Moving Words: The 14 Most Inspiring Speeches in History

August 20, 2023

12 min read

Moving Words - The 14 Most Inspiring Speeches in History

Words are powerful. Just the right words — delivered in just the right way —can compel people to feel, believe, and act. Here’s a challenge for you: Take a look at these inspiring speeches, and try hard not to be moved. It’s likely to be a futile effort!

We’ve included a quote from each inspiring speech. And, we encourage you to check out the full transcript or video of each speech if it’s available. So, get ready to take an inspiring journey back in time.

#1: Patrick Henry • “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

Patrick Henry delivered this stirring speech on March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. He spoke to the Second Virginia Convention, which was meeting to discuss the state’s response to the growing tensions between the American colonies and Great Britain.

In this speech, Henry argued that the colonies should declare their independence from Great Britain and take up arms against the British government. The speech helped turn the tide of public opinion in favor of independence.

Here’s a bit of the context of the inspiring quote from Henry’s speech:

""I know not what course others may take. But—as for me—give me liberty, or give me death!""

#2: Sojourner Truth • “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Sojourner Truth’s delivered this inspiring speech — extemporaneously — on May 29, 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

In this speech, Truth challenged the prevailing notion that women were inferior to men. She spoke from her own experience as a former slave and a woman, and she argued that women were just as capable as men of intelligence, strength, and leadership. And, she called on women to stand up for their rights and demand equality. The speech was a powerful and impassioned plea for women’s rights, and it helped galvanize support for the women’s suffrage movement.

However, there is some notable controversy regarding her speech. Truth’s first language was Dutch and she never lived in the South. Twelve years after she gave her famous speech, Frances D. Gage, printed another version — one with a demeaning imitation of Southern slave dialect — “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Here’s a moving quote from Truth’s speech:

""I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! 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?""

#3: Abraham Lincoln • Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated Confederate forces in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War’s deadliest battle. He spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He spoke for just a little over two minutes. The speech contains only 272 words, but it’s packed with meaning. Lincoln spoke of the importance of the Union, the sacrifices of the soldiers who had died at Gettysburg, and the need to continue the fight for freedom, equality, and unity. The Gettysburg Address is a powerful and moving speech that has inspired generations of Americans.

Here’s the memorable beginning of the address:

""Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.""

#4: Emmeline Pankhurst • “Freedom or Death”

British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst delivered this fiery speech on November 13, 1913, at the Parsons Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, while she was conducting an American fundraising tour.

In the speech, Pankhurst argued that women had to be willing to fight for their right to vote, even if it meant risking their lives. Her speech was a call to action for women to take up more militant tactics in the fight for suffrage. She argued that the government would not listen to women’s demands unless the women were willing to use force. The speech was controversial at the time, but it helped garner support for the more militant wing of the women’s suffrage movement.

Here’s the stirring quote that helped make the speech famous:

""We will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.""

#5: Franklin D. Roosevelt • “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”

Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered this inspiring speech on March 4, 1933, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. It was his first inaugural address as president, and it came in the midst of the Great Depression.

Roosevelt called on the American people to work together to overcome the crisis. He also outlined his plans for the New Deal, a series of programs and reforms designed to help the country recover from the Depression. He promised to “wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” The speech was a powerful and inspiring call to action, and it helped to rally the American people behind Roosevelt’s leadership.

Here’s the inspiring quote that set the speech apart:

""The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.""

Check out the summary, full text, and analysis of this speech by Yoodli’s AI speech coach.

#6: Winston Churchill • “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat”

Winston Churchill delivered this stirring speech on May 13, 1940, in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the U.K. He spoke after becoming Prime Minister following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain.

The speech was a rallying cry to the British people as they faced the imminent threat of Nazi invasion. It served as a powerful and inspiring call to action, encouraging the British people to get behind Churchill’s leadership.

Here’s the context of the moving quote that we all remember:

""I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.""

Check out the summary, full text, and analysis of this speech by Yoodli’s AI speech coach.

#7: Winston Churchill • “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”

Three weeks later, on June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill delivered another speech in the House of Commons. It came just days after the harrowing Dunkirk evacuation.

