From Churchill to Pankhurst: The speeches that shook the world

Dan Morris looks at excerpts from history’s most defining quotes

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., second right, stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., in this April 3, 1968, file photo, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place.  From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., second right, stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., in this April 3, 1968, file photo, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy

This week is a week of great remembrance.

While on Tuesday we paid tribute to heroes of the Second World War on the 80th annniversary of Battle of Britain Day, today, September 19, 2020, marks the 74th anniversary of one of that conflict's greatest statesman's greatest speeches.

On this day in 1946, former prime minister and wartime leader Winston Churchill delivered an address at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, within which he made a proposal that caused a sensation.

Advocating Franco-German rapprochement and a "United States of Europe", Churchill was the first eminent politician to throw a strong opinion into a debate that until that point had been the introverted arena of only a few activists – should Europe be unified?

Spearheading a tide of opinion in favour of a united Europe following the end of the Second World War, Churchill's speech is seen by many to have been the starting point in the concept of European unity, and one of the sparks that would come to set the course of the shape of the continent for decades to come.

The impact of great speeches to the politics and direction of the world cannot be oversold. In modern history we have seen some of the planet's finest orators capture, change and empower the spirit and feeling of their people through rousing, charged and poignant addresses.

From Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, and Emmeline Pankhurst to Albert Einstein, individual voices of the human race have come to define its passion, belief and drive, and here, we take a look at excerpts from some of those speeches that changed, shook and made the world.

Winston Churchill – 'The United States of Europe'

Sir Winston Churchill

September 19, 1946

Zurich, Switzerland

In his powerful address delivered 74 years ago, Winston Churchill called for the need of post-war partnership between France and Germany, along with the formation of the Council of Europe. His strong and bold statement is seen by many as having been the true starting point for the tide of opinion in favour of a united post-war Europe:

"I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany. In this way only can France recover the moral and cultural leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany. The structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single State less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the

common cause. The ancient States and principalities of Germany, freely joined for mutual convenience in a federal system, might take their individual places among the United States of Europe.

"But I must give you warning, time may be short. At present there is a breathing space. The cannons have ceased firing. The fighting has stopped. But the dangers have not stopped. If we are to form a United States of Europe, or whatever name it may take, we must begin now...

"Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept we must recreate the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe...

"The salvation of the common people of every race and every land from war and servitude must be established on solid foundations, and must be

created by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than to submit to tyranny. In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America – and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live. Therefore I say to you 'let Europe arise!'."

Martin Luther King Jr – 'I have a dream'

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

August 28, 1963

Washington DC, USA

Arguably the most inspirational and emotive speech of the 20th century, Martin Luther King's address has been considered the high point of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The speech was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to around 250,000 people and was broadcast on television as well as published in newspapers.

It's most famous segment continues to resonate powerfully today:

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'.

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

"I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

"I have a dream today!"

Emmeline Pankhurst – 'The laws that men have made'

Emmeline Pankhurst

March 24, 1908


In 1908, women's rights campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst gave a series of lectures under the banner of 'The Importance of the Vote'.

This particular speech was given in the Portman Rooms during the Putney by-election of that year. In a bold and brave assault on the status quo, Pankhurst addressed what she believed to be the legislative shortcomings of men, criticising them for their failure to improve the situation of ordinary women:

"What I am going to say to you tonight is not new. It is what we have been saying at every street corner, at every by-election during the last 18 months. It is perfectly well known to many members of my audience, but they will not mind if I repeat, for the benefit of those who are here for the first time tonight, those arguments and illustrations with which many of us are so familiar...

"Very little has been done by legislation for women for many years – for obvious reasons. More and more of the time of Members of Parliament is occupied by the claims which are made on behalf of the people who are organized in various ways in order to promote the interests of their industrial organisations or their political or social organisations. So the Member of Parliament, if he does dimly realize that women have needs, has no time to attend to them, no time to give to the consideration of those needs...

