Convention speeches can electrify the nation and rally the party to a candidate. These are some of the most famous speeches (so far) that have done just that. Though not all of them elected the candidate for office, they swayed public opinion and catapulted the speechmakers to fame.
1896 William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold” speech
While the nation was in a deep recession, Bryan’s stance was to return to the free silver system. His “Cross of Gold” speech to help farmers in debt electrified the Convention, and catapulted him from the underdog to become the Democratic nominee literally overnight. He ultimately lost the election to McKinley, as the country still supported the gold standard, but he remained a popular political figure all his life.
“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”
1932 FDR “New Deal” speech
The country was buried in the Great Depression, and Roosevelt’s “New Deal” speech gave hope to a struggling nation. He denounced the trickle down economic theory and proposed to fund public works projects to put people to work
I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people.
1940 Eleanor Roosevelt “This is No Ordinary Time” speech
The Convention came on the brink of WWII, in a time of grave crisis. Eleanor was the first First Lady to address a convention and she gave a passionate speech about the responsibility of the President. FDR was elected to an unprecedented third term.
1960 JFK “New Frontier” speech
Kennedy was never one to look backwards; he had a clear vision for the future. In his “New Frontier” speech, he inspired his audience to forge ahead and leave the past behind. He said “The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.” He was the first Catholic President, a challenge in those days, promising his decisions would be made as “an American, a Democrat and as a free man.”
“…we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960’s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.”
1964 Barry Goldwater “Defense of Liberty” speech
In his acceptance speech, Conservative Goldwater harkened a return to the old in his “Defense of Liberty” speech. He declared “…extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” He lost to Lyndon Johnson in the election.
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1976 Ronald Reagan “Time Capsule” speech
This famous speech was a concession speech to Gerald Ford, but it paved the way for him to be nominated and win in the next election. He described a “time capsule” of what the world would look like in 100 years that asked whether or not we would destroy the world and even be here. He said of his party:
“I believe the Republican Party has a platform that is a banner of bold, unmistakable colors, with no pastel shades.”
1984 Mario Cuomo “Tale of Two Cities” speech
Cuomo’s “Tale of Two Cities” speech in answer to Reagan’s “City on a Shining Hill” speech, he pointed out the division between rich and poor to solidify liberal opposition to conservatism.
“A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House,” Cuomo said. “But there’s another city …
1988 George Bush “Read My Lips” speech
“Read my lips: No new taxes.” made this acceptance speech memorable to the nation and boosted his credibility with conservatives. At the time, he was outgoing President Reagan’s VP, and won this election for 1 term.
2004 Barack Obama “One America” speech
The relatively unknown junior senator from Illinois rocked the convention with his “One America” keynote speech for John Kerry and made him a superstar overnight. Though Kerry lost the election, Obama won in a landslide 4 years later.
“Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”