tv The Presidency Noteworthy Inaugural Addresses CSPAN February 7, 2021 8:00pm-8:44pm EST
next on the presidency as president biden begins his new administration. we look back to past presidential inaugurations and transitions. first white house historical association historians matthew costello and colleen shogan. look at the five most noteworthy inaugural addresses in american history featured are the speeches of thomas jefferson abraham lincoln franklin d roosevelt, john f. kennedy and ronald reagan. five minutes, we'll hear about the transitions and inaugurations of ronald reagan and barack obama from officials in their administrations the white house historical association hosted both of these events and provided the video. today we'll be joined by dr. colleen shogan who joined the white house historical association in the winter of 2020 after almost 15 years of federal government service. she previously worked in the united states senate and as a senior executive at the library of congress. colleen is the vice chair of the
women's suffered centennial commission and teaches at georgetown university in the government department. she is the previous president of the national capital area political science association and served on the american political science association council the governing body of the organization. her research focuses on the american presidency presidential rhetoric women in politics and congress a native of pittsburgh. she holds a ba in political science from boston college in a phd in american politics from yale university where she was a national science foundation graduate fellow she is a member of phi beta kappa and the order of the cross and crown and the united states capitol historical societies council of scholars colleen. thanks for joining us today. matt thanks so much, and thanks for that wonderful introduction. i'm very excited to be here today to talk about one of my favorite topics presidential rhetoric and then specifically today inaugural addresses. so i thought we'd start out the
presentation today with a picture of me attending an inauguration in 2013, which was the second inauguration of president barack obama, and you can see from this photo that i was very close to the stage on the west front of the capitol and there's a funny story behind why i had such a terrific seat for that inauguration, and i thought i would share it. i at that time was serving as the deputy director of the congressional research service at the library of congress and throughout the year. i had helped out the house, press gallery the house of representatives prescallery with several inquiries. they had had and then also provided a press briefing to them about some of our materials and as a return. i got a phone call a few days before the inauguration from the head of the house press gallery who said that he was inviting me to be his guest at the 2013 inauguration.
he was also a former student of mine at george mason university, and i didn't know that that being a guest would mean that i was sitting so close up for the inauguration, but i actually had a seat next to colin powell. so it was a tremendous experience something that i will never forget in my entire life to be able to witness an inauguration of an united states. president with such a terrific seat in front of history. so now we're going to talk about the history of inaugural addresses, and i'm going to give you an overview of what the presentation will cover today. we'll talk about some of the general characteristics of inaugural addresses, of course cover the first inaugural address from george washington because it sets important precedence for the all the addresses that are forthcoming in american history. well, look at how the address is changed over time with a focus on technology.
we'll talk about what are some of the great inaugural addresses in american history and do those addresses share any common characteristics. this is a picture of course of lincoln's inauguration in 1861. i think it's important to start out when you think about inaugural addresses. what an inaugural address is and what it isn't so first. we'll talk about what an inaugural address is inaugural addresses are examples of a type of rhetoric called epidectic rhetoric or ceremonial rhetoric and that term is giving to us by aristotle. it's the rhetoric of formal occasions engaging in praise or blame and it's the type of rhetoric that discusses virtues and principles. probably the most famous appetitex speech evergen is pericles funeralation which of course appeared in thucydides
history of the peloponnesian war if you're looking for an exemplar of ceremonial or epidectic rhetoric, that's certainly is it now the greek translation of epidytic means to display or to show and that's why it's the rhetoric of ceremony there's perhaps no greater ceremony in american government than the inauguration of a new president it's the rhetoric of ritual which is critical because it's celebrates the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy epidotic rhetoric is also contemplative it's a reflective type of rhetoric it's the rhetoric that makes you think about things it's also has a timeless quality of it that emphasizes the past the present and the future for all of these reasons, we typically see elegant elevated or even literary language in inaugural addresses. so that's what we expect to see
in a presidential inaugural address. what do we not expect to see in an inaugural address? and i think this is really important and you may hear other people commenting on this about inaugural addresses inaugural addresses are not policy speeches policy speeches will come later in the presidency the first policy address we might see from a new president would be an annual address or state of the union address but is not an inaugural address if focuses once again on general principles, but doesn't get too much into the weeds of any particular policy. it's also not a partisan speech. it's really a speech meant to unify the country and it's not targeted to one particular audience of american citizens. it's targeted to all american citizens and even really the world. now we're going to go on to talk about george washington's
