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THE STORIES BEHIND the WORDS THAT MAKE HISTORY
"Four Score and Seven Years Ago"
The Gettysburg Address as told by an eyewitness of the event
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's stirring call to courage
"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You"
John F. Kennedy's unforgettable inaugural address
"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall"
Ronald Reagan's demand for freedom for the people behind the Iron Curtain
Plus Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton on the speeches that influenced them most
"All students of American history, indeed, all civic-minded Americans, will find a place on their bookshelves for My Fellow Americans."
-Senator JOHN MCCAIN
"My Fellow Americans makes the voice of American presidents ring in our ears and makes us understand in a new way the nature of political leadership in this country."
-ELENA KAGAN, Supreme Court Justice
"The best of presidential speeches, compiled by one of the finest presidential speechwriters."
-DAVID FRUM, George W. Bush speechwriter, author of The Right Man
The history of the United States lives in the words of its presidents-words that heal, inspire, and sometimes divide a nation and the world. My Fellow Americans brings to life two centuries of American history as you read and hear the presidential speeches that defined our nation's most dramatic moments.
My Fellow Americans presents, in text and on two audio CDs, more than forty of the greatest speeches from American presidents. Former White House chief speechwriter Michael Waldman introduces them, telling their dramatic stories and explaining their impact. In original essays, presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton describe the talks that influenced them the most. You'll also find captivating photographs, illustrations, and handwritten manuscripts, including:
The accompanying audio CDs let you hear these great speeches as they happened-some recordings are more than one hundred years old-and reenacted speeches from before the dawn of recorded audio. We hear the voices of every president since Benjamin Harrison. Experience some of our greatest moments, such as "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself "; "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You"; and "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall." Hear Lyndon Johnson adopt "We Shall Overcome" for all Americans; John F. Kennedy proclaim "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" at the Berlin Wall; and a fascinating account by a man who saw and heard President Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.
My Fellow Americans presents a fascinating journey through American history that can be shared with your family and friends, whether you're reliving the event or hearing it together for the first time.
"Reading [these speeches] and listening to those available from the late 1800s onward reveals the styles and strengths of each president and also the prevailing American outlook in times of war, peace, confidence, and anxiety."
-JAMES FALLOWS, author and national correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly
"The grand panorama of American history unfolds through these presidential speeches, shrewdly selected and ably annotated by a veteran presidential speechwriter."
--ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER JR.
About the Author
MICHAEL WALDMAN was director of speechwriting for President Clinton from 1995—1999, after serving as special assistant to the president for policy coordination. He wrote or edited nearly two thousand presidential speeches, including two inaugural addresses and four states of the union. Waldman is the author of POTUS Speaks: Finding the Words That Defined the Clinton Presidency, A Return to Common Sense, and Who Robbed America? He is executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a leading law and policy institute that focuses on democracy and justice. He lives with his family in New York City.
About the Narrator
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS is co-host of Good Morning America and appears regularly on World News Tonight and other ABC News broadcasts. He is the former anchor of ABC's Sunday morning program This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller All Too Human. Prior to joining ABC News, he served in the Clinton administration as the senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy.
From 1995 to 1999, I was director of speechwriting in the White House for President Bill Clinton. I worked on two inaugural addresses, four State of the Unions-all told, editing or writing nearly two thousand speeches. Drawing on that experience, I have selected what I believe to be the forty-three most significant speeches by American presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush. These are the speeches that made the greatest impact-those most remembered by later generations, or those that will most likely be so recalled. To introduce each speech, I explain the historic context, the goals of the talk, and how it was composed. The text is accompanied by two audio CDs that feature the actual voices of all the presidents since Benjamin Harrison. A few explanations are in order.
First, these are the complete speeches-some have been edited for length, but more are presented in their entirety. I think it's best to read these speeches in full, to move beyond the familiar soundbites or slogans. Second, this book focuses on those speeches made by presidents while they were in office. There are four exceptions, however: Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, Theodore Roosevelt's "New Nationalism," George H.W. Bush's 1988 convention address, and Barack Obama's speech on race, each chosen because of the way it illuminates key themes of the presidency of those four men. Third, you'll notice that most of these speeches date from the twentieth century. Before then, presidents rarely spoke in public. When they did, they didn't ask citizens to support specific policies. Such appeals were considered demagogic. (Indeed, one of the articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson actually accused him of going on a speaking tour-not only that, doing so in a "loud voice"!) Congress, rather than the chief executive, ran the country-and the great orators, such as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, held forth on Capitol Hill. When presidents addressed the public, they usually did so in writing. We have included three of those written addresses-George Washington's "Farewell Address," and two by Andrew Jackson-because their ringing phrases lived beyond the day's controversies.
