Leading Blog






01.20.09

The Top 5 U.S. Inaugural Speeches

David Greenberg, a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, offers his view of the five best inaugural speeches in the Wall Street Journal. “Over the decades, indeed, only a few have gained canonical status – for the sublimity of their prose, the eloquence of their delivery or the aptness of their message for a concurrent crisis.” I would place Lincoln’s short but powerful second inaugural address in 1865 as the best, but here is Greenburg’s list:

5. John F. Kennedy – 1961 “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

4. Thomas Jefferson – 1801 (First Inaugural Address) “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. 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.”

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1937 (Second Inaugural Address)
FDR Second Inaugural Address
“Old truths have been relearned; untruths have been unlearned. We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.... It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope—because the Nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country's interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. 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.”

2. Abraham Lincoln – 1865 (Second Inaugural Address) “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.”

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1933 (First Inaugural Address) “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:08 PM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Communication



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