Inauguration Addresses: Public Speaking at its Worst?

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Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day is finally here. It’s been a long time coming. Whether your candidate was on the winning team no longer matters. It’s time to swear in the new guy.

But what does Inauguration Day mean for us?
  • To  people living and working in the Washington D.C. metro area:   The day  means  horrific crowds and traffic jams in years – perhaps since the last inauguration day.
  • To government workers who live and work in the D.C. metro area:  The day also means one extra paid holiday every four years. Our government is well aware of the horrific crowds and traffic in our capital city.   It makes every effort to keep the masses out of the city,   Unless attending one of the day’s historic events, stay home.
  • To our younger children (and perhaps some adults) who are home from school for some reason:   This day means that there will be nothing good on TV all day.  Networks  will be focused on the events in our Capitol City.
  • To those of us who are tired of all the political babble:   It’s the day to heave a great sigh relief.  We finally get a reprieve from the venomous politics we’ve witnessed over the last year.
  • To those who love Pomp and Circumstance:  It is a time honored, ceremonious day that marks a new phase in our national history.  Its all about the ceremony egardless of whether they believe the new phase is will be great or disastrous.
  • But to all the rest of the nation:   Inauguration Day  is a day full of mind-numbing speeches and rhetoric.

Inaugural addresses are the speeches given by the newly sworn in president. He takes the oath of office, and then subjects the nation to an address that supposedly lays out the framework for the coming term. Since I was born, there have been over a dozen Inauguration Days. I can’t remember a single one.  And it’s not just me. Columbia University professor and presidential historian Eric Foner once said, “Most inaugural addresses are not remembered. Grover Cleveland? I have no idea what he said.” Robert Lehrman, a former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore once wrote, “I have actually read every single inaugural address, and it was a really boring experience.”

But as dull as these speeches are. . . .

There are some interesting bits of trivia from Inauguration Days  that could make you the wizard of the water cooler chit chat. Try some of these:

  • Three presidents blessed us with no inaugural addresses at all.   John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A Arthur gave no addresses.  My research couldn’t find any reference to it having a negative  impact. 
  • George Washington’s second inaugural address was only 134 words long – almost bearable.  He really was great president!
  • Many say that William Henry Harrison’s address is considered the worst. On 4 March, 1841 the weather was cold and windy.  Harrison gave the longest inaugural address:  8,445 words lasting an hour and 45 minutes.  Ironically, only 32 days after President Harrison stood out in the horrible weather and subjected the attendees to his discourse, he died of pneumonia.
  • On Mar 4, 1925, Calvin Coolidge’s second inaugural address was the first broadcast nationally by radio.  Now every one in the nation has the opportunity to listen to a live broadcast.
  • On Jan 20, 1949, Harry S. Truman’s second inaugural ceremony was the first televised.  From then on, the entire world could watch the presidential dissertations.
  • One president can lay claim to both the warmest Inauguration Day and the coldest Inauguration Day . On Jan 20, 1981 Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration was the warmest in history at a balmy 55 degrees. Four years later, in January 1985, Reagan’s inauguration was the coldest (7 degrees) and had to be moved into the Capitol Rotunda.
But let’s give credit where credit is due.

While past inaugural addresses  were sleep inducing, a few memorable quotes that came out of them:

  • January 20, 1961, John F Kennedy:  “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
  • March 4, 1933, Franklin D Roosevelt: “First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  • January 20, 1981, Ronald W. Reagan: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
  • January 21, 1993, Bill Clinton: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
So what should we expect on January 20th?

History tells us that it’s going to be dull.  That’s kind of a given.  But I have absolutely no doubt that President Trump’s inaugural addresses will provide us with some quotes that will not soon be forgotten.


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