Inaugurating the Presidency
Into the foreseeable future, Franklin Roosevelt will hold the distinction of being the only U.S. president to have delivered four inaugural addresses. But he did not excel in quantity alone. FDR's First Inaugural is one of the greatest inaugurals ever delivered. As a rhetorical response to a crisis situation, his address in 1933 equaled, if not surpassed, Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural in 1861. Although the two speeches were grounded in different rhetorical situations, and were differentiated by Roosevelt's purpose to unify the country behind his leadership as contrasted to Lincoln's attempt to keep the Union from disuniting, both inaugurals were state papers of the highest order for their times and posterity. However, for sublimity of thought and elegance of expression, not even FDR's First reached the Olympian height of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Yet, in terms of catchphrases that captured Americans' attention and imagination, can any president's inaugural speech best the famous line from FDR's First Inaugural--the reader already knows it--or the tag line from his Second Inaugural, "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished"? Roosevelt delivered one of the two best presidential inaugurals in the nation's history; his Second Inaugural surely stands among the better of the lot; and his third and fourth were good inaugurals, although the fourth portrayed his personal and political philosophy in an intimate and revealing manner.
In treating FDR's four inaugurals, one could be guided deftly by Karlyn Campbell and Kathleen Jamieson's seminal essay entitled "Inaugurating the Presidency." Their study of the genre determined that an inaugural performs the following functions: "1) unifies the audience by reconstructing its members as 'the people' who can witness and ratify this ceremony; 2) rehearses communal