The student of history knows the power and influence of a single speech–whether for good or bad.

Countless milestones in American history have been marked by great or otherwise memorable speeches. The rhetoric of a single man can, at times, alter the course of an entire nation. It can save a party or doom it to defeat. It can send our boys to war or mark the end of one. The words of famous orators have revitalized and rejected our founding principles. They made us into a more perfect union and weakened the foundation we were built on. They encouraged us to chase our dreams to the moon and caused us to give up on the American Dream.

Those who seek to understand the journey that brought America to where she is today cannot ignore the role of her past statesmen’s words. In this series, we will examine eight memorable speeches in American history and the impact they had on the country in an attempt to better understand this great nation.

1. The Culture War – Pat Buchanan

“Well, speak for yourself, Hillary.”

By far the most partisan (and controversial) speech on the list, Pat Buchanan’s 1992 Republican Convention Address, known as the “Culture War” speech, is important for at least two reasons.

First, after vigorously opposing the incumbent president in the primaries, the political commentator graciously managed to turn his “Buchanan Brigades” in support of George H. W. Bush. He made it clear that the Party must unite to fight what he called the “cultural war” for America’s soul. As far as he was concerned, Bill Clinton, Bush’s Democratic challenger, was their common enemy.

Reactions to the speech are mixed (although the audience evidently loved it). Some are uncomfortable with Buchanan’s mainstream strikes against cultural issues such as feminism and homosexuality. Some even go so far as to blame Bush’s ‘92 loss on the “antagonistic”  tone of that year’s Republican Convention. But it nevertheless marks a major milestone in GOP history.

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Ultimately, Buchanan’s battle cry is important today because it proved that the post-Cold War Republican Party was no longer confined to talking about taxes and foreign wars but could–and, in fact, should–engage the culture–something some Republicans are still squeamish about today.

“That speech was then, and is now, consistent with the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Buchanan would later explain. “The country-club and the establishment Republicans recoil from the social, cultural and moral issues which many conservatives and evangelicals have embraced.”

The popular commentator was not afraid to break the rules of establishment orthodoxy. As evidenced by his raucous crowd, he was merely defending the values that mattered most to everyday Americans.

“These people are our people,” he remarked in one of the speech’s most stirring moments. “They don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but they came from the same schoolyards and the same playgrounds and towns as we came from. They share our beliefs and convictions, our hopes and our dreams. These are the conservatives of the heart. They are our people.”

Now, more than 30 years later, the modern conservative movement still owes a lot to that defining movement in its history.

2. A Time for Choosing – Ronald Reagan

Chilling, poignant, and brilliantly constructed, “A Time for Choosing” didn’t kickstart Reagan’s political career for nothing. There is a reason his 1964 speech still looms large over the Republican Party–a reason why it overshadows anything ever said by the man Reagan was campaigning for (GOP legend Barry Goldwater). Nationwide, Republicans (and Democrats) in elected office can quote “The Gipper’s” iconic address. Nearly every line is memorable.

“If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

“Where, then, is the road to peace? Well, it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay. There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” 

“A Time for Choosing” reminds us why the Hollywood actor would soon earn the moniker “The Great Communicator.” But what is perhaps most refreshing about his speech is his persuasive, clearly articulated case for conservatism. If only conservative values had such a spokesperson today! One cannot help but believe that even Bernie Sanders and AOC supporters might be persuaded by Reagan’s effective exposé, even though he establishes himself as an uncompromising enemy of socialism. 

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A Ronald Reagan speechwriter once confessed that what made Reagan The Great Communicator was his “determination and ability to educate his audience.” That flair is clearly on display in “A Time for Choosing.” Rather than rely merely on “anti-the-other-party” rhetoric or, in today’s terminology, “owning” the other side, Reagan endeavored to explain to his hearers why they believed what they believed. This he did masterfully.

Add on top of this his stirring call to save “the last best hope of man on earth,” and “A Time for Choosing” secures its reputation as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

To be continued in Great speeches every self-governing American should know pt. 2.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.