also like: 7 Most Fascinating Asian Battle Sites.

Main image: John and Jackie Kennedy campaigning in March 1960 by Jeff Dean.

6 thoughts on “8 Most Inspiring American Speeches of All Time (and Where They Took Place)”

  1. I loved this article. I felt chills come over me as I read the famous words and remembered what each person was aiming for. Martin Luthor King still is and always will be my favorite American speech.

  2. Love Obama’s quote. I think it really reflects what most travellers learn on the road and choose to focus on- our similarities.. And then we learn to celebrate the differences without fear

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *