World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Speeches and debates of Ronald Reagan


Speeches and debates of Ronald Reagan

Reagan working on his first State of the Union Address in the Oval Office, 1982

The speeches and debates of Ronald Reagan comprise the seminal oratory of the 40th President of the United States. Reagan began his career in Iowa as a radio broadcaster. In 1937, he moved to Los Angeles where he started acting, first in films and later television. After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. In 1980 as the Republican candidate for president of the United States, he defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter. He was reelected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming that it was "Morning in America". Reagan left office in 1989.


  • Overview 1
  • Oratorical style 2
  • Speeches 3
    • Rankings 3.1
  • Debates 4
  • Behind the scenes 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Reagan as a WHO Radio announcer in Des Moines, Iowa. 1934–37.

After graduating from college, Reagan moved first to Iowa to work as a radio broadcaster and then, in 1937, to Los Angeles where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later television.

In 1964 Reagan endorsed the campaign of conservative presidential contender Barry Goldwater. In his speech, "A Time for Choosing", Reagan stressed the need for smaller government. The speech raised 6 million dollars for Goldwater [1] and is considered the event that launched Reagan's political career.[2] It also marked a shift of the Republican Party from a moderate to a "Western more politically charged ideology."[3] California Republicans were impressed with Reagan's political views and charisma after his "Time for Choosing" speech,[4] and nominated him for Governor of California in 1966. Reagan was elected governor and served two terms.

At the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 1974 Reagan addressed the attendees saying "We Will Be As a Shining City upon a Hill", in reference to John Winthrop's use of the City upon a Hill trope from Matthew 5:14; with the addition of "shining" it became Reagan's trademark expression.[5]

In 1980 Reagan challenged Jimmy Carter for the presidency of the United States. During their only debate, Reagan used the phrase, "There you go again." The line emerged as a single defining phrase of the 1980 presidential election.[6] The phrase has endured in the political lexicon in news headlines, as a way to quickly refer to various presidential candidates' bringing certain issues up repeatedly during debates, or to Reagan himself.[7] The Associated Press wrote in 2008: "Reagan was a master at capturing a debate moment that everyone will remember. His 'there you go again' line defused his opponent's attack."[8] In the general election Reagan won by a landslide.

Reagan was the first American president to address the British Parliament.[9] In a famous address on June 8, 1982 to the British Parliament in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, Reagan said, "the forward march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism–Leninism on the ash-heap of history."[10][11]

Reagan ran for reelection in 1984. The Democratic nominee was Walter Mondale. Reagan performed poorly in the first debate, but rebounded in the second debate, and confronted questions about his age, quipping, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," which generated applause and laughter, even from Mondale himself.[12] Mondale later recalled that
If TV can tell the truth, as you say it can, you'll see that I was smiling. But I think if you come in close, you'll see some tears coming down because I knew he had gotten me there. That was really the end of my campaign that night, I think. [I told my wife] the campaign was over, and it was.[13]
Page 10 of the "Tear Down this Wall" speech
The disintegration of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, proved a pivotal moment in Reagan's presidency. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.[14] On the night of the disaster, Reagan delivered a speech, written by Peggy Noonan, in which he said:
The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave... We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'[15]
The speech is ranked as one of the ten best American political speeches of the 20th century.[16]

Reagan believed that Western Democracy offered the best hope to open the Berlin Wall.[17] On June 12, 1987, he gave a speech at the Wall in which he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!" Reagan's senior staffers objected to the phrase, but Reagan overruled them saying, "I think we'll leave it in."[18] "Tear down this wall!" has been called "The four most famous words of Ronald Reagan's Presidency."[19] Although there is some disagreement over how much influence Reagan's words had on the destruction of the wall, the speech is remembered as an important moment in Cold War history and was listed by Time magazine as one of the ten greatest speeches in history.[18][20]

Oratorical style

Reagan's effectiveness as a public speaker earned him the moniker, "Great Communicator." Former Reagan speechwriter Ken Khachigian wrote, "What made him the Great Communicator was Ronald Reagan's determination and ability to educate his audience, to bring his ideas to life by using illustrations and word pictures to make his arguments vivid to the mind's eye. In short: he was America's Teacher."[21]

