12 Historical Speeches Nobody Ever Heard
By Lucas Reilly
For every speech, there are a bunch of versions that ended up on the writers' room floor. Here are 12 speeches that were written but, for a variety of reasons, never delivered.
1. “In Event of Moon Disaster”
As the world nervously waited for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to land on the moon, Nixon speechwriter William Safire penned a speech in case the astronauts were stranded in space. The memo was addressed to H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, and includes chilling directions for the president, NASA, and clergy in case something went awry.
Here's the text:
IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER: Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown. In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
2. Eisenhower’s “In Case of Failure” Message
General Dwight D. Eisenhower sounded confident before the Normandy Invasion. “This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success,” he said.
Operation Overlord was a massive campaign—an invasion of 4000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million men. Despite a year of strategizing and a boatload of confidence, Eisenhower had a quiet plan in case his mission failed. If the armada couldn’t cross the English Channel, he’d order a full retreat. One day before the invasion, he prepared a brief speech just in case:
"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."
Although the allies suffered about 12,000 casualties—with an estimated 4900 U.S. troops killed—155,000 successfully made it ashore, with thousands more on the way. Within a year, Germany would surrender.
3. Wamsutta James’s 1970 Plymouth Anniversary Speech
The people of Plymouth, Massachusetts wanted to celebrate. It was the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims, and a day of festivities was planned. For the celebration dinner, organizers invited Wamsutta James—a descendent of the Wampanoag—to speak. They hoped James would give a cheery address recounting the friendly Pilgrim-Indian relationship. But James was not interested in that airbrushed version of history:
"It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you—celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People."
From there, James debunked a slew of cultural myths. The relationship between Pilgrims and Native Americans was always uneasy, he said. Wampanoag ancestors had lived in New England for nearly 10,000 years before the Europeans had arrived. But, in just a few years, the newcomers had brought disease and gobbled up land. The relationship eventually burst in 1675, when King Philip’s War erupted, decimating the Native American population and Wampanoag culture.
"History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood."
When James submitted his address for approval, the organizers rejected it. They asked him to read a speech prepared by a public relations writer instead. James walked away.
4. “I Don’t Feel Like Resigning”
With swaths of damning evidence around him and no support behind him, Richard Nixon stared into a television camera August 8, 1974, and announced his resignation. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. That was Plan B.
A few days earlier, Nixon’s speechwriter, Raymond Price, prepared two drafts for that address. In one—titled “Option B”—Nixon announced his resignation. In the other speech, he vowed to fight for his job. Here’s an excerpt:
“Whatever the mistakes that have been made—and there are many—and whatever the measure of my own responsibility for those mistakes, I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected official from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago. . .” “If I were to resign, it would spare the country additional months consumed with the ordeal of a Presidential impeachment and trial. But it would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a President could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution.”
Shortly after the speech was written, the “smoking gun” was released—a tape-recording of Nixon’s plan to halt the FBI’s Watergate investigation. His political support evaporated overnight. Impeachment became a certainty: “Option B” was the only option left.
5. JFK’s Dallas Trade Mart Speech
It was late November 1963, and President Kennedy had begun a two-day, five-city tour of Texas. After a speedy 13-minute flight from Fort Worth, a motorcade picked up JFK at the Dallas airport and took him on a ten-mile tour through downtown. The president was bound for the Trade Mart, where he was scheduled to speak at a luncheon. He never made it.
Here’s a short excerpt of Kennedy’s undelivered Trade Mart speech.
“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding faults but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable. But today other voices are heard in the land—voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. . . We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that few people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is not but just plain nonsense.
That day, Americans sorely needed to hear Kennedy’s unread closing:
“[Our] strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions—it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations—it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.”
A second undelivered Dallas speech, for the Texas Democratic Committee in Austin, can be found here.
6. Anna Quindlen’s 2000 Villanova Commencement Address
Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Anna Quindlen had already written Villanova’s keynote speech when protests at the Catholic university began to roil. A handful of students disagreed with Quindlen’s views on abortion, and the issue boiled over so badly that Quindlen bowed out from the event. Although never delivered, her speech “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” has been widely circulated on the internet:
“Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. . . Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. "And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. . . It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid’s eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live.”
7. Condoleezza Rice’s 9/11 Address
On September 11, 2001, Condoleezza Rice was slated to deliver a speech at Johns Hopkins University, addressing “the threats and problems of today and the day after.” Terrorists made their own statement that morning, forcing Rice to scrap her speech.
In 2004, excerpts from Rice’s address leaked to The Washington Post. The speech did not mention Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden. Rather, it promoted missile defense as an upgraded security strategy. Of the few lines released publicly, one read:
“We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb, and the vial of sarin released in the subway [but] why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of Mace then decide to leave your windows open?”