The speech is one of the most iconic speeches of World War II. It’s a powerful reminder of the British people’s determination to fight for their freedom, and it’s a testament to Churchill’s leadership in the some of the darkest days of the war.

Here’s the context of the stirring quote that makes the speech stand out:

""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.""

Check out the summary, full text, and analysis of this speech by Yoodli’s AI speech coach.

#8: Winston Churchill • “Their Finest Hour”

Later that month, on June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill delivered this moving speech in the House of Commons. Just four days before, Paris fell to Nazi Germany.

Here’s the context of Churchill’s inspiring comment about “their finest hour”:

""Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fall, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour!”""

#9: Mahatma Gandhi • “Quit India”

Mahatma Gandhi delivered this inspiring speech on August 8, 1942, at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay (present-day Mumbai). Gandhi spoke in Hindi and English. He called on the British to quit India immediately and to allow the Indian people to govern themselves. He also called on Indians to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to achieve independence.

The speech was a major turning point in the Indian independence movement. It led to the arrest of Gandhi and thousands of other Indian leaders, and it sparked a wave of protests and demonstrations across India. The Quit India Movement ultimately failed to achieve its immediate goal of forcing the British to leave India, but it helped raise awareness of the Indian independence movement and to pave the way for India’s independence in 1947.

This quote from the speech illustrates Gandhi’s gentle yet firm appeal:

""The British rule in India is a burden unbearable by any self-respecting nation. The sooner, therefore, Great Britain withdraws from India, the better for both.""

#10: Martin Luther King, Jr. • “I Have a Dream”

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered this inspiring speech on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was a massive gathering of civil rights activists from all over the country. King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and television and radio carried the address live.

In the speech, which stands as a defining moment in the civil rights movement, King called for an end to discrimination in the U.S. He spoke of his dream of a day when all people would be treated equally.

This is perhaps the best known quote from this iconic speech:

""I have a dream 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.""

Check out the summary, full text, and analysis of this speech by Yoodli’s AI speech coach.

#11: Martin Luther King, Jr. • “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his last speech on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. He spoke to a crowd of striking sanitation workers.

King emphasized the importance of nonviolence. Considered one of his most powerful and prophetic speeches, it helped inspire people around the world to persevere in the fight for civil rights.

Here’s the moving end of King’s final speech:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But, I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And, He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But, I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And, so, I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

Tragically, on the following day, King was assassinated.

#12: Neil Armstrong • “One Giant Leap”

Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the Moon, said the following words as he stepped onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969:

""That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.""

Armstrong’s words were broadcast live on television to a worldwide audience of millions. They’re a powerful statement of the human spirit of exploration and discovery. They also reflect the hope and optimism that many people felt at the time about the future of humanity.

The statement, though brief, is a powerful reminder of the human capacity for greatness. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and determination, and it inspires us to reach for the stars.

#13: Ronald Reagan • “Tear Down This Wall”

Ronald Reagan delivered this inspiring speech on June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Reagan spoke in front of a crowd of people, and the speech was broadcast live on television and radio.

In the speech, Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin. Ultimately, the speech helped galvanize support for the people of East Germany and their desire for freedom. It also put pressure on Gorbachev to take action to end the Cold War. The Berlin Wall came down just two years after Reagan’s speech, and it is often credited with helping to bring about the end of the Cold War.

Here’s the quote that the speech is known for:

""Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!""

Check out the summary, full text, and analysis of this speech by Yoodli’s AI speech coach.

#14: Nelson Mandela • “Free at Last”

Nelson Mandela delivered this inspiring speech on May 10, 1994, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. He had just been inaugurated as the first Black president of South Africa.

Mandela spoke about the long struggle against apartheid and the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness. The speech was a moving call for unity and hope. It helped heal the wounds of apartheid and ushered in a new era of democracy and freedom in South Africa.

Here’s a quote that illustrates the character of Mandela and his powerful use of words:

""To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.""

Wrapping Up

How did you do with the challenge? Did any of these words speak to your heart? We bet that at least some of these inspiring speeches took you back in time and invited you to experience a profound moment in history. Certainly, you’ve had a chance to understand the power of words to inspire change in a small corner of the world for a just a moment — or the world over for generations to come.

Note: This post was created in partnership with artificial intelligence.

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