The Speech of the Unknown

The Speech of the Unknown is a story told by Reagan in a number of his speeches, which comes from an 1847 book entitled Washington and His Generals: or, Legends of the Revolution.


Speech Relevance

Of the speeches here, Reagan tells the story twice, in his 'Eureka College Commencement' and the CPAC 'A City Upon a Hill'. The story is more complete from the Eureka speech:
Almost two centuries ago a group of disturbed men met in the small Pennsylvania State House they gathered to decide on a course of action. Behind the locked and guarded doors they debated for hours whether or not to sign the Declaration which had been presented for their consideration. For hours the talk was treason and its price the headsman's axe, the gallows and noose. The talk went on and decision was not forthcoming. Then, Jefferson writes, a voice was heard coming from the balcony:
They may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land. They may turn every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. They may pour our blood on a thousand scaffolds and yet from every drop that dyes the axe a new champion of freedom will spring into birth. The words of this declaration will live long after our bones are dust.
To the mechanic in his workshop they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom; but to the coward rulers, these words will speak in tones of warning they cannot help but hear. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck. Sign if the next minute this hall rings with the clash of falling axes! Sign by all your hopes in life or death, not only for yourselves but for all ages, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom the bible of the rights of man forever.
Were my soul trembling on the verge of eternity, my hand freezing in death, I would still implore you to remember this truth God has given America to be free.
As he finished, the speaker sank back in his seat exhausted. Inspired by his eloquence the delegates rushed forward to sign the Declaration of Independence. When they turned to thank the speaker for his timely words he couldn't be found and to this day no one knows who he was or how he entered or left the guarded room.
Reagan: A Life in Letters reveals a letter was written to Reagan revealing the name of this "unknown" speaker as Founding Father John Witherspoon. However, another source attributes the speech to Founding Father Patrick Henry.

Reagan never shared the story again.


Source Links

The Speech of the Unknown (Gipperwatch Blog)

Political Bookworm blog (Washington Post)

Washington and His Generals: or, Legends of the Revolution free eBook, starts on page 394

Speech of the Unknown cleaned up