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Book Collects Greatness in 'American Speeches'

Abraham Lincoln's speeches, both famous and now-forgotten, are among those collected in a new anthology, <em>American Speeches</em>.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Abraham Lincoln's speeches, both famous and now-forgotten, are among those collected in a new anthology, American Speeches.

During the campaign season, a typical candidate's stump speech may belie the rich and eloquent history of American rhetoric.

A new, two-volume anthology of American speeches from the Library of America offers ample evidence that political speaking has framed and rallied every great event from the Revolution to present day.

Ted Widmer, director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and a former speechwriter for the Clinton White House, edited the two volumes.

Widmer includes obvious classics like the Gettysburg Address. But the pages of these books are filled with remarks that have been forgotten over time, even if their authors have not.

And American Speeches also includes speeches from orators far less famous than Abraham Lincoln, such as Robert Brown Elliott, an African-American member of Congress during Reconstruction.

Widmer discusses these speakers, both famous and not-so-famous, religious influences on Western oratory, and differences between speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.