8. Ninoy Aquino Jr’s Last Remarks
Philippine Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was not a fan of President Ferdinand Marcos. When Aquino stirred up the political pot, Marcos’s regime—ruled by martial law—tossed Aquino in jail. Years later, Aquino made his way out of prison and exiled himself in the United States. In 1983, upon hearing that life in the Philippines was getting worse, Aquino returned home to help. He came armed with a stirring speech:
“I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation. I only pray and will strive for a genuine national reconciliation founded on justice. . . A death sentence awaits me. Two more subversion charges, both calling for death penalties, have been filled since I left three years ago and are now pending with the courts. . . I return voluntarily armed only with a clear conscience and fortified faith that in the end justice will emerge triumphant. According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”
Aquino never read the address. Over 1000 armed soldiers awaited his landing. He was immediately arrested and, while waiting for his prison escort, was shot in the head. The assassination spurred a revolt against Marcos’s regime, which crumbled three years later.
9. JFK’s Other Cuban Missile Crisis Speech
America soiled its collective pants October 22, 1962. The country’s eyes were glued to the television as President Kennedy said what everyone feared: Cuba had missiles, and they were “capable of hitting any city in the western hemisphere.” The United States was a giant bullseye.
Kennedy announced a Cuban “quarantine,” a military blockade that restricted weapons and other materials to the island. Other options, however, were on the table—a second, more aggressive, address announced plans for an airstrike. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, didn’t write the second speech, but he did read it, and he was disturbed by its opening:
“I have ordered—and the United States Air Force has now carried out—military operations with conventional weapons to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”
The alternate speech said that America would use nuclear weapons if necessary—a bold statement that never appeared in Kennedy’s televised address. It’s unknown who wrote the speech and if Kennedy ever saw it. “There is still a minor mystery as to who, if anyone, was asked to draft an alternative speech announcing and justifying an air strike on the missiles,” Sorensen later wrote.
10. Romney’s 47 Percent Fixer-Upper
When Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments leaked in September, his campaign scrambled for a fix. A flurry of press conferences followed as the Romney camp tried to patch the damage. Later in September, an undelivered speech was leaked to the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a taste of what it said:
“One tragedy of the Obama Presidency is how many more Americans have become dependent on the government. I know it’s not their fault. Most want to be self-sufficient, to provide for their families, they can’t because there aren’t enough jobs. . . This is a national scandal. Not because those fellow Americans are free-loaders, but because they aren’t able to get a good job that pays enough to be self-sufficient and lets them fulfill their human potential. . . I don’t want to take food stamps away from Americans in need. I want fewer Americans to need food stamps.”
11. Sarah Palin’s Victory and Concession Speeches
Sarah Palin’s relationship with John McCain was never very warm and fuzzy. The Palin and McCain camps constantly clashed along the campaign trail. As one McCain official explained in a New York Times interview, “It was a difficult relationship… McCain talked to her occasionally.”
The duo’s biggest duel occurred on election night. Palin’s speechwriter, Matthew Scully, had drawn up two speeches: a victory and concession address. Hours before the candidates took the stage, McCain’s senior staffers told Palin that she couldn’t read either. According to The Daily Beast, McCain aides “literally turned the lights out on Palin when she retook the stage later that night to take pictures with her family, fearing that she would give the concession speech after all.”
Here’s the best of Palin’s undelivered addresses:
“As for my own family, well, it’s been quite a journey these past 69 days. We were ready, in defeat, to return to a place and a life we love. And I said to my husband Todd that it’s not a step down when he’s no longer Alaska’s 'First Dude.' He will now be the first guy ever to become the 'Second Dude.'
“I told my husband Todd to look at the upside: Now, at least, he can clear his schedule, and get ready for championship title number five in the Iron Dog snow machine race!. . . But far from returning to the great State of Alaska with any sense of sorrow, we will carry with us the best of memories. . . and joyful experiences that do not depend on victory.” “America has made her choice. . . Now it is time for us go our way, neither bitter nor vanquished, but instead confident in the knowledge that there will be another day… and we may gather once more. . . and find new strength. . . and rise to fight again.”
12. FDR’s Final Words
April 12, 1945, was a beautiful day in Warm Springs, Georgia. Franklin D. Roosevelt relaxed inside his woodland cottage, the “Little White House,” and was having his portrait painted. But during lunch, a bolt of pain shot through the back of his head, causing him to collapse. By 3:35 pm, doctors had pronounced the president dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. A speech sat in FDR’s study, unread.
Roosevelt had edited the speech the night before. It was an address for Jefferson Day, a celebration of Thomas Jefferson, and was supposed to be delivered April 13 via a national radio broadcast. Here’s an excerpt of FDR’s last words to the American people:
“Let me assure you that my hand is the steadier for the work that is to be done, that I move more firmly into the task, knowing that you—millions and millions of you—are joined with me in the resolve to make this work endure. The work, my friends, is peace, more than an end of this war—an end to the beginning of all wars, yes, an end, forever, to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of the differences between governments by the mass killing of peoples. Today as we move against the terrible scourge of war—as we go forward toward the greatest contribution that any generation of human beings can make in this world—the contribution of lasting peace—I ask you to keep up your faith. . . The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”