Today marks the anniversary of the first ever Presidential Inaugural Address under the Constitution. Let’s look at five that stand out.
- April 30, 1789, George Washington’s First Inaugural: Neither the Constitution nor Congress required Washington to deliver an inaugural. But Washington set the bar high for his successors. The only president to be unanimously elected, Washington admitted that he had hoped to retire to Mount Vernon, but, he declared, “I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.” His presence was a unifying force for the fragile states under the new Constitution. Washington reminded his fellow citizens to never forget the “divine blessings” that enabled the Founders to establish a new government.
- March 1, 1801, Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural: People wondered if the first transfer of power (from the Federalist party to the Democratic-Republican party) would send the new nation into chaos. But just as Jefferson’s pen united the colonists during the American Revolution, his eloquence quelled their fears during the “Revolution of 1800.” Amidst murmurs of concern, Jefferson exclaimed: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
- March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison’s First Inaugural: Harrison kicked off his presidency with a record long speech, clocking in at nearly two hours. It was the only time a President spent more time delivering his speech than he did in office… well not quite, but almost: delivering his speech in a snowstorm without an overcoat or a hat, Harrison may have never fully recuperated from the event, as he soon caught a cold and died from pneumonia only a month after his inauguration.
- March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural: When Lincoln delivered his first inaugural, he faced an unprecedented situation. Seven states had seceded from the union prior to his inaugural, and in this moment of division, Lincoln reassured the people that he would do everything in his power to prevent a civil war. Lincoln turned to his fellow citizens: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war,” Lincoln continued, “You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’” He would continue to fulfill this duty for the rest of his years in office.
- January 20, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Third Inaugural: The only president to deliver a third inaugural, President Roosevelt mentioned George Washington several times in his address. Yet, Roosevelt himself did not seem to look to Washington’s example, as he assumed the presidency for a third time, and then a fourth, ignoring Washington’s two-term precedent. In 1951, Congress adopted the 22nd amendment, which established a two-term limit.
Brittany Baldwin currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.