Days of Ceremony, Celebrity and History: Inaugural Addresses Have Checkered History

By DiBacco, Thomas V. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 20, 1997 | Go to article overview

Days of Ceremony, Celebrity and History: Inaugural Addresses Have Checkered History


DiBacco, Thomas V., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Since George Washington assumed the nation's highest office in 1789, newly elected presidents have delivered 52 inaugural

addresses. There is no constitutional requirement for such remarks, but the first president felt it proper to use the occasion to present his views about the newly adopted Constitution.

Like much of Washington's presidential activities, the inaugural speech became a precedent, but not necessarily a good one.

Most of the addresses have been rich in platitudes and thin on specifics. What is worse, each speech appears to have been modeled along the lines of previous ones, providing a sort of compound uninterest for the reader.

As a general rule, the addresses contain three parts:

cRecognition that the presidency makes the holder proud and/ or humble.

cPresentation of selected phases of American history.

cReference to the general direction to which the new administration will be committed.

Occasionally, there are kind words about predecessors - but only occasionally.

There is something of an inverse correlation between the length of the inaugural addresses and the quality of the presidency. Chief executives most highly rated by historians were taciturn. Washington's second address totaled only 137 words, and brevity was the rule for Jefferson, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and FDR.

The longest address was given by short-lived William Henry Harrison - more than 8,000 words. Had Harrison not been so windy in presenting a civics lesson on March 4, 1841, he might have served out his term. As it was, Washington's cold inaugural weather gave him a bad cold, and a month later he died.

The less illustrious presidents gave some indication of their frailties in their inaugural addresses. Zachary Taylor, a military man for four decades, was no master of words and held up a standard of office much more rigorous than the constitutional mandate: "So far as it is possible to be informed, I shall make honesty, capacity and fidelity indispensable prerequisites to the bestowal of office, and absence of either of these qualities shall be deemed sufficient cause for removal."

Franklin Pierce began his speech in a mannner that reflected the distraught nature of the leadership he would provide: "My Countrymen: It is a relief to feel that no heart but my own can know the personal regret and bitter sorrow over which I have been borne to a position so suitable for others rather than desireable for myself."

Then there was Calvin Coolidge, whose lecture on government on March 4, 1925, was - well - elementary: "... the essence of a Republic is representative government. Our Congress represents the people and the states. In all legislative affairs it is the natural collaborator with the president."

Some of the better presidents took the inaugural occasion to illustrate profiles in courage. Rutherford B. Hayes, a one-term president, proposed a constitutional amendment limiting the chief executive to a single six-year term.

John F. Kennedy ("Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country") and Grover Cleveland retreated from reliance on government paternalism in their speeches. In Cleveland's words, "the lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while people should patriotically and cheerfully support their government its functions do not include the support of the people. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Days of Ceremony, Celebrity and History: Inaugural Addresses Have Checkered History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.