inaugural first inaugural address because like i said, it sets important precedence that will really continue on in american history. so washington gave his first inaugural address inside the senate chamber in new york city in federal hall before members of congress and invited dignitaries. they think about a hundred people were there to witness this first inaugural address and it's really important that the location of that address inside the senate chamber was determined by a joint committee of congress and that began the tradition of congress taking a very active role in the planning of the inauguration. washington speech was about 20 minutes long and james madison persuaded him to give a shorter speech rather than a longer one now during the speech washington was a visibly shaken. he was trembling during the speech and there might be a
couple reasons for why washington appeared this way first, we know that washington didn't really love public speaking so he might have been us certainly for about giving this speech but he was probably also really deeply moved by the grandeur of the moment. there's a lot in his first inaugural address about temporary ambition about his reluctance to become the first president of the united states. so washington was not only speaking to his supporters, but also to the anti-federalists who had a lot of concerns that an independent executive was not compatible with the principles of a democratic republic. most importantly washington established the practice of the speech itself. which is not required in the constitution also, he established the precedent that the speech would be about principles and not about policy.
so let's talk a little bit about the history of the address and how some of the practices of the address have changed over time now george washington and both of his inaugurations took the oath of office first and then gave his inaugural addresses that was changed by john adams in 1797 instead adams gave his speech first and then took the oath of office and we'll see that continued for a number of decades. the first president to give his inaugural address and take the oath of office at the united states capitol was thomas jefferson in 1801. and in 1817 the address and the oath move outside to be routinized outside as much as possible. of course, we know there are exceptions in american history where it does not take place outside. for example, taft in 1909 and
ronald reagan in 1985 both gave their address and took the oath inside at the capitol and that was due to weather conditions that were not hospitable for an outdoor occasion. in 1865 lincoln reverses the tradition back taking the oath first and then giving the speech what we're accustomed to seeing today and what we will likely see tomorrow. and then the inauguration moves to the west front of the capitol in 1981 with ronald reagan as depicted here in this picture. next we're going to talk about how technology has transformed the delivery of the speech. so presidents have always given inaugural addresses starting with george washington that are designed once again to be read or heard by american citizens by all american citizens, but of
course technology changed how that address has been transmitted and of course the amount of time in which it took to be transmitted in 1845. we see under the presidency of polk the use of the telegraph which greatly sped up the amount of time it took to actually get the address into the hands of citizens who wanted to read it and understand it electronic amplification was used in 1921 with warren harding. it's the early invention of the microphone which of course enables the president to transmit the address. publicly to a larger group of people or spectators in real time. in 1925 calvin coolidge was the first to broadcast the inaugural address on radio. he was also by the way the first president to broadcast a stated the union address on the radio. herbert hoover's inauguration was recorded on newsreel in 1929
and in 1949 is the first time that an inauguration is televised live with harry truman. and that's the picture we have here on this slide and you can see the media reviewing stands in the crowd. i reflect the fact that this inauguration and the inaugural address was televised. lastly in 1997 bill clinton became the first president to transmit his oath of office and the inaugural address on the internet. so let's talk about great inaugural addresses in american history. and this was really a question that i had when i started to review some of the writing and some of the scholarship that's been published on inaugural addresses. i wanted to know what are the inaugural addresses that historians and journalists have viewed as the greatest inaugural addresses in american history. so what i did was consult six
sources which are listed below which listed the best inaugural addresses in american history some of the sources listed the top five addresses some of them listed the top 10 addresses and i created a database and looked at all of the addresses that have been listed from these different sources and what i found was there were five addresses in american history that appeared routinely on these lists five of them rose apart from all of the others and so those five addresses that i'm going to talk about briefly today. our first address that makes the list the first of the top five and these will go in chronological order. so they're not in any ranked order. these are going in chronological order the first address that we'll talk about is jefferson geofferson's inaugural in 1801. at noon on march 4th and 1801 the 57 year old thomas jefferson
took the oath of office in the senate chamber inside the capital in washington dc. there was an audience of a little over a thousand people who watched jefferson take the oath and also give his inaugural address including 150 women. there is no evidence that jefferson shared a draft of his address with other with trusted confidence or even james madison before the speech, but then again, of course jefferson was no stranger to drafting ceremonial rhetoric having been the primary author of the declaration of independence. however, he did complete at least three drafts of the address which are available at the library of congress. and if you'd like to look at them, they're actually available digitally and i was able to take a look at the addresses while i was preparing for this presentation. in his draft of the addresses jefferson did not capitalize.
