Some of the most eloquent and moving speeches uttered by Presidents and political candidates in this country since its founding were actually written by authors whose footsteps echo silently through the corridors of this country’s political landmarks. Traditionally, the task of writing for a political leader is considered very collaborative and usually anonymous. History may leave indications of a writer’s involvement, but due to the need to mesh the words of the writer with the policy, style, and ideals of the speaker the lines become blurred as to who produced them.
As far back as this country’s infancy, Alexander Hamilton is believed to have worked on speeches with Washington. Much, if not all, of the Monroe Doctrine may have been penned by Alexander Hamilton. However, it was not until the Harding administration that someone was officially named to the role. (Petroff, 2011)
Not all presidents sought out, or actively used, input from others in creating their speeches. Most notably, many historians and students of Presidential speeches point to Abraham Lincoln as the most gifted Presidential writer (This is a good thing, since his oratory skills are much less renowned). Ted Sorensen, the well-known former speech writer for John Kennedy, and life-long student of presidential speeches, points to Lincoln’s gift for brevity as one of his strong suits. His second inaugural speech was a little over 700 words (Sorensen, 2008) and his historic Gettysburg address was a mere 272 words (Cornell).
The demands on modern day presidents, compounded by the myopic daily analysis of a competitive 24-hour a day media and the unbridled voice of social media lend to the ever increasing importance of the presidential speech writer position. Presidents, such as George W. Bush, were notorious for unfortunate off-the-cuff impromptu gaffs. National tragedies, like the Iraq War and 9/11, provide opportunities for the speech writing staff and the president to compose words of healing and motivation that can help their nation. Alternatively, while those opportunities can be uplifting opportunities for writers, Michael Gerson, Bush’s primary writer, counters that these sort of events are also very emotional and stressful for the writers when they are working to compose the right words to help the President properly comfort the families that lost loved ones (ABC News, 2006).
ABC News. Top Bush Speech Writer Resigns. (2006). Retrieved at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Politics/story?id=2116251&page=1
Cornell University. The Gettysburg Address; Transcript of Cornell University’s Copy. Retrieved at http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/good_cause/transcript.htm.
Petroff, W. What American president(s) had the best speech writer(s)? Who are they and why are they the best? Quora. (Sept 2011). Retrieved at https://www.quora.com/What-American-president-s-had-the-best-speech-writer-s-Who-are-they-and-why-are-they-the-best.
Sorensen, T. Ted Sorensen on Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Words. Smithsonian Magazine. (2008). Retrieved at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ted-sorensen-on-abraham-lincoln-a-man-of-his-words-12048177/