My Fellow Americans : The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-11-01
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc
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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 Also hear... The voices of every U.S. president since Benjamin Harrison in 1889 A reading of the first presidential speech ever, George Washington's "American Experiment" address A reenactment of Abraham Lincoln's incendiary "House Divided" speech Campaign recordings of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson FDR's assertion that Americans have a "Rendezvous with Destiny" Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning against the "Military-Industrial Complex" JFK proclaiming "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" Lyndon Johnson adopting the civil rights hymn "We Shall Overcome" Gerald Ford promising that "Our Long National Nightmare Is Over" Ronald Reagan consoling the nation after the space shuttle Challenger explosion George H. W. Bush's call for a "Kinder and Gentler Nation" Bill Clinton speaking from the pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final sermon George W. Bush's ultimatum to Iraq and his promise to its people that "The Day of Your Liberation Is Near" "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 explai


From our earliest days, and especially in the past century, presidents have led with their words-using what Theodore Roosevelt called the "bully pulpit" to inspire, rally, and unite the country. By moving ordinary citizens, these speeches moved history. Franklin Roosevelt called the presidency "preeminently a place of moral leadership." As he understood, only a president can speak, with a clear voice, to the whole country-and on behalf of the nation to the world. If you want to understand American history, the great speeches of American presidents are a good place to start. And not just to read them, but to hear them. <p>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. <p>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. <p>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. <p>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." <p>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. <p>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. <p>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. <p>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. <p>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. <p>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.

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