Inaugurations only happen once every four years, and have been done only 46 times previously when a new President takes his oath of office in front of the nation and the world.
Some speeches stand out more than others. Here are some of the most iconic presidential inaugural moments.
1. Lincoln’s second inaugural speech (1865): President Abraham Lincoln did what no other president has done, brought a divided nation, a country at war with itself, back together. His second inaugural speech, which was only about 700 words, had one of the strongest closings:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Lincoln, who served as the 16th president, delivered that message on March 4, 1865. A few weeks later, he met a tragic end after John Wilkes Booth shot and killed him while Lincoln attended a play a few blocks from the White House.
Lincoln’s first inaugural speech challenged those who were looking to break away from the U.S.:
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you ... 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.”
Read Lincoln’s full speech here.
2. Kennedy’s first inaugural speech (1961): President John Kennedy delivered one of the most iconic statements given by any president, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” during his first inaugural speech, given on Jan. 20, 1961.
His demand for the world continued, “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Read Kennedy’s full speech here.
He called the inauguration “not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom.”
Kennedy, who was the 35th president, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963, after serving just over 1,000 days in office. He was the youngest man elected as president of the United States, according to White House records.
3. F.D.R’s first inaugural (1933): Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only man to be elected to four terms as president. But it was his first speech that many are familiar with. With a banking crisis and a crashing economy, Roosevelt took control of a country that was suffering.
During his speech on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt said, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
The line was added in the seventh draft of his speech, according to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.
Click here to compare all of the speech drafts.
By 1935, the nation had started to recover thanks to the New Deal program that he had introduced during his first 100 days in office, according to the White House. But not everyone liked the programs, specifically rich business owners and bankers, because of the control the government had over businesses, as well as higher taxes on the wealthy.
Also notable about Roosevelt’s inaugurations, according to his presidential library, he had the last ceremony held in March and the first held on Jan. 20. He is also the only president elected to four terms. The 22nd Amendment, passed in 1947 and ratified in 1951, limits presidents to serving only two terms. The 20th amendment, which was passed in 1932 and ratified in 1933, set the inauguration date as Jan. 20.
4. William Henry Harrison (1841): While Lincoln’s inauguration speech was one of the shortest, the record for longest speech goes to Harrison. His speech actually ended up costing him his life, and gave him another record — the one for shortest presidency.
Harrison’s speech was 8,445 words long and took two hours to read.
It was edited by Daniel Webster, making the speech “ornate with classical allusions,” according to the White House.
But it wasn’t just the long-winded speech. First, Harrison went to the ceremony without a coat and hat. He rode back to the executive mansion on horseback instead of a covered carriage.
Harrison caught a cold. That illness turned into pneumonia. He died 31 days after taking office on April 4, 1841, according to History.
5. George Washington inaugural (1789): Not only was Washington’s inaugural in 1789 his first, it was the first for the new nation. Washington was elected unanimously, but it took 57 days for him to take the oath of office because the Congress couldn’t come up with a quorum to receive the results, according to History.
He took the oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City on April 30, but one important part of the ceremony was missing — a Bible. Organizers went to the nearby Masonic lodge and borrowed a Bible. Washington was a member of the fraternity, and the Bible used by Washington has been used by four other presidents: Warren Harding in 1921, Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977 and George H.W. Bush in 2001. It was planned to be used by George W. Bush but rain prevented the use of the testament.
Washington swore to uphold the Constitution by placing his hand on the open book, on Genesis XLIX and L. According to St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1, the keepers of the Bible, a slip of paper was added between the pages that reads:
“On this sacred volume, on the 30th day of April, A. L. 5789, in the City of New York, was administered to George Washington, the first president of the United States of America, the oath to support the Constitution of the United States. This important ceremony was performed by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, the Honorable Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State. Fame stretched her wings and with her trumpet blew. Great Washington is near. What praise is due? What title shall he have? She paused, and said ‘Not one — his name alone strikes every title dead.’”
When not in use by St. John’s Lodge or on tour, the bible is on display at Federal Hall, lodge officials said.
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