"The man voter and the man legislator see the man's needs first, and do not see the woman's needs. And so it will be until women get the vote. It is well to remember that, in view of what we have been told of what is the value of women's influence. Woman's influence is only effective when men want to do the thing that her influence is supporting...

"If we have the right kind of social legislation it will be a very good thing for women and children. If we have the wrong kind of social legislation, we may have the worst kind of tyranny that women have ever known since the world began...

"The more one thinks about the importance of the vote for women, the more one realizes how vital it is. We are finding out new reasons for the vote, new needs for the vote every day in carrying on our agitation....

"We women, who are doing so much to get the vote, want it because we realize how much good we can do with it when we have got it."

Nelson Mandela – 'On this day of my release'

Nelson Mandela

February 11, 1990

Cape town, South Africa

Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, Nelson Mandela was finally released in 1990. The world watched Mandela walk from prison, and later he spoke at a rally at Cape Town's Grand Parade. In his speech, he paid tribute to those who had supported him, and insisted on the need for a democratic and racially equal South Africa:

"On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release...

"Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other actions of our organisation and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy. The destruction caused by apartheid on our sub-continent is in- calculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife...

"The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been. No individual leader is able to take on this enormous task on his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organisation and to allow the democratic structures to decide...

"Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait...

"In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are true today as they were then – 'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die'."

George W Bush – 'Today, our nation saw evil'

George W Bush

September 11, 2001

Washington DC, USA

19 years ago last Friday, the September 11 attacks against the United States were a turning point in history that led to conflict in the Middle East and a store of legislation under the mantle of the 'War on Terror'.

On the day of the attacks in New York, US president George W Bush was visiting a school in Florida. After making a brief media announcement, Bush travelled to Louisiana and then on to Washington DC and the White House, from where he would address the American people:

"Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers, moms and dads, friends and neighbours. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.

"A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil – the very worst of human nature – and we responded with the best of America."

Albert Einstein – 'Security through national armament is... a disastrous illusion'

Albert Einstein

February 19, 1950

TV broadcast from New Jersey, USA

On a television show hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein discussed the issue of nuclear security.

A now famous letter from Einstein to Mrs Roosevelt's late husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had played a part in the president's support of the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Einstein was reportedly appalled, and spent much of his remaining life campaigning for international control of nuclear arms.

He used Mrs Roosevelt's programme as a platform for his views:

"The idea of achieving security through national armament is, at the present state of military technique, a disastrous illusion. On the part of the United States this illusion has been particularly fostered by the fact that this country succeeded first in producing an atomic bomb. The belief seemed to prevail that in the end it were possible to achieve decisive military superiority.

"In this way, any potential opponent would be intimidated, and security, so ardently desired by all of us, brought to us and all of humanity. The maxim which we have been following during these last five years has been, in short: security through superior military power, whatever the cost...

"The armament race between the USA and the USSR, originally supposed to be a preventive measure, assumes hysterical character. On both sides, the means to mass destruction are perfected with feverish haste – behind the respective walls of secrecy. The H-bomb appears on the public horizon as a probably attainable goal. Its accelerated development has been solemnly proclaimed by the President.

"If successful, radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere and hence annihilation of any life on earth has been brought within the range of technical possibilities. The ghostlike character of this development lies in its apparently compulsory trend. Every step appears as the unavoidable consequence of the preceding one. In the end, there beckons more and more clearly general annihilation.

"Is there any way out of this impasse created by man himself? All of us, and particularly those who are responsible for the attitude of the US and the USSR, should realize that we may have vanquished an external enemy, but have been incapable of getting rid of the mentality created by the war.

"It is impossible to achieve peace as long as every single action is taken with a possible future conflict in view. The leading point of view of all political action should therefore be: What can we do to bring about a peaceful co-existence and even loyal co-operation of the nations?

"The first problem is to do away with mutual fear and distrust. Solemn renunciation of violence (not only with respect to means of mass destruction) is undoubtedly necessary...

"Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondly on institutions such as courts of justice and police. This holds for nations as well as for individuals. And the basis of trust is loyal give and take."

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