republicans and federalists in his favorite line. we are all republicans. we are all federalists which you might hear quoted as you watch coverage of the upcoming inauguration tomorrow, although he did not capitalize those words. he clearly did mean for that line to unify the country and meant to and he did was targeting those nascent political parties. he achieved his goal of trying to unify the country in general his opponents the federalists received the address more favorably than his own supporters. jefferson's effort to bring together the country was critically important since it was the real first transfer of power in american history and took place, of course after a contested election that had only been resolved in the house of representatives weeks early.
now we'll move on to the next address on the list. no surprise. i abraham lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865. lincoln gave this address only 41 days before he would be assassinated. there are is dispute amongst scholars, but many consider the second inaugural as lincoln as lincoln's finest example of rhetoric. the text of course is engraved on the north wall of the lincoln memorial. is only 700 in words 701 words long and it only took lincoln six or seven minutes to deliver it. it was not a speech that gloated over northern victory in the war instead lincoln used the address as a way to discuss the causes of the war acknowledging the scourge of slavery. he suggests in the address that perhaps the civil war was a punishment from god to both the
north and the south for perpetuating the enslavement of black americans the speech was also meant to lay the groundwork for lincoln's approach to reconstruction, which would never be realized due to his death the following month. and if you're interested in learning more about this remarkable speech certainly one of the greatest inaugurals and maybe one of the greatest examples of presidential rhetoric in american history. there's a terrific book by the historian ronald white who has appeared on many of our history happy hours and the title of the book is lincoln's greatest speech and it will give you an in-depth analysis of lincoln's second inaugural address. and now our third speech that makes the list franklin roosevelt in 1933 now by the time roosevelt gave this address in 1933, which is of course his first inaugural address the depression had lasted for several years millions of americans were out of work or
living in poverty fdrs inaugural address. however was not a policy speech. you would mind imagine. he might have been enticed to give a policy speech given the economic crisis that they were facing, but he did not instead roosevelt used the speech to address the psychology of the economic depression. hence the famous line. the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. the terror of the depression actually paralyzes action once that psychology of fear is removed argued fdr then it paves the way for moving forward the goal was to instill hope and optimism with the american people and another goal of the address which fdr did make clear was that the federal government would have to expand its role to solve this crisis he also made it clear that he would use
executive power aggressively to achieve those ends roosevelt therefore laid out the basic principle he would adopt in the new deal action was better than in action or paralysis next we have john f. kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, and we will be able to watch a short clip of that address. and the long history of the world. only a few generations have been granted the role. of defending freedom and it's our of maximum danger. i do not shrink from this responsibility. i welcome it. i do not believe that any of us what exchange places with any other people or any other generation?
the energy the faith the devotion which we bring to this endeavor? will light our country and all who serve it. and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. and so my fellow americans ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country my fellow citizens of the world if not what america will do for you? but what together we can do for the freedom of man? finally whether you are citizens of america or citizens of the world ask of us here.
