Random Friday: Powerful American Speeches

I have books everywhere. To some, that may sound like a confession. To others, it may sound like bragging. In truth, it's just a fact.

Periodically, I go through all of my books at home and at my house in the country. This process takes a while because I find myself stopping and looking through many of the books.

At Rancho Reeves, our grandiosely-named little country house, I was doing this late tonight and found 199 Things Every American Should Know, a small book I've had for decades that I received as a gift with my subscription to American Heritage Magazine.

In the introduction to this compilation that has a 1988 Copyright, the Editor posed the question: "How precise is the educated American's understanding of the history of our country?"

The Editor did not mean exact knowledge of dates and details like who was what in 1892. Instead, they refer to important facts--laws, treaties, people, and events that an American-educated person might reasonably be expected to know or at least remember being taught in history class.

Unfulfilled Expectation

Unfortunately, in today's world, I think those educated in American public schools probably wouldn't know these facts. I hope that assessment is wrong, but it seems more American young people know the history of the Kardashian family better than the history of this country.

Even sadder is that too many of our elected officials in every strata of government also seem to have forgotten the words that shaped this country. 

Power of Words: 7 Speeches to Remember

George Washington's Farewell Address in 1796: He stressed the importance of national unity as the main pillar of the nation's independence, peace, and prosperity. (Too many people have lost sight of this.)

Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address in 1801: His speech contained the famous reference to the United States as "the world's best hope" and his praise of "the wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another and shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits."

Daniel Webster's Second Reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne in 1830: In it, he called the American flag "the gorgeous ensign of the republic," and concluded with "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." This was in rebuttal to Hayne who argued that the separate states were the ultimate source of sovereignty in the American political system.

Abraham Lincoln's House Divided Speech in 1858: This was delivered when he was nominated as the Republican Senatorial candidate from Illinois.

Woodrow Wilson's Call for Declaration of War Againstt Germany in 1917: This speech contains the famous line: "The world must be made safe for democracy." He also insisted in the speech that "we have no quarrel with the German people...We fight without rancor and without selfish object."

Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address in 1933: He said the oft-quoted "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He promised to "put people to work" [the Great Depression was wreaking ruin in America]. He also used the phrase "good neighbor" to describe foreign policy.

I must admit that I was surprised John Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech wasn't included in that, but I guess that was memorable from an emotional standpoint, rather than words reinforcing the tenets of this republic.

Takeaway Truth

The power of words is everlasting. Did you recognize any of these speeches or the phrases in them?

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