Franklin D. Roosevelt, from whom Reagan often borrowed, ushered in a new age of presidential communication by broadcasting his "fireside chats" on the newly invented radio. Reagan, in his time, put his own stamp on presidential communication by harnessing the power of television broadcasting.[22] He used skills developed during his radio, film and television career, and according to Lou Cannon, Reagan "set the standard in using television to promote his presidency."[22] Khachigian noted three qualities that fostered Reagan's success. He described Reagan's voice as "a fine Merlot being poured gently into a crystal goblet." Reagan, a trained actor, has excellent "camera presence." Khachigan found Reagan's ability to create word pictures critical in communicating with his audience.[21]

Reagan preparing for his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office, 1989

Reagan said that it was his "empathy" with the American people that made him an effective communicator and leader. Reagan was able to connect to people through storytelling. While this simple form of communicating led detractors such as Clark Clifford to label Reagan a "an amiable dunce", Michael K. Deaver likened this dismissive attitude to a "secret weapon."[22]

At the end of his political career, Reagan reflected on the moniker "Great Communicator." At his farewell address he said:[22]
I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation–from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.


  Governor – first term (1967–1971)
  Governor – second term (1971–1975)
  President – first term (1981–1985)
  President – second term (1985–1989)
Selected speeches of Ronald Reagan
  Year Date Speech Location Media Text
  1964 October 27 "A Time for Choosing". In this televised speech Reagan stressed his belief in smaller government saying, "The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing." The speech launched Reagan's political career. Los Angeles, CA[23]
  1967 January 5 "California and the Problem of Government Growth". In his gubernatorial inaugural address he outlined his direction for the state saying, "The cost of California's government is too high. It adversely affects our business climate. We are going to squeeze and cut and trim until we reduce the cost of government."
Sacramento, CA
  1974 January 25 "We Will Be As a City upon a Hill" is a line from a speech Reagan delivered at the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which would become his signature saying. Washington, DC[24]
  1975 March 1 "Let Them Go Their Way." In the wake of heavy Republican losses in 1974 Reagan resists suggestions to "broaden the base." At the CPAC convention Reagan addressed moderates saying "let them go their way."[25] Washington, DC[26]
  1976 March 31 "To Restore America." In a challenge to President Gerald R. Ford, Reagan announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in this televised address. CA
  1976 August 19 "A Shining City on a Hill". Reagan's impromptu concession speech at the 1976 Republican National Convention has been called a "defining moment of the Reagan Revolution." [27] Kansas City, MO
  1977 February 6 "The New Republican Party" was a speech delivered at CPAC in which Reagan calls for expanding the Republican Party to African Americans.[28] Washington, DC
  1980 July 17 "Time to Recapture Our Destiny." Presidential nomination acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention. Regarding Democratic opponent Jimmy Carter he said, "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." Detroit, MI
  1981 January 20 In his first inaugural address, which Reagan himself wrote,[29] he addressed the country's economic malaise arguing: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem." Written by Reagan and Ken Khachigian.[30][31]
Washington, DC
  1981 April 28 Address on the Program for Economic Recovery
Washington, DC
  1982 January 26 First State of the Union address. Reagan spoke on economic issues in 1981 in lieu of a State of the Union address. The speech is known for Reagan's proposal to increase the power of the states, dubbed "New Federalism" by the media.[32] Reagan recognizes Lenny Skutnik and starts a tradition. (excerpt)
Washington, DC
