Reasons & Remarks:
Poetry From the Portico

Reprinted from PN April 2001
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Over the years, few folks remember inaugural-address highlights. George Washington gave the shortest speech—only 135 words—in his second inaugural. William Henry Harrison delivered the longest one (nearly 10,000 words) in a cold, driving rain. His audience survived; he died of pneumonia a month later.

The few addresses people remember have become part of the fabric of America. To wit:

March 1801, Thomas Jefferson
A detailed look at Jefferson's great mind, dissecting the Constitution: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?"

March 1861, Abraham Lincoln
A plea to save the Union from war: "The mystic chords of memory...will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature."

March 1865, Abraham Lincoln
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds...."

March 1881, James A. Garfield
The first glimmer of a modern vision of national government: "The supremacy of the nation and its laws should be no longer a subject of debate."

March 1905, Theodore Roosevelt
"We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice."

March 1909, William Howard Taft
A frank discussion of racial issues: "We cannot permit the possible failure of justice, due to local prejudice in any state or municipal government."

March 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt
History's clearest message to Congress—lead, follow, or suspend the Constitution:

"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...."

January 1949, Harry Truman
A succinct definition of the U.S. position at the dawn of the Cold War: "The supreme need of our time is for men to learn to live together in peace and harmony."

January 1961, John F. Kennedy
"...ask not what your country can do for you...ask what you can do for your country."

January 1981, Ronald Reagan
The strongest statement of a political philosophy since Jefferson's first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

What's your favorite inaugural quote or fact?


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Reasons & Remarks:
Poetry From the Portico


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