Social change-and new technologies-transformed the presidency. At the turn of the twentieth century, new national media-wire services, national magazines, photographic reproduction-began to transmit the words and especially pictures of leaders to a wide new audience. The industrial revolution produced a demand for a stronger national government. From the beginning, as Alexander Hamilton urged, the chief executive was the source of "energy." Now the country wanted action. As government grew, so did the presidency.
And from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson forward, chief executives came to see their public speeches as a key tool for leadership. Soon radio would carry the voice of the president directly to millions of citizens. FDR's skill on the medium was key to his success, and to those of other contemporary orators, such as Churchill-and Hitler. Then came the next revolution, and it was televised. The first presidential TV talk aired in 1947. Eisenhower held the first televised press conference in 1955. In the 1960s, the televised presidency truly came of age. Three television networks now had nightly newscasts, and the president was the "star." Presidents often spoke to the country in widely watched, prime-time addresses. Richard Nixon, when he resigned in a speech from his desk, began, "This is the thirty-seventh time I have spoken to you from this office."
The next explosion of technology came in the 1980s and mushroomed in the 1990s-and with it, the president's voice was both more ubiquitous and less commanding. By the end of the century, there were four all-news cable networks (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and CNBC). But broadcast television networks now balked at giving presidents time to address the public directly. Today, short of war or scandal, the only time a president can be assured of a national TV audience is in the annual State of the Union address. So presidential talk is now a matter not just of quality but quantity. In a typical, non-election year, Harry Truman spoke in public eighty-eight times; Ronald Reagan, 320 times; Bill Clinton, nearly 550 times. George W. Bush and Barack Obama kept a similar pace. They spoke in public nearly every day. The rise of the Internet and collapse of many newspapers already has begun to bend the way presidents speak. Many citizens now read full speech texts or videos without waiting for excerpts the next morning or on the evening news.
The memorable speeches in this book teach us about our country in several ways. The very first presidential talk, Washington's inaugural, called our nation a great "experiment." Perhaps a great argument is more like it-a long conversation, stretching over two centuries, about what we stand for.
What is the role of government? From Jefferson and Jackson through to the Roosevelts and JFK and Reagan and Clinton, the presidents have contested, with the demand for a strong hand in the capital alternating with the demand for a minimal state.
What is America's role in the world? Washington warned against "permanent alliances." But Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman argued the country must exert global leadership-and the Cold War dominated presidential rhetoric for half a century. Now George W. Bush and Barack Obama call Americans to a new kind of struggle with terrorists and nations that threaten through weapons of mass destruction.
And what of the dilemma of race? In these pages, Lincoln grows from a lawyer's insisting on preserving the union to his second inaugural calling the Civil War God's punishment for the sin of slavery. Lyndon Johnson adopted the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome." But as Bill Clinton preached from the pulpit in Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last sermon, legal civil rights are incomplete if our communities are torn by violence and crime. Now, in his speech on race in Philadelphia, Barack Obama suggested that a new generation could move past painful divisions that scarred their parents.
The best presidential addresses call on our nation to live by its ideals, first (and best) expressed in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Time and again, presidents rely for moral authority on what historian Pauline Maier calls our "American scripture." Lincoln at Gettysburg argued that the country's founding vision required us to end slavery. Roosevelt argued that the same ideals required a new strong central government to combat economic inequality. Ronald Reagan quoted those same founders to argue instead for a more limited government. And presidents from Wilson to Roosevelt to Reagan to Bush have sought to extend that vision worldwide. There are lessons here for aspiring leaders and would-be "great communicators." These speeches-for all their pomp and poetry-are distinguished by their muscularity. They are more than words; they are action. They convey big ideas, often controversial ones. They are memorable not solely because they are eloquent, but because, so often, they pressed people to change their minds.
