From his earliest days as a public speaker to his final days in the public eye, Ronald Reagan never made a speech that didn't invoke America's greatness. Often anecdotal, the speeches covered any number of topics -- the economy and the Soviets were two favorites -- but no matter the subject, the message remained consistent: America was "a shining city on a hill," and its promise, as well as its people's, was boundless.
June 1952 -- From a commencement address at Williams Woods College, one of the oldest surviving speeches of Reagan's
"I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here."
October 27, 1964 -- from his nationally televised speech, which he called "A Time for Choosing" but was later simply referred to as "The Speech," in support of candidate Barry Goldwater
"If all of this seems like a great deal of trouble, think what's at stake. We are faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation."
October 27, 1964 -- from "The Speech"
"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done."
1966 -- opposing expansion of Redwood National Park
"A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?"
January 7, 1970 -- in an interview with the "Los Angeles Times"
"Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence."
March 31, 1976 -- from his "To Restore America" speech, which included one of many references to his experiences during the Depression
"No one who lived through the Great Depression can ever look upon an unemployed person with anything but compassion. To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill. Back in those dark depression days I saw my father on a Christmas eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half whisper, 'That's quite a Christmas present,' it will stay with me as long as I live."
1980 -- during the 1980 presidential campaign
"A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."
July 17, 1980 -- from his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention
"[The Democrats] say that the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.… My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view."
January 20, 1981 -- from his first inaugural address
"It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work -- work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. This Administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy. "
January 20, 1981 -- from his first inaugural address
"[N]o arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."
February 18, 1981 -- from his speech to Congress detailing his program for economic recovery
"We don't have an option of living with inflation and its attendant tragedy.…We have an alternative, and that is the program for economic recovery. True, it'll take time for the favorable effects of our program to be felt. So, we must begin now. The people are watching and waiting. They don't demand miracles. They do expect us to act. Let us act together."
March 30, 1981 -- his famous words to Nancy Reagan when she arrived at the hospital following his assassination attempt, a line first attributed to boxing's heavyweight Jack Dempsey when he lost the title to Gene Tunney in 1926
"Honey, I forgot to duck."
March 30, 1981 -- to surgeons as he entered the operating room following his assassination attempt
"I hope you're all Republicans."
May 17, 1981 -- from a speech at Notre Dame University
"The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West will not contain Communism; it will transcend Communism. We will not bother to denounce it, we'll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written."
"I hope the people on Wall Street will pay attention to the people on Main Street. If they do, they will see there is a rising tide of confidence in the future of America."
October 5, 1981 -- in an address to the National Alliance of Business
"The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern."
1982 -- in a speech to Britain's Parliament
"It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history.... [It is] the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."
October 13, 1982 -- in an address to the nation on the economy
"I have a special reason for wanting to solve this [economic] problem in a lasting way. I was 21 and looking for work in 1932, one of the worst years of the Great Depression. And I can remember one bleak night in the thirties when my father learned on Christmas Eve that he'd lost his job. To be young in my generation was to feel that your future had been mortgaged out from under you, and that's a tragic mistake we must never allow our leaders to make again."
March 8, 1983 -- in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals
"Let us beware that while they [Soviet rulers] preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination over all the peoples of the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.... I urge you to beware the temptation ..., to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of any evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil."
March 23, 1983 -- addressing the nation about his proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, later to be known as "Star Wars"
"I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete."
September 5, 1983 -- in a televised speech following the Soviets' downing of a Korean airliner
"And make no mistake about it, this attack was not just against ourselves or the Republic of Korea. This was the Soviet Union against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an act of barbarism born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations."
June 6, 1984 -- at the D-Day Commemoration in Normandy, France
"We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free."
August 1984 -- joking, unwittingly, into an open mic just before a speech that was to be broadcast
"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
August 23, 1984 -- in his speech to the Republican National Convention
"The poet called Miss Liberty's torch 'the lamp beside the golden door.' Well, that was the entrance to America, and it still is. And now you really know why we're here tonight. The glistening hope of that lamp is still ours. Every promise, every opportunity, is still golden in this land. And through that golden door our children can walk into tomorrow with the knowledge that no one can be denied the promise that is America. Her heart is full; her torch is still golden, her future bright. She has arms big enough to comfort and strong enough to support, for the strength in her arms is the strength of her people. She will carry on in the '80s unafraid, unashamed, and unsurpassed. In this springtime of hope, some lights seem eternal; America's is."
February 4, 1986 -- from the State of the Union Address
"Government growing beyond our consent had become a lumbering giant, slamming shut the gates of opportunity, threatening to crush the very roots of our freedom. What brought America back? The American people brought us back -- with quiet courage and common sense; with undying faith that in this nation under God the future will be ours, for the future belongs to the free."
August 15, 1986 -- in remarks to the White House Conference on Small Business
"[G]overnment's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
September 15, 1986 -- in an interview with "Fortune" magazine, describing his management style
"Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere."
November 13, 1986 -- in his first public statement about the allegations of secret arms-for-hostages negotiations with Iran
"In spite of the wildly speculative and false stories of arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not -- repeat did not -- trade weapons or anything else for hostages nor will we."
March 3, 1987 -- from a televised address in which he admitted to the findings of the Tower Commission
"A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not."
June 1987 -- in his famed speech near the Berlin Wall
"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
September 25, 1987 -- remarks in Arlington, Virginia
"How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."
January 11, 1989 -- farewell address to the nation
"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."
May 31, 1988 -- in his address to students at Moscow State University
"Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuous revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions."
February 3, 1994 -- Republican National Convention Annual Gala
"Our friends in the other party will never forgive us for our success, and are doing everything in their power to rewrite history. Listening to the liberals, you'd think that the 1980s were the worst period since the Great Depression, filled with suffering and despair. I don't know about you, but I'm getting awfully tired of the whining voices from the White House these days. They're claiming there was a decade of greed and neglect, but you and I know better than that. We were there."
November 5, 1994 -- from his letter to the American people revealing his Alzheimer's diagnosis
"In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
My American Experience
Who was your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Kennedy? Reagan? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?