The Speeches You Never Heard

It’s easy to be familiar with history’s great speeches, like President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But have you ever thought about speeches that were written and, for whatever reason, never delivered?

Jeff Nussbaum has. As a speechwriter himself, he has researched and authored Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches That Would Have Rewritten History. His underlying principle is for every delivered speech, there is usually an undelivered opposite that would’ve wrenched events in an entirely different direction. For example, the 1963 civil-rights “March on Washington” is most remembered for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But civil-rights pioneer John Lewis, then chairman of the  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was scheduled to precede Dr. King. He had written a fiery address that would’ve undercut the event’s message of non-violence. Talked out of what he had planned, the speech he actually delivered proved to be the perfect complement to Dr. King’s oration. Other examples are Richard Nixon’s planned refusal-to-resign address, General Dwight Eisenhower’s prepared apology for the failure of the D-Day invasion, and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 victory speech.

According to his website (, Jeff’s speechwriting career began with a defense against suspension from high school (which failed). Since then, he has had more success helping clients write and promote books, prepare commencement speeches and TED talks, and deliver comedy routines. He was also a partner at West Wing Writers, a strategy and speechwriting business in Washington, D.C., and is currently writing for President Joe Biden.

If you love history, Undelivered is perhaps the ultimate “what if?” analysis of what could’ve happened, with the added bonus of some valuable speechwriting tips. My only complaint is I wish more of these original undelivered speeches would’ve been included, but alternate histories don’t always get saved, so maybe that’s expecting too much.

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