  1982 June 8 Address to the British Parliament. Notable for Reagan's use of the expression "ash heap of history" in predicting the fall of the Soviet Union. The phrase was suggested by Tony Dolan[33]
London, UK
  1982 June 17 Reagan's first address to the United Nations General Assembly was extremely critical of the Soviet Union.[34] He accused the Soviets of "tyranny," "ruthless repression" and "atrocities." He closed by saying, "We must serve mankind through genuine disarmament."
New York, NY
  1982 November 22 "Address to the Nation on Strategic Arms Reduction and Nuclear Deterrence." Reagan announces the deployment of MX missiles.
  1983 January 25 In the 1983 State of the Union Address Reagan stressed that the economy was "on the mend." He warned that deficits were "a clear and present danger to the basic health of the republic" and recommended a far-ranging freeze on spending.[35] (excerpt)
Washington, DC
  1983 March 8 Speech delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. First use of the description "Evil Empire." The speech was written by Tony Dolan.[36]
Orlando, FL
  1983 March 23 The Strategic Defense Initiative is outlined in an address to the nation. Washington, DC
  1984 January 25 1984 State of the Union Address. Reagan report that the economy is in full recovery and calls on Congress to work together to reduce deficits. He announces plans to build a space station saying, "We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful economic and scientific gain." (excerpt)
Washington, DC
  1984 June 6 The "Boys of Pointe du Hoc" speech was delivered on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. The speech was written by Peggy Noonan.[16]
Normandy, France
  1985 January 21 Second inaugural address to the nation. Because January 20 fell on a Sunday, a public celebration was not held but took place in the Capitol Rotunda the following day. January 21 was one of the coldest days on record in Washington, D.C.; due to poor weather, inaugural celebrations were held inside the Capitol.[37] Written by Reagan, Bently Elliott, Noonan and Dolan.[31]
Washington, DC
  1985 February 6 1985 State of the Union Address. The Reagan Doctrine is introduced.
Washington, DC
  1986 January 28 Address to the nation regarding the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The speech is ranked as one of the ten best American political speeches of the 20th century[16]
Washington, DC
  1986 February 4 The 1986 State of the Union Address was postponed due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In the speech Reagan calls abortion "a wound in our national conscience" and he reopened the welfare debate saying, "in the welfare culture, the breakdown of the family ... has reached crisis proportions." He explains that the recovery was attributed to "the American people" and their "quiet courage and common sense..."
Washington, DC
  1987 January 27 1987 State of the Union Address. He said "mistakes were made" in the Iran-Contra affair.
Washington, DC
  1987 March 4 Address to the nation regarding the Iran-contra affair
Washington, DC
  1987 June 12 Brandenburg Gate speech. Reagan challenges Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!." The speech made Time magazine's "Top 10 Greatest Speeches List"[20] and was written by Peter Robinson.[38]
West Berlin
  1988 January 25 1988 State of the Union Address. This was Reagan's last State of the Union Address. Not content to rest on his laurels, he announced a policy agenda. He famously summarized the effect of government intervention on the poor saying: "Some years ago the federal goverment declared War on Poverty, and poverty won."[39] (excerpt)
Washington, DC
  1989 January 11 Reagan states in his Farewell Address: "They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense." The speech was written by Peggy Noonan.
Washington, DC
  1990 November 19 "The Brotherhood of Man." At the dedication of a monument to Winston Churchill, Reagan discusses the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year.
Fulton, MO
  1992 August 17 "Empire of Ideals" was a speech delivered at the Republican National Convention. Regarding Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton Reagan quiped, "I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine. And governor, you're no Thomas Jefferson." (excerpt)
Houston, TX
  1994 February 3 Remarks on the occasion of his 83rd birthday Washington, DC