the same high standard of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you with a good conscience our only sure reward. with history the final judge of our deeds let us go forth to lead the land we love. asking his blessing. and his help. but knowing that here on earth. god's work must truly be our own. so kennedy is address was quite short. it was only 14 minutes long. so we saw actually a nice
proportion of that speech in that clip. of course, it's known for its most memorable line, which was shown calling for public service for a new generation of americans. however, it's important to remember that most of the speech was about the role of the united states in the world particularly concerning the cold war the goal of the speech was to inspire confidence at home, but also respect respect abroad. in fact kennedy understood that the audience of the speech was certainly americans, but also cruise chef himself it's largely a speech about soviet containment and the tone in the speech has been described by some scholars as alarmist. there's only 1,400 words in the speech and 10 of them mentioned some variant of the word freedom or liberty. so, why was the speech so popular besides its famous line? kennedy's 1961 inaugural
achieved its goals. there was an aggressive nationalism included in the speech, but it was also tied to national service and participation. it was a speech that focused on the collective nature of democracy, which despite its serious internationalist message managed to come across as optimistic as well. so now we'll look at the last speech on our list of the five greatest inaugural addresses, which is ronald reagan's first inaugural address in 1981 and likewise. we have a clip from that speech. so as we begin let us take inventory we are a nation that has a government not the other way around and this makes us special among the nations of the earth our government has no
power except that granted it by the people it is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed? it is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and our proportionate. to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. it is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation. to limit ourselves to small dreams we're not as some would have us believe doomed to an inevitable decline. i do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. i do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing we have every right to dream heroic dreams. those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes.
they just don't know where to look. well, i believe we the americans of today are ready to act worthy of ourselves. ready to do. what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves our children and our children's children. and as we renew ourselves here in our own land. we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. we will again be the exemplar. freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom. as for the enemies of freedom those who are potential adversaries. they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the american people. we will negotiate for it. sacrifice for it we will not surrender for it now or ever.
when reagan came to office in 1981, there was another economic crisis high unemployment high inflation and gas shortages the results, of course unrest in the country about the iran hostage crisis. there are a few main ideas in the speech that are definitely worth emphasizing and mentioning first and foremost reagan emphasized the limit of the federal government. that's the theme of the speech encapsulated by the phrase. we didn't see it here but encapsulated by the line government is not the solution to our problem government is the problem. secondly, there's a heavy dose of optimism in the speech which became a signature element of reagan's presidential rhetoric. can we solve the problems confronting us? well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic. yes. that's another line from the speech. lastly reagan's first inaugural included rhetorical arguments
that indicated that he was going to reconstruct government particularly the federal government. that's why he used words such as restoring and renewal in the speech in other words the speech promised or hearken change, even if it would only be incremental change. so those are our five speeches that are considered the most prominent inaugural addresses in american history so after you look at these five speeches are there any characteristics that are shared by each of these speeches well, each of them does a very good job in emphasizing unity national unity and signaling that the rhetoric was the end of the campaign. this is not an extension of the political campaign. the the campaign has ended this is now the rhetoric of deliberation of governance and each of those five speeches. we looked at does a very good job in that regard. once again governing principles
are the primary text of the speech not policy proposals and when presidents start to delve into discussing policy in inaugural addresses. that's when they kind of are probably not going to be on the list of the top five best inaugural addresses or even top 10 inaugural addresses an american history. collective nature of the speech is also really important. i emphasized it with john f. kennedy's 1961 address, but it's certainly was also the case for lincoln's second inaugural in 1865 inclusion the idea that we were in this together as a nation and not that much use of the word. i it shouldn't be the president speaking in first person terms. it should be speaking speaking collectively as a nation. all of these features are shorter in in length. they're all under 2,500 words the longest speech of the five is reagan's 1981 inaugural
