A presidential address is meant to do a number of things. It’s meant to inspire. It’s meant to comfort. It’s meant to show strength. To show compassion. To show hope. In honor of Presidents’ Day, we offer five presidential addresses that hit those notes and take it one step further. Each address below, whether it’s inspiring Americans to aim for the moon or comforting the nation in a time of tragedy, was one of the best of the best.
The OG – George Washington
Presidents’ Day, the third Monday in February, was originally Washington’s Birthday. It is only fitting that we begin our recognition of great presidential addresses with our first President, George Washington.
Washington’s Farewell address was actually not delivered as a speech but provided in written form to the Congress as a part of his decision not to seek a third term. The first draft was written at the end of his first term and put aside after he decided to serve a second term. He refreshed it with the help of Alexander Hamilton at the end of this second term (you may remember it from “One Last Time” in the acclaimed musical, Hamilton).
The address is full of advice for the new country. And this message of love.
“Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment. The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize.”
The entire address is read annually on the floor of the Senate on Washington’s birthday, February 22.
Abraham Lincoln – Brief and Brilliant
Perhaps the most famous presidential speech ever was 10 sentences long and took two and a half minutes to deliver. Lincoln would have gotten good marks from one of our favorite CEOs who says, “Be brief and be brilliant.”
The speech was given five months after the Battle of Gettysburg at the dedication of the military cemetery at the site. It began, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
And it concludes “[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Optimism in a Time of Great Challenge
When FDR was sworn in 1933, the country was reeling from the Great Depression. His address offered a message of hope for a nation in need. It also asked Congress for broad executive powers to address the crisis.
“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. 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. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
John F. Kennedy – The Moon Shot
In a speech at Rice University in 1961, John F. Kennedy took what has become known as a moon shot. In a speech that characterized space as the new frontier, he issued a challenge of urgency and competition and encouraged the country to embrace again its pioneering spirit.
In announcing this bold, audacious goal Kennedy said, “But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”
Ronald Reagan – The Comforter in Chief
On January 22, 1986, President Reagan, canceled the State of the Union and spoke to the nation from the oval office following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. During the years since the Kennedy Moon challenge, travel to space had become almost routine. The loss of the Challenger crew, which included a school teacher Christa McAuliffe, stopped the country in its tracks. The nation was grief-struck and Reagan’s words and delivery were a comfort to a nation in mourning.
“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.'”
Read the Addresses
If you have the time, we’d encourage you to read the transcripts of the five presidential addresses above. Each one contains a powerful snapshot of our nation’s history and pearls of wisdom that are still relevant today.
- Read Washington’s Farewell Address
- Read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
- Read FDR’s First Inaugural Address
- Read Kennedy’s Moon Shot
- Read Reagan’s Address to the Nation