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American ProfileA handy reminder for everyone of the power--and beauty--of words in times of crisis, celebration and change.
— Neil Pond
The most interesting and inspiring presidential speeches, from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, American presidents have faced unprecedented challenges at home and abroad. From the onset of the Great Depression, through World War II, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Desert Storm and the War on Terror, American presidents have warned and rallied the nation during each crisis. Presidents have also addressed the ...
The most interesting and inspiring presidential speeches, from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, American presidents have faced unprecedented challenges at home and abroad. From the onset of the Great Depression, through World War II, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Desert Storm and the War on Terror, American presidents have warned and rallied the nation during each crisis. Presidents have also addressed the people in times of triumph -- the creation of the United Nations, advances in civil rights, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
My Fellow Americans includes the speeches that capture times of challenge, conflict and change, with such memorable phrases as "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," "Ask not what your country can do for you" and "Begin again the work of remaking
America," which have entered the vernacular and have become a part of our heritage.
This book is a record of how our presidents established their leadership through thick and thin. The language of the speeches reflects the country's mood over decades of fear and hope and the ongoing faith and values that sustain our nation.
My Fellow Americans is divided into six parts:
Each part is introduced with a short essay that provides a timeline and context for the events of the period.
There is also an introduction to the book that focuses on the president's use of language to inspire listeners. Illustrated with 30 black-and-white historical photographs, My Fellow Americans is a stunning testament to America's recent history.
The American Constitution, Article II, Section 3, mandates that the president "shall from time to time give to Congress information on the state of the union." Since George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address in 1790, each president has addressed Congress and the people of the United States every year. Presidents have also given inaugural and farewell addresses as well as many formal and informal speeches. From these speeches there is a vivid and immediate record of the major triumphs and tragedies the nation has faced and clear portraits of the men who have led.
Famous speeches in the book include:
Roosevelt's first Inaugural Address, 1933:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Eisenhower's Farewell Address, 1961:
"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence ... by the military-industrial complex."
Kennedy's Inaugural Address, 1961:
"Ask not what your country can do for you..."
Johnson's State of the Union Address, 1967:
"We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war."
Reagan's Evil Empire speech, 1983:
"[Do not] ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire."
George W. Bush's State of the Union Address, 2004:
"We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century."
Barack Obama's Inaugural
"Begin again the work of remaking America."
Table of Contents
Contents Part One
The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Great Depression
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
The New Deal
To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit ... It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers. The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.
State of the Union Address, January 4, 1935
Preparing For War
It is unmistakably apparent to all of us that, unless the advance of Hitlerism is forcibly checked now, the western hemisphere will be within range of the Nazi weapons of destruction.
Radio Address Announcing an Unlimited National Emergency, May 27, 1941
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
Address to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War with Japan, December 8, 1941
We have already tasted defeat. We may suffer further setbacks. We must face the fact of a hard war, a long war, a bloody war, a costly war.
State of the Union Address, January 6, 1942
Contents Part Two
The Threat of War is Still very Real
Harry S. Truman
The Truman Doctrine
The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died.
Address before a Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947
Communism vs. Democracy
We are aided by all who desire freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to live their own lives for useful ends. Our allies are the millions who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1949
The Korean War
Our men are fighting, alongside their United Nations allies, because they know, as we do, that the aggression in Korea is part of the attempt of the Russian communist dictatorship to take over the world, step by step.
State of the Union Address, January 8, 1951
Do not be deceived by the strong face, the look of monolithic power that the communist dictators wear before the outside world. Remember their power has no basis in consent.
State of the Union Address, January 7, 1953
There is no job like it on the face of the earth in the power which is concentrated here at this desk, and in the responsibility and difficulty of the decisions.
January 15, 1953
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Faith In Freedom
The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of continuing challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953
The divisive force is international communism and the power that it controls. The designs of that power, dark in purpose, are clear in practice. It strives to seal forever the fate of those it has enslaved. It strives to break the ties that unite the free.
Inaugural Address, January 21, 1957
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
January 17, 1961
Contents Part Three
To Defend Freedom in its Hour of Maximum Danger
John F. Kennedy
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President ... how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote.
Houston Ministerial Association September 12, 1960
A New Generation
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
The Berlin Crisis
West Berlin ... has now become, as never before, the great testing place of Western courage and will, a focal point where our solemn commitments stretching back over the years since 1945, and Soviet ambitions now meet in basic confrontation.
Report to the American People, July 25, 1961
The Cuban Missile Crisis
For many years, both the Soviet Union and the United States ... have deployed strategic nuclear weapons with great care, never upsetting the precarious status quo which insured that these weapons would not be used in the absence of some vital challenge.
