“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington
Essays come from two sources: the one-shot writer and the serial essayist. For the latter, consider the works of David Foster Wallace and George Orwell, every one of which I consider golden. I cannot find the works of James Baldwin—poor, black, gay, and perhaps America’s best essayist—online and for free. Here are two primer essays: Notes of a Native Son (with a lovely biographical intro) and Stranger in the Village. If his social justice bent strikes your fancy, consider checking out his collected works from the library (either Notes of a Native Son, for which the above essay is a namesake, The Fire Next Door, No Name in the Street, or The Devil Finds Work).
A sampling of some favorite, personal essays include: A Modest Proposal (Jonathan Swift), What Is Enlightenment (Kant), Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves (Leo Tolstoy), Politics and the English Language (George Orwell), A Nice Cup of Tea (George Orwell), The Inner Ring (C.S. Lewis), How To Be A Good Reader And Writer (Vladimir Nabokov), Tense Present (David Foster Wallace), Just Walk On By (Brent Staples), Solitude and Leadership (William Deresiewicz)
These essays are relevant to a general student audience. Please let me know if you have a specific interest (e.g. Christianity, conservatism, racial tension, etc.) so I can recommend particular essays.
Lend Me Your Ears is probably the single best collection of speeches available. Click on that link to see the list. Each speech is hyperlinked to expedite reading, and the few which are behind a paywall can be easily Googled. The anthology was organized by William Safire, one of President Richard Nixon’s speechwriters and author of the New York Times column On Language.
A sampling of some personal favorites include: Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Thucydides), Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Jonathan Edwards), Man in the Arena (Theodore Roosevelt), Gettysburg Address (Abraham Lincoln), Second Inaugural (Abraham Lincoln), To the Moon (John F. Kennedy), I Have A Dream (Martin Luther King Jr.), I’ve Been To The Mountaintop (Martin Luther King Jr.), Remarks at the University of Kansas (Robert F. Kennedy), 1992 Liberty Medal Speech (Thurgood Marshall), New Hampshire Primary Speech (Barack Obama), inter alia
As with my suggested essays, these speeches are relevant to a general student audience. Please let me know if you have specific interests (in a topic, time, place, etc.) so I can recommend particular speeches.