If Lincoln’s second inaugural address is No. 1, is there a No. 2?
“Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address was a particularly good one,” Ritchie said. “His ideas had jelled a lot. His campaign in 1932 was fairly diffuse, and he really didn’t define what the New Deal was going to do.. . . By ’36, he pretty well knew what he wanted and what the problems were.”
“Our progress out of the depression is obvious. . . . We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. . . . We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.”
As for Jefferson, Ritchie noted that he gave only two speeches during his presidency: his first and second inaugural addresses. In the second, aside from venting at the press, Jefferson explained his purchase of Louisiana.
“I know that the acquisition of Louisiana had been disapproved by some from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our territory would endanger its union,” he said. But “the larger our association the less will it be shaken by local passions.”
William McKinley’s second inaugural, on March 4, 1901, came after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, in 1898, and amid a bitter anti-American insurgency in the Philippines, which had been seized from Spain.
“We are not waging war against the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands,” McKinley said. “A portion of them are making war against the United States.
“By far the greater part of the inhabitants recognize American sovereignty and welcome it as a guaranty of order and of security,” he said. “. . . They shall not be abandoned.”
McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist six months later.
In 1917, Inauguration Day fell on Sunday, as it does this year, and Woodrow Wilson took the oath for his second term in the ornate President’s Room in the Capitol. He took it again, and delivered his speech, the next day.
“He was quite a powerful speaker . . . [with,] by all accounts, a very deep baritone voice,” Ritchie said.
Less than five weeks before the United States entered World War I, Wilson said:
“The shadows that now lie dark upon our path will soon be dispelled . . . if we be but true to ourselves . . . as we have wished to be known in . . . the thought of all those who love liberty and justice and the right exalted.”
Forty years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke of the quest for peace in the nuclear age.
“We seek peace,” he said, “now, as in no other age . . . because we have been warned, by the power of modern weapons, that peace may be the only climate possible for human life itself.”
President Richard Nixon spoke in January 1973, during tortured domestic times, near the close of the Vietnam War and seven months after the Watergate break-in that would doom his presidency.
“As America’s longest and most difficult war comes to an end, let us again learn to debate our differences with civility and decency,” he said. “. . . Our children have been taught to be ashamed of their country, ashamed of their parents, ashamed of America’s record at home and of its role in the world.”
“At every turn, we have been beset by those who find everything wrong with America and little that is right,” he said. “But I am confident that this will not be the judgment of history on these remarkable times in which we are privileged to live.”
Ronald Reagan flubbed a line in his 1985 address, which was delivered in the Capitol Rotunda because of the bitter temperatures outside.
“We stand together again at the steps of this symbol of our democracy — or we would have been standing at the steps if it hadn’t gotten so cold,” he said. “Now we are standing inside this symbol of our democracy.”
Ritchie, the Senate historian, said he didn’t think either Bill Clinton’s second inaugural address, in 1997, or George W. Bush’s, in 2005, was that memorable.
‘A rare occasion’
Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, more than any other movie this year.
Ritchie noted that the film concludes with a scene of Lincoln at his second inauguration.
“They flash back to him giving his second inaugural address,” he said. “That’s the last seconds of the movie. And that’s a rare occasion, that any president’s inaugural address is going to be in a movie.”