Presidential Inaugural Addresses

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Some of what historians consider the best inaugural addresses have come during trying times in the nation's history. Below are some examples.

Ronald Reagan, 1981

"We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope."

President Ronald Reagan delivering his first
inaugural address

Reagan delivered this speech in the shadow of the Cold War and the recent release of the hostages held in Iran. The tumultuous 1970s had given way to the 1980s, and Reagan's speech offered new hope for a new direction forward.

John F. Kennedy, 1961

"I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

John F. Kennedy delivering his inaugural address

Kennedy spoke at a critical time in the nation's history. The Cold War was in full evidence. The Korean War had been finished for seven years, and the Vietnam War was a few years away. Americans were very much in fear of nuclear annihilation. Yet Kennedy, at this historic time, asked Americans to give of themselves to make a better country for all.

Woodrow Wilson, 1917

"We are to beware of all men who would turn the tasks and the necessities of the nation to their own private profit or use them for the building up of private power.

United alike in the conception of our duty and in the high resolve to perform it in the face of all men, let us dedicate ourselves to the great task to which we must now set our hand. For myself I beg your tolerance, your countenance and your united aid.

The shadows that now lie dark upon our path will soon be dispelled, and we shall walk with the light all about us if we be but true to ourselves—to ourselves as we have wished to be known in the counsels of the world and in the thought of all those who love liberty and justice and the right exalted."

President Woodrow Wilson delivering
his second inaugural address

Wilson was speaking in the midst of World War I, which American troops would soon enter. He sought to encourage Americans to embrace the cause of freedom yet also warned against people who would seek to make profit at the expense of other countries' troubles.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

Johnson, who became President when Kennedy was assassinated, was elected President himself in 1964. In his inaugural address, he spoke of a Great Society and sought to continue to bring equality for all Americans across many different levels of life.

"In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again.

If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.

If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe.

For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and union, and in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday be free. And we believe in ourselves."

President Lyndon B. Johnson delivering his
inaugural address

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

"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. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
delivering his first inaugural address

Roosevelt spoke at a time of grave concern. America was in the midst of the Great Depression. Confidence in many aspects of society, including Government's ability to help, was very low. Fear had indeed gripped the nation. Americans distrusted banks and other financial institutions and had withdrawn their money in record numbers. Roosevelt sought to dispel that fear in favor of confidence in the future, while also offering a helping hand for many in need – both literally and figuratively.

Abraham Lincoln, 1861

"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Lincoln sought to reach out to people in the Southern states, many of whom had already seceded from the Union. He appealed to the American people's common experience in breaking free from Great Britain and urged them to come together again.

Abraham Lincoln, 1865

"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."

President Abraham Lincoln delivering
his second inaugural address

Lincoln again sought unity. The Civil War was drawing to a close, but many lives were yet to be lost. Lincoln was looking ahead to what would become Reconstruction and urging cooperation among all Americans.

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