address if we eliminated that one, all of them would be under 2000 words, so they're very short speeches and that really indicates to me that short speech indicates that you have one primary theme or focus to the speech what i would like to i usually call a bumper sticker that you could actually put the theme of the speech on a bumper sticker and put it on the back of your car if you're able to do that. then you have a really focused speech with really one or two main points to emphasize. a final word on inaugural addresses. this is a favorite quote of mine from arthur schlessinger jr. in 1965. he actually wrote a forward to a book about inaugural addresses and this was a line from the forward that he wrote the platitude quotient tends to be high the rhetoric stately and self-serving the ritual obsessive and the surprises few. so arthur sledge schlesinger jr. was not a fan of inaugural
addresses as really an important piece of rhetoric in american parlance. the next slide i don't necessarily agree with arthur schlessinger jr. and this is the reason why we've learned a great deal even in this short half hour about inaugural addresses. what do we know? well inaugural dresses have a rhetorical structure to them ellen's elements of the the speech have certainly changed over time and technology his impacted the delivery of the speech over time and how fast it's transmitted. but highly regarded inaugural addresses have consistent characteristics contained in them. and most importantly inaugural addresses are important example of ceremonial rhetoric. it's the rhetoric once again of one of the most important american rituals, which is of course the peaceful transfer of power. so i look forward to taking your
questions about inaugural addresses and having more of a discussion thank you colleen for that excellent presentation. i do want to leave as much time as possible for our questions. so i'm just going to go ahead and get started for anybody who missed it at the beginning if you do have any questions, please be sure to type them into the chat feature at the bottom. just be sure to add your question where you are writing from so we can properly give you credit. okay, so one of the first questions and this has come up through a few different people people are curious of what your thoughts might be on the types of themes we might see for president-elect biden's inauguration. it's a great question. the biden team has not released
too many details about the speech, but we do know that the theme of the entire inauguration is unity, and so i would imagine that those who are working on president-elect biden speech are looking at addresses like jefferson's inauguration in 1801 another good speech to look at might be george w bushes first inaugural address in 2001 after a very close and divisive election president bush made a very good attempt in trying to unify the country. so i think that unity unifying speaking to all americans are going to be common themes. and another thing that the biden team has released another detail is that president-elect biden has indicated that he is not going to give speech of soaring rhetoric, so don't look for maybe all the grandeur and eloquence of some of the other
speeches. he is more accustomed. his own voice is more accustomed to speaking plainly and he has said that he wants to speak directly and plainly to the american citizens. now the one thing that you would think that president biden will have to address president-elect. biden will have to address in the speech is of course the pandemic and that will be interesting to see whether or not he that's a policy. it's a problem and it's going to be hopefully solved with policy. he can't go too far into the weeds on the solutions for the pandemic, but i think he needs to he's certainly needs to mention it and provide a what i would hope would be a healthy dose dose of optimism for the future ahead regarding the current health crisis. we find ourselves in so as you can imagine the the standard go to questions are longest and shortest speeches. do you happen to know?
what was the longest inaugural? speech? yes, of course. it's william henry harrison's inaugural address, which he gave i believe 1841 and it was by far the longest inaugural address. it was not a particularly nice day outside, but harrison wanted to show that he was robust and vigorous and took the oath and gave the address outside. and of course, we know that i believe either 30 or 31 days later. he had died of pneumonia, which was likely contracted by his being outside for such a long period of time during the inauguration or at least exacerbated by being outside. so long during the inauguration the shortest address in a non girl dress in american history is actually george washington's second inaugural address, and i forget how many words it is. it's like 140 or 150 words long. he doesn't say too much. i think it's mostly like hey
washington said would i you know i said everything that i wanted to say about the presidency and the principles that i would govern by in my first inaugural address and in other communications and i don't think i really need to have a lengthy second inaugural address and of course matt as you've reminded me several times washington just didn't like public speaking that much so why would he engage in it when he didn't necessarily have to ibo is kind of thought of it as a please see previous inaugural speech was kind of that's what filled that and this is an interesting interesting question from michael how has the speech writing process changed over the years has the president's role in speech writing changed wasn't primarily the president writing these things speech writers collective etc. right. i mean there were the first formal presidential speech writer is a man by the name of judson welliver and he wrote for
harding and coolidge. so he wrote for harding and harding died then he stayed on and he helped writing for right for coolidge and that's the actually the name of the society of former presidential speech writers if you are a white house speech writer you get to join the judson well-verse society after your time serving the president as a speech writer. so that was actually formal speech writing, but there were a lot of presidents that probably shared drafts of speeches throughout american history drafts of their addresses with others with confidants and four formal speech writing doesn't start of course until the 1920s. i did take a look at i tried to look around to see if there was some examples of what you can glean from speech writing related to inaugural addresses specifically and i did find a really interesting file, which was online at the jimmy carter presidential library. this is of course for his 1977
