Obama's Inaugural Speech, Crafted By Predecessors

Photo illustration of multiple U.S. presidents' faces i i

Can you identify these past presidents — and one president-elect? (Click the photo to enlarge.) hide caption

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Photo illustration of multiple U.S. presidents' faces

Top, from left: Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt. Middle, from left: James Polk, Barack Obama, George Washington. Bottom, from left: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Van Buren and George W. Bush.

Rating Past Inaugurals


Watch historians rate past inaugural speeches — and hear, read and watch them for yourself, with video, audio and text from past speeches — by clicking the photo or the link above.

Inaugural Superlatives

Longest: William Henry Harrison, 1841; 8,445 words

Shortest: George Washington (2nd inaugural), 1793; 135 words

First covered by telegraph: James K. Polk, 1845

First known to have been photographed: James Buchanan, 1857

First recorded by a motion-picture camera: William McKinley (1st inaugural), 1897

First delivered via loud speakers: Warren G. Harding, 1921

First broadcast nationally by radio: Calvin Coolidge, 1925

First covered by talking newsreel: Herbert Hoover, 1929

First broadcast on television: Harry S. Truman, 1949

First In Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson (1st), 1801

First president to take oath of office and deliver inaugural address outdoors: James Monroe (1st), 1817

First inaugural address on the east front portico of the U.S. Capitol: Andrew Jackson (1st) 1829

First inaugural address on west front terrace of the U.S. Capitol: Ronald Reagan (1st), 1981

Browse a gallery of more inaugural firsts.

Source: www.inaugural.senate.gov

No doubt, President-elect Barack Obama is working rigorously on his inauguration speech. And no doubt it's difficult to say something original after 43 other fellows — and their speechwriters — have preached eloquently from the same pulpit. So why even try?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then maybe the new president should just cull from the best of inaugural orations to craft his own. After all, other presidents have faced similar daunting challenges.

To make his task even simpler, here is a suggested address that stitches together pertinent parts of speeches past. To avoid all charges of plagiarism (No Joe Biden jokes, please), each excerpt is appropriately foot-noted.


Fellow citizens: About to undertake the arduous duties that I have been appointed to perform by the choice of a free people, I avail myself of this customary and solemn occasion to express the gratitude which their confidence inspires and to acknowledge the accountability which my situation enjoins. (Andrew Jackson, 1st Inaugural, 1829)

We face our common difficulties. ... Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1st Inaugural, 1933)

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. (FDR, 1, 1933)

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty, and human efforts have multiplied it. (FDR, 1, 1933)

There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright. (Theodore Roosevelt, 1905)

Position and climate and the bounteous resources that nature has scattered with so liberal a hand — even the diffused intelligence and elevated character of our people — will avail us nothing if we fail sacredly to uphold those political institutions that were wisely and deliberately formed with reference to every circumstance that could preserve or might endanger the blessings we enjoy. (Martin Van Buren, 1837)

Ours was intended to be a plain and frugal government, and I shall regard it to be my duty to recommend to Congress and, as far as the Executive is concerned, to enforce by all the means within my power the strictest economy in the expenditure of the public money which may be compatible with the public interests. (James K. Polk, 1845)

I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. (Thomas Jefferson, 1st Inaugural, 1801)

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. (Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965)

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. (LBJ, 1965)

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. (LBJ, 1965)

Our enemies have always made the same mistake. In my lifetime — in depression and in war — they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith they could not see or that they could not even imagine. It brought us victory. And it will again. (LBJ, 1965)

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend. (George Washington, 1st Inaugural, 1789)

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. (Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural, 1865)

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time, it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength — tested, but not weary — we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom. May God bless you, and may He watch over the United States of America. (George W. Bush, 2nd Inaugural, 2005)

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