We’re within hours of the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. I don’t know what will be said yet. But I’ve been thinking about what an inaugural address ought to contain—and some good words from the past.
If I were imaging the ideal, I would want the new president to express his intention and dedication to protecting and defending our Constitution—as written and understood when written. I would like to hear humility, and gratitude for the confidence placed in him by the American people—and an appeal for prayer to sustain him in that effort.
I love beautiful language, like you get from Lincoln. But even more I’m in favor of honesty and integrity—being authentically himself, so no efforts toward flowery, pretentious, “I’m making this sound more important so I will seem more important” language. Short is good. And the words should be meaningful and understandable—not just sound like they must be in a “the emperor has no clothes” kind of way.
If I were to guess, I predict Donald Trump will sound like himself. Hopefully he will be clear and meaningful. And I pray that he might connect with our Constitution—and mean it.
We’ve had some good examples in the past. Ronald Reagan was good at being himself and meeting those other requirements. We could probably say the same of John F. Kennedy’s speeches. Back much further and we have to just imagine their voices. But here are a few words from the past.
George Washington’s 1st Inaugurual, April 30, 1789
|Depiction of Washington's 1st Inaugural Address|
image from here
The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.
George Washington’s 2nd Inaugural, March 41793, in its entirety
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
Thomas Jeffersons 1st Inaugural, March 4, 1801
A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
I repair then, fellow citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation, and the favor, which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose pre-eminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love, and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional; and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage, is a great consolation to me for the past; and my future solicitude will be, to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.
Relying then on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choices it is in your power to make. And may that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.
Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, March 4, 1865
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.
Ronald Reagan’s 1st Inaugural, January 20, 1981
|Reagan's 1st Inaugural Address|
image found here
"To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle."
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.
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 my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.