Report to the American People October 22, 1962
The Search for Peace
We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it might have been had the history of the last 18 years been different. We must, therefore, persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the communist bloc might bring within reach solutions which now see beyond us.
American University Address, June 10, 1963
The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.
Radio and Television Report, June 11, 1963
The Berlin Wall
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."
Remarks at the Rudolph Wilde Platz June 26, 1963
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy's Assassination
All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today. The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time.
Address to Joint Session of Congress November 27, 1963
The Great Society
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
Remarks at the University of Michigan May 22, 1964
We Shall Overcome
There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.
Special Message to Congress, March 15, 1965
The Domino Theory
We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war — a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force.
State of the Union Address, January 10, 1967
But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong and a confident and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace; and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause, whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
Address to the Nation, March 31, 1968
Contents Part Four
How Can We Win America's Peace?
A New Beginning
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another — until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices. For its part, government will listen.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969
On the War in Vietnam
Let us all understand that the question before us is not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace. The question at issue is not whether Johnson's war becomes Nixon's war. The great question is: How can we win America's peace?
Address to the Nation, November 3, 1969
A New Era of Peace
The time has passed when America will make every other nation's conflict our own, or make every other nation's future our responsibility, or presume to tell the people of other nations how to manage their own affairs.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1973
President Nixon's Resignation
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interests of America first.
Address to the Nation, August 8, 1974
A Talk Among Friends
I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.
Address on Taking the Oath of the U.S. Presidency, August 9, 1974
Pardoning Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon ... is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.
Address to the Nation, September 8, 1974
I am proud that today America is at peace. None of our sons are fighting and dying in battle anywhere in the world. And the chance for peace among all nations is improved by our determination to honor our vital commitments in defense of peace and freedom.
January 12, 1977
A Rekindling of Confidence
We know that if we despise our own government, we have no future. We recall in special times when we have stood briefly, but magnificently, united. In those times no prize was beyond our grasp.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1977
American Hostages in Iran
Let our position be absolutely clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
State of the Union Address, January 23, 1980
Contents Part Five
The Beginning of a New Era in the World's Affairs.
A Time for Choosing
This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
Address on Behalf of Senator Barry Goldwater October 27, 1964
Government is the Problem
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981
The Evil Empire
I urge you to beware the temptation of pride — the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding.
Speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, March 8, 1983
United States-Soviet Relations
Neither we nor the Soviet Union can wish away the differences between our two societies and our philosophies, but we should always remember that we do have common interests and the foremost among them is to avoid war and reduce the level of arms.
Address to the Nation, January 16, 1984
At the Brandenburg Gate
In the 1950s Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind — too little food.
Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987
Nothing is less free than pure communism, and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I've been asked if this isn't a gamble, and my answer is no because we are basing our actions not on words but deeds.
January 11, 1989
George H.W. Bush
The Revolution of 1989
Nineteen forty-five provided the common frame of reference, the compass points of the postwar era we've relied upon to understand ourselves. And that was our world, until now. The events of the year just ended, the Revolution of '89, have been a chain reaction, changes so striking that it marks the beginning of a new era in the world's affairs.
State of the Union Address, January 31, 1990
But even in the midst of celebration, we must keep caution as a friend. For the world is still a dangerous place. Only the dead have seen the end of conflict. And though yesterday's challenges are behind us, tomorrow's are being born.
State of the Union Address, January 28, 1992
Contents Part Six
The Defining Ideological Struggle of the 21st Century
William J. Clinton
Oklahoma City Bombing
When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us not be overcome by evil, but over come evil with good.
Oklahoma Bombing Memorial Prayer Service Address, April 23, 1995
Peace and Prosperity
In the next 10 to 20 years, the major security threat this country will face will come from the enemies of the nation-state, the narcotraffickers and the terrorists and the organized criminals, who will be organized together, working together, with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons.
State of the Union Address, January 27, 2000
George W. Bush
September 11, 2001
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our Nation into chaos and retreat, but they have failed. Our country is strong.
Statement by the President in His Address to the Nation, September 11, 2001
The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.
State of the Union Address, January 20, 2004
An Ideological Struggle
We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear.
State of the Union Address, January 28, 2008
In the Midst of Crisis
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009
We Will Rebuild, We will Recover
But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild. We will recover.
State of the Union Address, February 24, 2009
In his Farewell Address to the Nation, Gerald Ford sought to repair some of the damage done to the highest office in the land by the impeachment proceedings and subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon when he warned Congress that, despite the abuse of privilege, a strong presidency was absolutely necessary because "When the President speaks, he speaks for the Nation." These few words capture the essence of why presidential speeches are so important in understanding modern American history. By selecting the topics to address, the president arranges the priorities of his administration. By speaking to the people he effectively goes over the head of Congress and, as the only elected official who represents all the citizens everywhere, informs, mobilizes and inspires his vast constituency. Even when the president is addressing Congress or a small select audience, he is aware that the people are always listening and chooses his words accordingly.
