Political Expression and Presidential Addresses



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Political Expression and Presidential Addresses

Richard A. Gershon, Ph.D.
Freedom of Expression, Com. 3070
Western Michigan University

Abraham Lincoln

  • Lincoln warned the South in his Inaugural Address:

  • In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

  • Lincoln thought secession illegal, and was willing to use force to defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter and forced its surrender, he called on the states for 75,000 volunteers. The Civil War had begun.

  • As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. Further, he rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

  • Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg:

"… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln




Margaret Sanger

  • Margaret Sanger was a women’s choice activist who led the way to legalize birth control. She was the founder of the American Birth Control League which eventually became Planned Parenthood.

  • Born into an Irish working-class family, Sanger witnessed her mother's slow death, worn out after 18 pregnancies and 11 live births. She worked as a practical nurse and midwife in the poorest neighborhoods of New York City in the years before World War I. There, she saw women deprived of their medical health needs, sexuality and ability to care for children already born.

  • Information about birth control was so suppressed by the clergy and prevailing government laws -- that it was a criminal offense to send it through the mail. Yet the educated (and well to do) had access to such information and could use various disguises to buy French products, which were really condoms as well as feminine hygiene products.


  • Sanger’s efforts were initially met with fierce resistance from various religious and political groups. She gradually won some support, both in the public as well as the courts, for a woman's choice to decide how and when she will bear children.

  • Margaret Sanger was instrumental in opening the way to universal access to birth control.




“We stand on the principle that Birth Control should be available to every adult man and woman.  We believe that every adult man and woman should be taught the responsibility and the right use of knowledge.  We claim that woman should have the right over her own body and to say if she shall or if she shall not be a mother, as she sees fit. …

Upon these principles the Birth Control movement in America stands. When it comes to discussing the methods of Birth Control, that is far more difficult. There are laws in this country which forbid the imparting of practical information to the mothers of the land.  We claim that every mother in this country, either sick or well, has the right to the best, the safest, the most scientific information.”

Margaret Sanger

Martin Luther King

  • During the 1950s, Martin Luther King, Jr. studied the methods of nonviolent protest of the Indian nationalist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi and successfully implemented them in advancing the cause of black civil rights in the U.S.

  • In 1957, King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization of black churches and ministers that aimed to challenge racial segregation. As SCLC’s president, King became the organization’s dominant personality and its primary intellectual influence.

  • King expertly led the movement and forced discussion of inequality in the U.S. His work inspired thousands of blacks and led to long-range changes in the lives of countless others.

  • In 1963, five years before his death at the hands of an assassin, King and other black leaders organized the March on Washington, a massive protest in Washington, D.C., for jobs and civil rights.

  • On August 28, 1963, King delivered a stirring address to an audience of more than 200,000 civil rights supporters. His “I Have a Dream” speech expressed the hopes of the civil rights movement in oratory as moving as any in American history.




“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”


Martin Luther King

Franklin Roosevelt

  • F.D.R. was the best loved and most hated American President of the 20th century. He was loved because, though patrician by birth, upbringing and style, he believed in and fought for plain people — for the "forgotten man and woman,” for the “ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished."

  • He was loved because he radiated personal charm, joy in his work, optimism for the future. "Meeting him," said Winston Churchill, "was like uncorking a bottle of champagne."

  • But he was hated too — hated because he called for change, and the changes he proposed reduced the power, status, and income of those who profited most from the old order.

Declaration of War

  • When Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, Roosevelt stated that, although the nation was neutral, he did not expect America to remain inactive in the face of Nazi aggression..

  • With the fall of France in 1940, the American mood and Roosevelt's policy changed dramatically. Congress enacted a draft for military service and Roosevelt signed a "lend-lease" bill in March 1941 to enable the nation to furnish aid to nations at war with Germany and Italy. America, though a neutral in the war and still at peace, was becoming the "arsenal of democracy", as its factories began producing weapons in preparation for war.

  • After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, Roosevelt went before the U.S. Congress the next day and sought a declaration of war against Japan. On December 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S, thus marking America's entry into W.W. II.

John Kennedy

  • John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917. He was of Irish, Catholic descent. Graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the US Navy.

  • His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction:




"Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."




  • As President, he set out to redeem his campaign pledge to get America moving again. His economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since WW II. Responding to ever more urgent demands, he took vigorous action in the cause of civil rights, calling for new civil rights legislation.



The Cuban Missile Crisis

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis was the military confrontation between the U.S., the Soviet Union and Cuba when the Cold War threatened to escalate into a nuclear war.

  • The confrontation began on October 14th, 1962, when U.S. reconnaissance photographs taken by an American U-2 spy plane revealed missile bases being built in Cuba.




Ronald Reagan

  • Ronald Reagan was a historical romantic according to his biographer Edmund Morris. That said, he was one tough romantic.

  • When Reagan first entered politics, in 1964, Khrushchev had already promised to bury the U.S., Sputnik had been launched and missiles has been placed in Cuba. It seemed reasonable to think the Soviets might someday overtake the West.

  • Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of deregulation (less government interference) and restricting the advancement of Soviet Communism.

  • Both President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev ended the cold war that had existed between both countries for more than half a century.




Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred in the U.S. over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:39 a.m. on January 28, 1986.

  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its flight after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket failed at liftoff.

  • The shuttle was destroyed and all seven crew members were killed, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

  • The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program




Bill Clinton




Oklahoma City Bombing

  • On April 19, 1995, (approx. 9:03 AM) just after parents dropped their children off at day care at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, a massive bomb inside a rental truck exploded, blowing half of the nine-story building into oblivion.

  • A stunned nation watched as the bodies of men, women, and children were pulled from the rubble for nearly two weeks. When the smoke cleared and the rescue workers packed up and left, 168 people were dead in the worst domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

  • Just 90 minutes after the explosion, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer pulled over 27-year-old Timothy McVeigh for driving without a license plate. Shortly before he was to be released on April 21st , McVeigh was recognized as a bombing suspect and was charged with the bombing.



  • When McVeigh's ex-Army buddy, Terry Nichols, discovered that he, too, was wanted for questioning, he voluntarily surrendered to police in Herington, Kansas, and was later charged in the bombing.

  • McVeigh and Nichols were arrested and tried for conspiracy to commit murder.

  • On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on eleven counts of murder and conspiracy. McVeigh was sentenced to death. He was executed by lethal injection at a U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on June 11, 2001.

Barack Obama
Presidential Election Victory Speech, Chicago

  • In November 2008, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the U.S.

  • The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis – a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and tone of the country.

  • Obama’s victory was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution
    of America’s racially fraught history; a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. America had chosen its first black President.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…”

Barack Obama







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