In 2009 a list was compiled by professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M University and based on the opinions of "137 leading scholars of American public address."[16] The speeches by Ronald Reagan which made the list are below:
#8 Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Address
#25 "A Time For Choosing"
#29 "The Evil Empire"
#30 First Inaugural address
#60 "Boys of Pointe Du Hoc"
#94 Brandenburg Gate Address

Time magazine listed the Brandenburg Gate Address on its list of "Top 10 Greatest Speeches."[20]


Selected debates of Ronald Reagan
  Year Date Debate Location Media Transcript
  1980 February 23 Debate with former Congressman GOP presidential nomination. When Reagan's microphone is turned off, the former governor paraphrases Spencer Tracy and says, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green!" Nashua, NH
  1980 October 28 Presidential Debate with Jimmy Carter. Reagan baits President Carter saying, "There you go again," and in closing asks voters: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Cleveland, OH
  1984 October 21 Second Presidential Debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale. President Reagan said he wouldn't hold Mondale's "youth and inexperience" against him. Kansas City, MO

Behind the scenes

See also

Reagan speechwriters


  1. ^ Cannon, Lou (June 6, 2004). "Actor, Governor, President, Icon".  
  2. ^ Cannon (2001), p. 36.
  3. ^ Landmark Speeches of the American Conservative Movement – Google Books. October 27, 1964. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  4. ^ "The Governors' Gallery – Ronald Reagan". California State Library. Retrieved March 21, 2007. 
  5. ^ Gamble, Richard (May 4, 2009). "How Right Was Reagan?". The American Conservative. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Other stars emerge other than those on the presidential ticket". Gannett News Service. November 4, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2008. 
  7. ^ "There You Go Again".  
  8. ^ Bauder, David (October 8, 2008). "So far, debates lack the memorable lines of past". Associated Press. Retrieved November 5, 2008. 
  9. ^ U.S. Presidents Factbook – Elizabeth Jewell – Google Books. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  10. ^ Robert C. Rowland, and John M. Jones. Reagan at Westminster: Foreshadowing the End of the Cold War (Texas A&M University Press; 2010)
  11. ^ Speeches to Both Houses, Parliamentary Information List, Standard Note: SN/PC/4092, Last updated: November 27, 2008, Author: Department of Information Services
  12. ^ "1984 Presidential Debates". CNN. Retrieved May 25, 2007. 
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Berkes, Howard (January 28, 2006). "Challenger: Reporting a Disaster's Cold, Hard Facts". NPR. Retrieved April 19, 2008. 
  15. ^ Noonan, Peggy (January 28, 1986). "Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger". University of Texas. Retrieved December 27, 2009. 
  16. ^ a b c d Michael E. Eidenmuller (February 13, 2009). "Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century by Rank". "American Rhetoric. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  17. ^ Boyd, Gerald M (June 13, 1987). "Raze Berlin Wall, Reagan Urges Soviet". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2008. 
  18. ^ a b Walsh, Kenneth T (June 2007). "Seizing the Moment". U.S. News & World Report. pp. 39–41. Retrieved June 27, 2007. 
  19. ^ Ratnesar, Romesh (June 11, 2007). "20 Years After "Tear Down This Wall" – TIME". Time. Retrieved February 19, 2008. 
  20. ^ a b c Follow TIME Facebook Twitter Google + Tumblr (September 17, 2008). "Ronald Reagan – Top 10 Greatest Speeches". TIME. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ a b c d "Actor, Governor, President, Icon". June 6, 2004. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  23. ^ Michael E. Eidenmuller (October 27, 1964). "Ronald Reagan – A Time for Choosing". American Rhetoric. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  24. ^ "CPAC 1974 :: Ronald Reagan | The American Conservative Union". January 25, 1974. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  25. ^ "The Soul of the Republican Party | Conservative News, Views & Books". Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  26. ^ "CPAC 1975 :: Ronald Reagan | The American Conservative Union". March 1, 1975. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  27. ^ The New Reagan Revolution: How Ronald Reagan's Principles Can Restore ... – Michael Reagan, Jim Denney – Google Books. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  28. ^ "Ronald Reagan and the African American – Kiron K. Skinner – National Review Online". Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  29. ^ Murray, Robert K.; Tim H. Blessing (1993). Greatness in the White House. Penn State Press. p. 80.  
  30. ^ Curtis, Diane (May 9, 1981) "An Ex-White House Speechwriter Compares the Styles of Reagan and Nixon". United Press International.
  31. ^ a b The Inaugural Addresses of Twentieth-Century American Presidents – Halford Ross Ryan – Google Books. January 21, 1985. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  32. ^ Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom – Andrew Busch – Google Books. November 13, 1979. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Ash Heap of History: President Reagan’s Westminster Address 20 Years Later". June 3, 2002. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Logansport Pharos Tribune, January 26, 1983 : Front Page". Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  36. ^ "RELEASE: 'I Have a Dream' leads top 100 speeches of the century". Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  37. ^ """Phil Gailey and Warren Weaver, Jr., "Briefing.  
  38. ^ """20 Years After "Tear Down This Wall. Time. June 11, 2007. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  39. ^ Issues for Debate in Social Policy: Selections From CQ Researcher – CQ Researcher – Google Boeken. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 

Further reading

  • Reagan, Ronald (2001). The Greatest Speeches of Ronald Reagan.

External links

  • Presidential Speech Archive – Ronald Reagan, Miller Center, audio and video files
  • The Great Communicator, speech archive at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library
  • Ronald Reagan's Major Speeches, speech and debate transcripts at the archive of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
  • Speeches, images of major speeches at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
  • Ronald Reagan, In His Own Words, National Public Radio
  • Campaigns and Elections, content and videos of debates at the Miller Center
  • The Reagan Foundation, official YouTube channel
  • Reagan Speech Archive, CNN
  • Speeches and other Media Uses by Ronald Reagan, by Russell D. Renka
  • President Reagan's 83rd Birthday Celebration, C-SPAN video, February 3, 1994
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.