President Obama's Second Inaugural has been delivered. It is the 57th in the annals of Inaugurals, beginning with George Washington's in 1789 in New York City. One observer thought our first president was "more agitated and embarrassed than ever he was by the levelled cannon or pointed musket."
President Obama, by contrast, was his usual poised and eloquent self. Watching on television, I wondered if any of his words would ring through history. Will we remember, "My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it---so long as we seize it together"? Or will posterity remember any lines at all?
There are a few Inaugural lines that have achieved immortality. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you---ask what you can do for your country" will resonate as long as America endures. So will Lincoln's "With malice toward none, and charity for all" Second Inaugural. And FDR's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" First Inaugural.
I came across the other day at Oak Lawn's gem of a library the book "American Inaugurals: The Speeches, the Presidents, and Their Times" by Kristen Woronoff. Rummaging through this Inaugural trove, I unearthed a few more Inaugural lines that have a contemporary tenor about them---if not oratorical brilliance. See what you think.
"The American experiment has, for generations, fired the passion and the courage of millions elsewhere seeking freedom, equality, and opportunity. And the American story of material progress has helped excite the longing of all needy peoples for some satisfaction of their human wants. Their hopes that we have helped to inspire, we can help to fulfill." Dwight Eisenhower, 1957
"I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history, which today I feel that I can afford to disregard in view of your verdict, which I gratefully accept as my vindication." Ulysses Grant, 1873
"If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." Thomas Jefferson, 1801
"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." Woodrow Wilson, 1913
"The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immigration of a servile class to compete with American Labor." Grover Cleveland, 1885
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