Searching for common sense in politics

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The 5 Most Inspirational Inaugural Speeches

It's been almost two months, and yet I'm still shocked by what I'm about to say.

On January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States America.

As is the custom in this country, the new president will give an inaugural address after being sworn in. There are reports that Trump is planning on delivering a short inaugural speech, which I think everyone would agree is probably a good thing. Nobody likes to listen to a long speech, and some of the best inaugural addresses have been among the shortest. Plus, the longer Donald Trump talks, the more likely he is to stray from his prepared remarks, and that does not tend to go well.

The occasion calls to mind the inaugural speeches of the past. Most have been forgettable, either because they took place in mundane times or because the speech itself was mediocre (or both). However, a few inaugural speeches continue to shine on long after they were given. These are the ones that inspired us as a country, at least for a little while. Most of them took place in times of peril or great change. Here are 5 of the most memorable and inspirational inaugural addresses of all time, in chronological order.

Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural

There are no pictures of Jefferson's inaugural because photography did not exist

The year:

The situation: The strain of partisan politics was first impacting the US. Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, won a bitter and hard-fought election over the Federalist President, John Adams. Just four years earlier, George Washington had warned us of the dangers of partisan politics, but the country ignored him.

The speech: Jefferson urged divided Americans to come together. "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists," he insisted. Of course, partisanship was here to last, as we know all too well. But Jefferson's election represented the first time that power had been transferred from one party to another, and his conciliatory address helped to make that happen peacefully.

Read Jefferson's first inaugural address.

Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural

Lincoln giving his 2nd inaugural address

The year:

The situation: In his first term, Abraham Lincoln presided over the most tumultuous time in American History, the Civil War. For four years, we actually ceased to be a nation, and North battled South. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and millions more were impacted. When Lincoln gave his second inaugural address in 1865, the North was on the verge of winning, and the war was finally coming to an end.

The speech: Our 16th president was one of the greatest orators of all time. Before and during the Civil War, his graceful eloquence perfectly articulated the fight against slavery and secession. As the guns fell silent, he transitioned into a passionate call to mend the wounds of war.

With the war coming to a close, many Republicans wanted to hand down harsh penalties on the former Confederate states. Lincoln, however, had no interest in punishing the South, and his address proves that. He knew that the country could only survive if it quickly moved past the war and began to come together in forgiveness. In a short but incredibly powerful speech, he offered peace and friendship to the Confederates. He said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Just over a month later, Lincoln was killed by a Confederate sympathizer.

Read Lincoln's second inaugural address.

Franklin Roosevelt's First Inaugural

Roosevelt giving his 1st inaugural address

The year:

The situation: The nation - and the world - was reeling from the Great Depression. Millions of Americans were out of work, thousands of banks had gone under, families had lost everything. It was a dark and bleak time, certainly one of the most perilous in our history.

The speech: Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a landslide victory in 1932 over incumbent Herbert Hoover by promising to do everything in his power to stop the economic slide and improve the lots of poor and middle class Americans. His inaugural speech was meant to give hope to the beleaguered citizens.

Besides the ubiquitous "all we have to fear is fear itself," Roosevelt also made it very clear that he would stop at nothing to address the crisis, even if it meant stepping on some toes. He said he would " bring speedy adoption" to any good ideas that Congress had. But if Congress failed to act, he warned he would exert "broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency."

In his twelve years as president, Roosevelt held true to his words. He fully executed the power of the presidency to fight the Depression, and he greatly expanded the power of the White House. His methods and programs may or may not have been good solutions, but he undoubtedly calmed the fears of the nation and was a man of action.

Read Roosevelt's first inaugural address

John Kennedy's Only Inaugural

Kennedy giving his inaugural address

The year:

The situation: Kennedy took office at the height of the Cold War. Tensions between the USA and USSR were very high, and the country was not far removed from the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950's. Suspicions abounded and fear of a nuclear war was a common emotion.

The speech: Kennedy did a phenomenal job of calling Americans to action. He railed against complacency and reminded everyone of their duties as American citizens. Everybody knows his most famous quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

But he also made it clear that the United States would not back down to the communists. He eloquently stated our dedication to democracy by saying, "Let every nation know...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Less than two years later, he held true to that pledge as he stared down the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Sadly, Kennedy's presidency was cut short by an assassin's bullet after less than three years in office.

Read Kennedy's inaugural address

Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural 

Reagan giving his 1st inaugural address

The year:

The situation: The dawn of the 1980's was an uncertain time in America. We were only 7 years past Watergate and there was widespread distrust of the government. The economy was weak and inflation was high. The Cold War raged on hotter than ever. American citizens were being held hostage in Iran. Reagan's victory in 1980 represented a revolution of sorts, as he promised a drastic reduction of government interference in people's lives.

The speech: Reagan was not the most graceful orator, but he got his message across. He gave hope that America would return to it's glory days of peace, strength, and optimism. And he held firm to his campaign rhetoric about the evils of big government. "We are a nation that has a government," he said, "not the other way around."

In two terms, Reagan achieved much but also left much unfinished. He laid the groundwork for the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. On the other hand, instead of slashing government spending, the budget deficit actually ballooned under his watch. But his greatest strength was his optimism, and that was contagious. Even millions of Americans who disagreed with his policies bought into it and voted for him in two historic landslides.

Read Reagan's first inaugural.

1 comment

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