Peter Hoskin

Your brief Inaugural Address primer

Your brief Inaugural Address primer
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So here it is.  The day when Barack Obama succeeds George Bush to become to the 44th President of the United States of America.  James has already written a preview of Obama's inaugural address - but if you want to squeeze in some extra relevant reading ahead of 1700 GMT, then you could do worse than Jill Lepore's piece for last week's New Yorker; certainly one of the liveliest, most information-packed short histories of the inaugural address that I've yet come across.  This article from Sunday's New York Times is also a neat, little scene-setter.

Otherwise, the best place to start is where many Presidents-elect start when preparing for their own inauguration: Abraham Lincoln's two addresses, which have rightly become the yardstick by which all others are measured.  Words alone can't cure a nation left charred and bloodied by civil war, but Lincoln's political poetry surely played a crucial part in the healing process.  The full texts are, sadly, a little too long to paste into this post (they can be read here and here), although the final paragraphs of each give a good sense of their unique force:

"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 battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone 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."


"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."

Aside from Lincoln, it's hard to imagine that three of the Twentieth Century's most powerful inaugural addresses won't have also left their impression on the latest President-elect: FDR's first, for it's staunch rhetoric in the face of economic disaster; JFK's, for its vibrant, compelling optimism; and Reagan's first, for the way it communicates a fiscal agenda in simple, resonant terms.  I've embedded YouTube footage of all three below - excellent viewing/listening on this momentous day:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Saturday, 3 March, 1933

John F. Kennedy, Friday, 20 January, 1961

Ronald Reagan, Tuesday, 20 January, 1981