There never has been in the history of the world a time when the spoken word has been equaled in value and importance by any other means of communication. If one traces the development of mankind from what he considers its earliest stage he will find that the wandering family of savages depended entirely upon what its members said to one another. A little later when a group of families made a clan or tribe the individuals still heard the commands of the leader, or in tribal council voiced their own opinions. The beginnings of poetry show us the bard who recited to his audiences. Drama, in all primitive societies a valuable spreader of knowledge, entertainment, and religion, is entirely oral. In so late and well organized communities as the city republics of Greece all matters were discussed in open assemblies of the rather small populations.
Every great epoch of the world’s progress shows the supreme importance of speech upon human action individual and collective. In the Roman Forum were made speeches that affected the entire ancient world. Renaissance Italy, imperial Spain, unwieldy Russia, freedom loving England, revolutionary France, all experienced periods when the power of certain men to speak stirred other men into tempestuous action.
The history of the United States might almost be written as the continuous record of the influence of great speakers upon others. The colonists were led to concerted action by persuasive speeches. The Colonial Congresses and Constitutional Convention were dominated by powerful orators. The history of the slavery problem is mainly the story of famous speeches and debates. Most of the active representative Americans have been leaders because of their ability to impress their fellows by their power of expressing sentiments and enthusiasms which all would voice if they could. Presidents have been nominated and candidates elected because of this equipment.
During the Great War the millions of the world were as much concerned with what some of their leaders were saying as with what their other leaders were doing.
There is no aspect of modern life in which the spoken work is not supreme in importance. Representatives of the nations of the world deciding upon a peace treaty and deliberating upon a League of Nations sway and are swayed by speech. National assemblies from the strangely named new ones of infant nations to the century old organizations speak, and listen to speeches. In state legislatures, municipal councils, law courts, religious organizations, theaters, lodges, societies, boards of directors, stockholders’ meetings, business discussions, classrooms, dinner parties, social functions, friendly calls in every human relationship where two people meet there is communication by means of speech.