Looking for "at the time" criticism of famous, historically important speeches.
August 30, 2008 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me towards particularly noteworthy "at the time" criticism of some of the United States' historically important speeches?

Particularly criticism of JFK's Inaugural Address and Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speeches. Though any others that might be interesting are also welcome.

There's a ton of essays and papers written years later, after the fact, and they seem to be mucking up my search results. I'm interested in reading emotionally negative responses to these types of speeches that were leveled "at the time" (or immediately after)... before the historical significance had a chance to be fully realized.

Whether the criticism was accurate or just isn't important. I'm just curious to see what the detractors were saying.

Yes, this is prompted by Obama's speech the other night. And no, this isn't an attempt to start a flame war or make a statement. The partisan reaction to his speech got me thinking about history and I'm genuinely curious.
posted by csimpkins to Law & Government (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lincoln's Gettsburg Address:

The next day the Democratic-leaning Chicago Times observed, "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."
posted by marsha56 at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: NPR's Morning Edition did a story earlier in the week about MLK's speech in DC. The story noted the speech wasn't even mentioned in the many newspapers the next day.
posted by birdherder at 1:19 PM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: marsha56's answer led me to a collection of reactions to Lincoln's Gettysburn Address (PDF), with some interesting tidbits.

This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for!
posted by csimpkins at 1:26 PM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: This guy (scroll down) says that that Chicago Times quote is pretty hard to verify, FWIW.
posted by enn at 1:36 PM on August 30, 2008

Excerpted from The Times (London), Aug 29 1963 (pg. 8), "200,000 Negro Marchers Disperse In Peace":

The Rev. Martin Luther King said:
"Five score years ago the great Ameri-
can in whose shadow we stand today
signed the emancipation proclamation.
... One hundred years later the Negro
is still crippled by the manacles of segre-
gation and the chains of discrimination.
He still lives in the corner of American
society and finds himself an exile in his
own land. We come here today to
dramatize this shameful situation ...
we have also come to this hallowed spot
to remind America of the fierce urgency
of now.
"Go back to Mississippi. Go back
to Alabama. Go back to Georgia, to
Louisiana, and the northern slums. Go
back knowing that all this will end one
day. We will hew hope out of the
mountain of despair. Let freedom
The 200,000 seemed transported and
as in hundreds of Negro churches
throughout the south they responded to
every period with "yes, oh Lord, let
freedom ring". The mass emotion was
almost tangible and perhaps for some
whites insufferable, but the middle class
discipline held and after a final prayer
the crowd melted away and the leaders
went to the White House to petition
President Kennedy as earlier they had
petitioned congressional leaders.

Not exactly a criticism of the speech, I'll admit.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: All the coverage I can find of Kennedy's inauguration speech is overwhelmingly positive.

Excerpts from The Times (London), Jan 21, 1961, "New President's Call To American Youth"

"President Kennedy,
who had earlier attended Mass at his
parish church, crossed himself after the
long prayer, apparently oblivious of the
tens of millions of non-Catholics -
many, alas, hostile - watching their
television screens. Their hostility can
be judged by the unprecedented number
of threatening letters, more vicious than
usual, which persuaded the secret ser-
vice to increase the number of guards
along the processional route to 4,000"
"During the long pre-
liminaries his repressed nervous energy
was apparent in small impatient
gestures, but as soon as he spoke the
now recognizable forcefulness came
"Only later was it realized
that the President had made no direct
reference to pressing internal problems,
or that he had offered Americans
nothing but the opportunity to bear the
burden of a long twilight struggle.
The charges made during the election
that he was too young and too inexperi-
enced for this huge office then sounded
remarkably empty."

posted by Mike1024 at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2008

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