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  • Great quotes from Kennedy speeches

    JFK: The orator — great Kennedy speeches still applicable today
  • As a public speaker, John F. Kennedy was a man of the times, a new, fresh hope ready for his television close-up. In public comments, Kennedy delivered an inspiring message with winning sincerity and an impactful delivery. His most famous quotes fill books, and public speakers still study his style, delivery and words.
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  • As a public speaker, John F. Kennedy was a man of the times, a new, fresh hope ready for his television close-up. In public comments, Kennedy delivered an inspiring message with winning sincerity and an impactful delivery. His most famous quotes fill books, and public speakers still study his style, delivery and words.
    "He was perfect for the medium of television," said Southern Methodist University professor Dennis Simon. "In appearances, he showed off his disposition and wit. His press conferences were performances where he displayed witty, cerebral seriousness," Simon said.
    He may not have always been a great public speaker, but it's a role he grew into, especially with the help of his legendary and much-admired speechwriter Ted Sorensen.
    Kennedy's inaugural address given on Jan. 10, 1961, is generally ranked by historians as one of the greatest inaugural addresses of all time. Written by Sorensen, the commencement address sets the standard by which modern inaugural addresses are measured.
    It famously declared, "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country," but is filled with numerous memorable quotes, including: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But never let us fear to negotiate," and "My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of mankind."
    Coming at a time of great national stress, Kennedy's inaugural address took context from Americans' Cold War fears as he declared, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."
    His inspirational style also shined through in another of his most famous speeches, the Peace Speech, delivered June 10, 1963, at American University in Washington, D.C., said David Talbot, popular historian and founder of Salon.com. In this speech also written by Sorensen, Kennedy called for high-level negotiations with the Soviet Union, a nuclear test ban treaty and an end to the Cold War.
    Kennedy had the audacity to "empathize with the dreaded Soviet bogeyman," Talbot said. "He said, we have to see them as human beings, to understand that they have children and basically we all want the same thing — to live in a safe and peaceful world," Talbot said.
    His impassioned plea asked, "If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
    It was a daring and politically risky choice of words at the time, Talbot said.
    The following day, June 11, 1963, Kennedy delivered another outstanding address on radio and television in response to the desegregation of the University of Alabama. In the Civil Rights Address, Kennedy implored the nation to see civil rights as a moral rather than simply a legal issue, Talbot said.
    His words still resonate today, Simon added. "He basically gave us a checklist" of what a moral America requires, Simon said, such as the ability to vote and for your children to attend a good school.
    Kennedy said, "If an American, because the color of his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public schools available, if he cannot vote for those public officials that represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
    "I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."
    Another speech considered one of Kennedy's best is the "Ich Bin Ein Berliner (I am a Berliner)" speech on June 26, 1963, when Kennedy spoke defiantly of the United States' support for West Germany about two years after the construction of the Berlin Wall.
    The quote is, "Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ('I am a Roman citizen'). Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' ... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' "
    • "If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help."
    • "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
    u"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men."
    u"We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do."
    u"Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."
    • "The world is very different now ... and yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."
    • "Today every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate that day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under the sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
    • "My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us ... step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step."
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