inaugural address and it was an entire file at the carter library, which what was digital so i was able to take a look at it all the different people who carter actually solicited their opinion about what he should say in his inaugural address so he had memo after memo after memo from very prominent people some who had served in his campaign some who had been journalists some who had been friends of carter over the years who wrote to him saying what they thought he should say in his inaugural address all kinds of themes ideas actually drafts of the address or in the file. so very very interesting. there's a lot of people who want to get in obviously on writing an inaugural or helping to write an inaugural address in the end. it's probably one of the speeches that a president is going to be the most involved in because presidents whether it's
you know president-elect biden preparing for his inaugural address tomorrow or all the way back to george washington's first inaugural address. they know they're not just writing this address or speaking this address for the present moment where they're doing it for the future and for historians who will interpret it. so we've had several questions asked some version of this but people are curious where they can learn more about inaugural addresses whether finding the text of inaugural addresses or finding videos of a famous inaugural speeches. where would you recommend our viewers go to find those types of things? there's a great resource called the avalon project at yale university and they have all the federalist papers they have, you know, different drafts of the constitution is we it's it's a great first-hand primary resource for people and they have all of the inaugural
addresses very well laid out throughout american history, and i usually use that resource when i want to look up something in particular make sure i get an authoritative version of the speech. that's great. so the avalon project at yale the miller center at uva at the university of virginia also has a number of all kinds of presidential addresses including all of the inaugural speeches. the more recent ones they have you can actually listen to the addresses on the miller center's websites if you want to actually hear how the speech was given, which is also very helpful. so those are two really good resources. that i would consult. we have a question from edward who said colleen. can you tell us if any of your sources referenced richard nixon's address in 1969 seeking reconciliation and understanding i've always admired his seeking us to lower our voices.
so all may be heard your thoughts. yes, it was it did not make any of the the top speeches a lot of times things are reinterpreted throughout history, but i do think that line is a memorable line. what are some of the other addresses that didn't make the top five but we're but we're remember the top five kind of were their own category and then ever all the other ones were further below or i would have included the top six in the top seven five was, you know, not an arbitrary number. it was really where de marcation occurred other notable ones in american history lincoln in 1861, of course as the nation was dividing and secession was starting amongst the southern states teddy roosevelt in 1905 and woodrow wilson in 1917 as the united states prepared to enter possibly enter world war
one. so those are the other ones that are often mention. it didn't quite make it to the top tier of those five that i shared with you. it's i'm scrolling through the questions one that comes to mind for me as i was was listening to your presentation. is this idea that? it seems to be a consistent theme that incoming presidents want to they really want to push this this theme of reconciliation of unity and how they use history to do that how they how they hearken back to whether it's the ideals we share our traditions our dreams what were some of the notable examples that you saw in your studies, you know, you talked about reagan and dreams a little bit. but what were some of the other examples where you saw presidents using history as a means to connect americans, right? probably the most recent one
would have been actually the inauguration. i attended the 2013 inauguration of barack obama where he really reinterprets the declaration the principles and exploration of independence and you know goes through quotes the declaration of independence, but then says probably in the most famous line i think in that speech saying that the ideals are self-evident, but they're not self-executing which i thought was it was a very good line. so in recent years, that's probably an address that i would note is reinterpreting our principles and looking throughout american history. that's what i would say. i mean woodrow wilson once again in 1917 prior to entering world war. i that speeches is is certainly a ceremonial speech. it's about principles. it's all so borders on being a persuasive speech because he knows i think at this point in
time what's coming and he decides to use that inaugural address to remind americans about the principles of democracy and why they're so important to defend great. well colleen, thank you so much for your presentation today. i learned a lot. i'm sure our audience learned a lot and thank you again for sharing your knowledge on presidential inaugural addresses with us. thank you. you know, it's a very interesting thing. first of all, it seems so many years ago when this took place but as right after the president reagan had been elected there had been a something occurred which wasn't predicted to happen. which was he appointed james baker to be the chief of staff ed. meese was expected to become the chief is staff that didn't happen. but ed s