Speech! Speech!

Presidential candidates and presidents make lots of speeches. On the campaign trail a candidate will deliver her or his stump speech dozens of times, often multiple times a day. If a candidate wins his party’s nomination, he makes a formal acceptance speech on the last night of his party’s national convention. And if he’s fortunate enough to win the general election, he will make a victory speech (typically on election night) and deliver a formal inaugural address the day he’s sworn in as president. Once in office a president will make innumerable speeches to various audiences, but his most widely watched each year is usually his State of the Union address, in which he reflects on the state of the nation, outlines his administration’s accomplishments over the past year, and outlines his agenda for the year ahead.

For this assignment you will select two or more speeches by presidents or presidential candidates to compare and contrast in a comparison essay.  Use one of the analytical approaches described below to help determine which speeches you will analyze.  After you have selected an analytical approach and identified appropriate speeches to compare and contrast, use the compare-contrast graphic organizer to record the ideas you will include in your essay.  Below are links to instructions for writing a comparison essay, to the compare-contrast graphic organizer, and to the rubric that your instructor will use to score your essay.

Instructions for writing a comparison essay
Compare-contrast graphic organizer
Compare-contrast essay rubric

Analytical Approaches

  1. Campaigning vs. Governing -- How does a presidential candidate’s speech (a stump speech or nomination acceptance speech) compare to a speech he makes as president (his inaugural address or a State of the Union message)?

Example: Obama stump speech vs. 2009 State of the Union address (video, text)

  1. Partisanship: Compare what Democrats and Republicans say in the same type of speech. (e.g., recent Democratic stump speeches vs. recent Republican stump speeches).

Example: Ronald Reagan’s 1984 nomination acceptance speech vs. Walter Mondale’s 1984 nomination acceptance speech

  1. Historical Parallels: Compare the speeches of different presidents facing similar historical circumstances -- war, economic turmoil, domestic conflict, etc.

Example: FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech vs. George W. Bush’s address before Congress on the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of September 11

  1. Change/Continuity: How have what presidents say in a certain type of speech changed and/or stayed the same over time?

Example: Inaugural Addresses -- Washington’s first inaugural address, Grant’s first inaugural address, T. Roosevelt’s inaugural address, Wilson’s second inaugural address, Johnson’s inaugural address, George W. Bush’s first inaugural address

  1. The 2012 Victor vs. The Greats: Compare the inaugural address of the winner of the 2012 election with one of the great inaugural addresses of all time -- Lincoln’s second, FDR’s first, Kennedy’s, or Reagan’s first.
  2. Election vs. Re-election: Compare campaign speeches of candidates seeking election to the presidency for the first time to those seeking re-election.  

Example: John Kerry’s 2004 nomination acceptance speech vs. George W. Bush’s 2004 acceptance speech

  1. First vs. Second Inaugurals: Compare the first and second inaugurals of two-term presidents.

The Speeches

American Presidency Project Resources
  • Inaugural addresses
  • Democratic (1916-2008) and Republican (1864-2008) nomination acceptance speeches/letters (text)
  • State of the Union addresses/messages
  • 1960 campaign speeches
  • 2004 campaign speeches
  • 2008 campaign speeches
  • 2012 campaign speeches

American Presidency Project audio & video from Hoover to Obama (includes various speeches)

The New York Times: 2008 stump speeches & nomination acceptance speeches (video & text)

The New York Times Interactive: Inaugural Addresses from 1789-present