When looking at greatness, here are some starting points
Context: Is there a moment that calls for a great speech? Does the gravity of the moment add weight to the words.
Medium: It matters not only why the speech was given, but also how people engaged. Before modern media, most people read presidential addresses.
For most Americans, we’ve read the influential addresses: Washington’s Farewell Address, Jefferson’s Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and second Inaugural Address.
Later presidents used the radio – think of Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, which had an intimacy as people listened in living rooms. Television added the visual.
Finally, the speaker addresses the moment. The audience makes it theirs. The speaker explains, persuades, and moves.
Phillip Payne is chair of the History Department at St. Bonaventure University.