Inaugural Addresses

January 20 Presidential Inauguration Days

Since 1937, as a result of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, we have had the President of the United States inaugurated every fourth year, so there have been 21 such inaugurations from 1937 to 2017.

Every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Gerald Ford, has been inaugurated on January 20 since 1937. So 13 Presidents have had the excitement of inauguration at the US Capitol before crowds of varying sizes.

The greatest inauguration crowd was in 2009, when Barack Obama took the oath of office for the first time, and this author and blogger was fortunate enough to have been at his inauguration with his older son, and a video of that experience is on the right side of this blog.

The electricity in the crowd in 2009 was special, as it was in 1961, when the youngest elected President, John F. Kennedy, was inaugurated, and gave one of the top three inaugural addresses in American history, after Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, both on the original Inauguration Day of March 4.

In 1941, FDR was sworn in to an unprecedented third term in the Presidency, and in 1949, Harry Truman was sworn in after shocking America with his surprise victory over Thomas E. Dewey, something no one other than Truman himself, expected to occur.

In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in after the greatest popular vote percentage victory in all of American history.

In 1973, Richard Nixon was sworn in for his second term, with no former President present, as Lyndon B. Johnson was not feeling well enough to attend, and then his passing two days later, at age 64.

And in 1977, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale were sworn in as President and Vice President, with no one able to know that 41 years later, today, that they were both alive and in their 90s, and flourishing.

And in 1981, former movie actor and California Governor Ronald Reagan was sworn in, and at the same time, 52 Americans who had been held hostage in Iran were freed.

So January 20 has had its historic moments, including Donald Trump taking the oath exactly a year ago, after a much smaller crowd to witness, and followed by a Woman’s March the next day.

Inaugural Addresses And History

Some statistics on Inaugural Addresses:

Longest–William Henry Harrison, 1841–about 8,000 words, and led to illness for Harrison and his death one month later.

Shortest–George Washington—1793–a mere 135 words, which took about two minutes to utter.

Memorable By Chronology
Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address—1801
Abraham Lincoln—Second Inaugural Address—1865, only 700 words
Woodrow Wilson—Second Inaugural Address—1917
Franklin D. Roosevelt–First Inaugural Address–1933
Harry Truman—Inaugural Address—1949
John F. Kennedy–Inaugural Address–1961
Ronald Reagan—First Inaugural Address—1981
Bill Clinton—Second Inaugural Address—1997
Barack Obama–First Inaugural Address—2009–historic because first African
American President

Most Historic—Lincoln, FDR, JFK—usually in that order.

March 4: Traditional Presidential Inauguration Day Through 1933

March 4 was set up in the Constitution as Inauguration Day every four years, and every inauguration through 1933, except for the first, was held on that day.

George Washington was delayed in reaching the then capital of New York City in 1789, and did not arrive for the inauguration until April 30, but every other elected President from John Adams to Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4.

Then, the 20th Amendment in 1933 changed the inauguration date to January 20, beginning in 1937 and every fourth year since.

So March 4 was historic, particularly with the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, at the two most delicate and dangerous moments in our history, the oncoming Civil War, and the worst moments of the Great Depression.

Other March 4 inaugurations which stood out historically include 1829, 1841, 1865, and 1877.

In 1829, the newly inaugurated Andrew Jackson invited the crowd to come back to the White House and celebrate, and a mob descended on the White House, and proceeded to break the windows, and commit other destruction since many were drunk!

In 1841, newly elected President William Henry Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in American history on a cold, rainy day, and contracted pneumonia, and died exactly a month later.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address became the most memorable such speech in American history, at least until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address in 1933.

And in 1877, President Rutherford Hayes was inaugurated, after only learning of his selection by the specially constituted Electoral Commission two days earlier, in a political compromise agreement known as the Compromise of 1877. Many had wondered whether a new civil war was in the offing because of the dispute over the Presidential election results.

So March 4 will always remain a particularly historic day in American history.

Two Presidential Speeches 50 Years Ago: A One Time Transformative Historical Moment!

Fifty years ago this week, we saw one President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, leave office after eight years, and deliver the best, most dramatic Farewell Address since George Washington gave the first one in 1796, and only coming close to being matched by President Jimmy Carter when he left office thirty years ago and warned of nuclear proliferation and the dangers to our environment that must be dealt with long term.

We also saw the incoming President, John F. Kennedy, give, arguably, the third best Inaugural Address in American history, before or since, trailing only behind Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865 and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address in 1933.

Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the Military-Industrial complex, an issue that President Barack Obama must deal with in his Presidency, as we talk about cutting the budget, and have a bloated defense budget that does not fit the world we live in, which is no longer a Cold War world, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican appointee of George W. Bush kept on by President Obama, well recognizes as he calls for budget cuts.

Kennedy spoke to our better nature in his Inaugural Address just a few days later, fifty years ago, and asked us to work for our nation’s success, rather than ask what our country can do for us alone. He appealed to us to stop being selfish and self centered, a point well taken as we look to the future, and the thought of sacrifice, including paying more taxes if we are fortunate enough to be successful, and recognizing that we are all in the economic and social crisis we face together. We must refuse to allow those who wish to divide us to continue to enrich themselves as they poison our radio, television and cable waves with their divisive rhetoric and propaganda, really the promotion of the Big Lie technique, that the more one says something as fact, the more people who are gullible and lacking in knowledge, will believe it.

We were fortunate to have these two Presidents shape an historical moment fifty years ago, and we need to learn from what they said in their oratory, and pledge ourselves to the transformation of the nation, so that it is indeed a “government of, by, and for the people”, not just the wealthy and privileged elite who have no concern but their own aggrandizement!