In the American system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government, the president, for all the power of his high office, is severely limited in his ability to implement his programs. To be successful, he must motivate the people to demand action from the Congress. Without a strong leader to provide vision and leadership, Congressional debate degrades into partisan and sectarian squabbling; even in the best of times, Congress usually only follows the president's direction reluctantly and part of the way.
This balance between the president and Congress is always delicate, but the combination of a strong president willing to act and the demand of the people for action is often the only thing that can persuade Congress to act. In Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address he reassures the people that if Congress is unwilling or unable to act in a way that alleviates the situation,
he will ask for "broad Executive power to wage 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." In speaking on the need for civil rights legislation, Johnson warns Congress that although as a young man he never expected that he would have a chance to make a difference, "now I do have that chance -- and I'll let you in on a secret -- I mean to use it."
The president's job demands the ability to lead as well as the ability to govern. Particularly in today's digital age, in which every move, word and gesture is captured and replayed on television for the world to see, no president can be effective without the ability to hold center stage in front of millions of eyes.
The intent of this book is to showcase the leadership and vision shown by presidents as they have addressed the nation. Beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of the Great
Depression in 1933 and ending with Barack Obama's address on the collapsing economy of 2009, here are some of the most significant and readable speeches given by American presidents in troubled times. Many of them read as vividly as the day they were written and are masterpieces of the English language and concise summaries of important ideas, a tribute both to their authors and to the importance of the history they record. All of them, however, are important in that they portray, in the language of the time, history as it was being made from the most powerful office in the world. While historians can carefully analyze the language, seeking hidden meanings and patterns, the success of any speech is measured not in what future generations think of it, but in how well it achieves its most important task -- to inspire and motivate the listener to immediately take or support some course of action.
Consistent with the power of the presidency itself, these speeches do not plead or request or suggest -- they are the voice of authority and they state clearly and unequivocally the way in which the president intends to proceed. They constitute a clear warning, to friend and foe alike, of just what course the president will take in confronting the challenges before him. Some presidents were naturally gifted speakers and have left speeches that will survive as examples of the best of their kind, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan being among them. Their language is so memorable that the words chosen to convey the message can receive more attention than the message itself. To say "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," or "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country," or "government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem" captures the essence of the time and the challenges that confronted the nation.
But eloquence, however welcome, must also be matched with specific promises and proposals. Empty words are the most dangerous of all -- for no one regards a presidential address as a casual chat about inconsequential things. In troubled times the people expect and deserve leadership. If that leadership is lacking, the result is likely to be an increased sense of fear that not only are things bad, but that no one in charge knows what to do about it. Throughout these speeches, then, the language of leadership defines the expectations of the audience.
Some themes occur so frequently in these speeches that they are worth noting as indicative of the way our leaders thought and spoke over three quarters of a century. References to God's blessing, the lessons to be learned from the Founding Fathers, the necessity to preserve our freedom at all costs, the warning against preferring material success over the good of the nation, and the danger of big government and a loss of power by the people, to name only a few themes,
flow through the language from Roosevelt's speeches to Obama's assertion that America has endured because "we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents."
In any book of this kind, the question arises of just how much of the speech was actually written by the president and how much was written by others. Presidents all the way back to Washington have recognized the importance of their speeches and have consulted friends, officials and professional writers for help. Although the president may not have written all the words in a speech, only he is in a position to make the final decision about which words to use and to deliver them with the passion and conviction necessary for them to have the greatest effect.
Bruce Reed, writing in the online magazine Slate, captured the essence of any speechwriter's contribution. "A speechwriter's job is to write words that others can stand to claim as their own. Most speechwriters soon learn the basic pleasure-pain principle of the craft: Satisfaction comes from finding words the boss can use, but taking credit for those words can only embarrass the very person you're supposed to be helping. At times, it can feel slightly disingenuous to write words for someone else to deliver. But more often, the person you're writing for gives a far better speech than you wrote ... the whole point of the job is that in the end, the words are all that matter."
In short, the speeches are important only because the president gives them and the words are important only because they outline his policy. Robert Schlesinger, in his book White House Ghosts, points out that speechwriters select words and images that flow naturally from the energy and rhetoric of the campaign, the candidate and the administration itself. No speechwriter, however gifted, can put words in the president's mouth. Speechwriters can use words only to give shape and structure to ideas that already characterize the president and are believable in the context of his policies. The working relationship among the president, the speechwriters and the English language is captured in Sorenson's comments on the origin of the words "ask not" in Kennedy's Inaugural Address. "It isn't all that important who wrote whic