Great Presidential Speeches: Then and Now

Great Presidential Speeches: Then and Now

By Warren S. Hecht

This week I am going to do something different. Instead of addressing specific comments made by our current president, I am going to let the reader read and compare three speeches by three presidents at different times in our country’s existence.

President Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg four months after that horrific battle in the middle of the Civil War. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration speech occurred during the middle of the Great Depression, which began in 1929.

Trump made his speech in Great Falls, Montana, the same day that EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigned and the White House announced the hiring of former Fox News channel executive Bill Shine as deputy chief of staff for communications. Shine was ousted from the network last year in the wake of lawsuits suggesting that he ignored alleged sexual harassment by Fox’s late chairman and chief executive, Roger Ailes.

This is Lincoln’s entire speech:

“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.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under G-d, 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.”

Excerpts of Roosevelt’s speech:

“In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank G-d, only material things. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.

“We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. In this dedication – in this dedication of a nation – we humbly ask the blessing of G-d. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.”

Excerpts of Trump’s speech:

“Oh, did we catch them [the FBI] in the act. It’s a rigged deal, folks. It’s a rigged deal. I used to say it. It’s a rigged deal. It’s a disgrace.

“The crooked press, they are so dishonest. They are so dishonest. Fake news. They’re fake news media. They quote sources – ‘A source within the Trump organization said’ – a source. They don’t have a source.

“A vote for the Democrats in November is a vote to let MS-13 run wild in our communities. To let drugs pour into our cities … and we’re not letting it happen. Democrats want anarchy, they really do, and they don’t know who they’re playing with, folks.

“I said it the other day, yes, she is a low-IQ individual, Maxine Waters. I said it the other day. High – I mean, honestly, she’s somewhere in the mid-60s [Before DSM V, mid-60s was an IQ that indicated mental retardation].

“…[M]uch tougher than the so-called ‘popular vote,’ where people vote four times, you know.

“I’m going to get one of those little kits, and in the middle of the debate, when she [Senator Elizabeth Warren] proclaims that she’s of Indian heritage because her mother says she has high cheekbones. That’s her only evidence, that her mother said she had high cheekbones. We will take that little kit and say, but we have to do it gently.

“Because we’re in the Me Too generation so I have to be very gentle. [Me Too movement against harassment of women.] And we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm even though it only weighs probably two ounces.

“Thousand Points of Light, I never quite got that one. What the [expletive] is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put by a Republican” [President George H.W. Bush to support idea of community service].

Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at