1. "The American Experiment": First Inaugural Address • April 30, 1789 3
2. "These Counsels of an Old and Affectionate Friend": Farewell Address • September 19, 1796 9
3. "We Are All Republicans, We Are All Federalists": First Inaugural Address • March 4, 1801 17
4. "The Rich and Powerful Too Often Bend the Acts of Government to Their Selfish Purposes": Veto of the Bank of the United States • July 10, 1832 25
5. "Disunion by Armed Force Is Treason": Proclamation on Nullification • December 10, 1832 30
6. "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand": Address to the State Republican Convention • June 16, 1858 37
7. "The Better Angels of Our Nature": First Inaugural Address • March 4, 1861 43
8. "A New Birth of Freedom": Gettysburg Address • November 19, 1863 53
9. "With Malice Toward None": Second Inaugural Address • March 4, 1865 57
10. "The Man with the Muck-rake": Dedication of the House Office Building • April 15, 1906 63
11. "The New Nationalism": Speech at Osawatomie, Kansas • August 31, 1910 68
12. "The World Must Be Made Safe for Democracy": Request for Declaration of War on Germany • April 2, 1917 79
13. "The Fourteen Points": Address to Congress on Peace Terms • January 8, 1918 87
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
14. "The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself": First Inaugural Address • March 4, 1933 95
15. "A Rendezvous with Destiny": Acceptance Speech for Renomination • June 27, 1936 102
16. "The Four Freedoms": 1941 Annual Message to Congress • January 6, 1941 109
17. "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy": Request for Declaration of War Against Japan • December 8, 1941 118
18. "Our Sons, Pride of Our Nation": D-Day Prayer • June 6, 1944 122
Harry S. Truman
19. "The Truman Doctrine": Address to Congress on Greece and Turkey • March 12, 1947 129
20. "Do-Nothing Congress": Whistle-Stop Speech • September 18, 1948 136
Dwight D. Eisenhower
21. "Atoms for Peace": Address Before the UN General Assembly • December 8, 1953 145
22. "The Military-Industrial Complex": Farewell Address • January 17, 1961 153
John F. Kennedy
23. "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You": Inaugural Address • January 20, 1961 161
24. "Missiles in Cuba": Address to the Nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis • October 22, 1962 166
25. "Let Us Reexamine Our Attitude Toward the Cold War": Commencement Address, American University • June 10, 1963 175
26. "Ich Bin Ein Berliner": Speech at the Berlin Wall • June 26, 1963 181
Lyndon B. Johnson
27. "Let Us Continue": Address to Congress after the Kennedy Assassination • November 27, 1963 187
28. "We Shall Overcome": Address to Congress on Voting Rights • March 15, 1965 193
29. "I Shall Not Seek, and I Will Not Accept, the Nomination of My Party": Speech on the Vietnam War • March 31, 1968 203
Richard M. Nixon
30. "The Great Silent Majority": Address to the Nation on Vietnam • November 3, 1969 213
31. "We Have Done Some Things Wrong": Farewell Address to White House Staff • August 9, 1974 224
Gerald R. Ford
32. "Our Long National Nightmare Is Over": Remarks upon Taking the Oath of Office • August 9, 1974 231
33. "A Crisis of Confidence": Speech on Energy and National Goals • July 15, 1979 237
34. "Government Is Not the Solution to Our Problem; Government Is the Problem": First Inaugural Address • January 20, 1981 245
35. "Leave Marxism-Leninism on the Ash-Heap of History": Address to Members of British Parliament • June 8, 1982 252
36. "Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth": Address to the Nation on the Challenger Explosion • January 28, 1986 262
37. "I Cannot Escape Responsibility": Remarks on the Iran-Contra Scandal • March 4, 1987 267
George H.W. Bush
38. "A Kinder and Gentler Nation": Acceptance Speech, Republican Convention • August 18, 1988 275
39. "What Would Martin Luther King Say?": Remarks to the Church of God in Christ in Memphis • November 13, 1993 285
40. "In the Face of Death, Let Us Honor Life": Eulogy for the Victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing • April 23, 1995 291
41. "Let That Be Our Gift to the Twenty-First Century": State of the Union Address • January 27, 1998 295
George W. Bush
42. "Freedom and Fear, Justice and Cruelty, Have Always Been at War": Address to Congress after the Attacks of September 11 • September 20, 2001 305
43. "The Day of Your Liberation Is Near": Address on Iraq • March 17, 2003 314
44. "A More Perfect Union": Remarks in Philadelphia • March 18, 2008 323
45. "I am Not Bound to Win, but I am Bound to be True": Remarks to the House Democratic Caucus • March 20, 2010 336
Bibliography and Suggested Reading 355
Photography and Audio Credits 361
Michael Waldman was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995-1999, serving as assistant to the President. He was responsible for writing or editing nearly 2,000 speeches, including four State of the Union speeches and two Inaugural Addresses. Mr. Waldman was the top administration policy aide working on campaign finance reform, one of the Center's signature issues, and drafted the administration's public financing proposal.