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US inaugurations: History in quotes

Inaugurations give presidents a chance to address the nation, the world and history. Here are some highlights from past inaugural speeches.

George Washington

George Washington
The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.
The first US president also announced in the 1789 speech that he would accept no pay for being chief executive

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.
Jefferson's first inauguration, in 1801, took place amidst bitter partisan rancour between federalists and anti-federalists

James Madison (1813)

As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honour, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed.

The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed. How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy!

They have retained as prisoners of war citizens of the United States not liable to be so considered under the usages of war.
Madison's 1813 speech was the first presidential inauguration during time of war - the US was fighting Britain

Andrew Jackson

As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of person and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.
Jackson argued in his 1829 inaugural that no standing army was required; a citizens' militia would be enough to defend the country

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
A number of slave-holding states had already seceded from the Union when Lincoln made his 1861 speech, and the Civil War broke out weeks later. Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in the Confederacy to be free.

By the time of Lincoln's second inauguration in 1865, the Civil War was drawing to a close and the president was hoping to heal the nation:

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.
The war ended a month to the day after Lincoln's speech - but he was assassinated five days later

Theodore Roosevelt

Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind.

If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn.
Roosevelt, speaking in 1905, was the first US president to act on a world stage - and was well aware of the significance the office had assumed

Woodrow Wilson

We have squandered a great part of what we might have used, and have not stopped to conserve the exceeding bounty of nature, without which our genius for enterprise would have been worthless and impotent, scorning to be careful, shamefully prodigal as well as admirably efficient.

We have been proud of our industrial achievements, but we have not hitherto stopped thoughtfully enough to count the human cost.
Wilson came into office in 1913 promising reform as his Democrats took control of the White House and Congress for the first time in a generation

Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
FDR devoted much of his 1933 speech to explaining how he would fight the Great Depression - but began with his famous exhortation

By the time of FDR's second inaugural in 1937, there were some signs of economic recovery, but the country was still not free of the Depression:

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

John F Kennedy

John F Kennedy
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. ...

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. ...

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
Kennedy came to power in 1961 calling for both hope and sacrifice at the height of the Cold War

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbours.
After several presidents who had advocated co-existence with the Soviet Union, Reagan came to power in 1981 with a more confrontational style

In his second inauguration, in 1985, Reagan promised smaller government:

We must take further steps to permanently control government's power to tax and spend. We must act now to protect future generations from government's desire to spend its citizens' money and tax them into servitude when the bills come due.

Let us make it unconstitutional for the Federal Government to spend more than the federal government takes in.
Reagan eventually ran up what was then a record budget deficit



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