Who’s ready for a new president?
Two million people will gather next Tuesday in Washington to hear Barack Obama give his inaugural address, and many millions more will be watching on television. He and his speechwriting team have been working on the speech since before Thanksgiving, and according to a news report today, he’s “nearly finished.” What can we expect?
A skilled orator closely attuned to history and his place in it, Obama has paid close attention to the great inaugural addresses of the past. The Archive provides material for those who might care for the subtleties of reference that will no doubt mark his speech:
Lincoln’s 1st and 2d Inaugural Speeches. In preparing his inaugural address, Obama visited the Lincoln Memorial on whose wall Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865) is etched. Afterward, he humbly commented, “I’m not sure whether that [was] wise because every time you read that second inaugural you start getting intimidated… There is a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched.”
John Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech (audio). Theodore Sorenson, the speechwriter who wrote Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, recently remarked,”Obama is the most eloquent presidential candidate since JFK and I would think we would hear the most eloquent speech since JFK’s 48 years ago.” This newsreel covers parts of Kennedy’s speech and other inaugural events.
A complete file with every Presidential inaugural speech, in chronological order, is available here (from Project Gutenberg).
In the moving image archive, there’s footage from as far back as William McKinley’s first inauguration in 1897. His was the first inauguration to be filmed. FDR’s in 1933 was the first to have both sound and image. (That newsreel leaves out the most famous part of the speech (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”)–which you can find in brief excerpt here. This short film, in praise of preceding presidents, seems to have been made for Eisenhower’s inauguration (whose own inaugural speech can be heard here).
Further back in time, from the text archive, a variety of inaugural booklets: official reports from Ulysses’s S. Grant’s (1869), Grover Cleveland’s (1893), McKinley’s first (1897) and second (1901); official programs from James Garfield’s (1881), Teddy Roosevelt’s (1905) and William Howard Taft’s (1909); and a commercial, not-so-official program from McKinley’s. This official booklet, commemorating McKinley’s second inauguration (1901), contains a description of all the preceding inaugurations.
And, while we’re at it, why not a few bars of Hail to the Chief?