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Franklin Roosevelt's Second Presidential Inaugural Address [January 20, 1937] - History

Franklin Roosevelt's Second Presidential Inaugural Address [January 20, 1937] - History

WHEN four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision—to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it; to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things first.

Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had been unable to create those moral controls over the services of science which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.

We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease. We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.

In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth; we were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the Revolutionary War; they created a strong government with powers of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people.

Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve the same objectives.

Four years of new experience have not belied our historic instinct. They hold out the clear hope that government within communities, government within the separate States, and government of the United States can do the things the times require, without yielding its democracy. Our tasks in the last four years did not force democracy to take a holiday.

Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase—power to stop evil; power to do good. The essential democracy of our Nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.

In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of all power more democratic; for we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.

Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials. By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.

In that purpose we have been helped by achievements of mind and spirit. 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. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.

This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.

In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling. But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among men of good will.

For these reasons I am justified in believing that the greatest change we have witnessed has been the change in the moral climate of America.

Among men of good will, science and democracy together offer an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual. With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the road of enduring progress.

Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue on our way? For "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth."

Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says, "Tarry a while." Opportunism says, "This is a good spot." Timidity asks, "How difficult is the road ahead?"

True, we have come far from the days of stagnation and despair. Vitality has been preserved. Courage and confidence have been restored. Mental and moral horizons have been extended.

But our present gains were won under the pressure of more than ordinary circumstances. Advance became imperative under the goad of fear and suffering. The times were on the side of progress.

To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our progressive purpose.

Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley?

I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves; they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

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.

If I know aught of the spirit and purpose of our Nation, we will not listen to Comfort, Opportunism, and Timidity. We will carry on.

Overwhelmingly, we of the Republic are men and women of good will; men and women who have more than warm hearts of dedication; men and women who have cool heads and willing hands of practical purpose as well. They will insist that every agency of popular government use effective instruments to carry out their will.

Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.

If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations in its example of the will to peace.

Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.

To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.

In taking again the oath of office as President of the United States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American people forward along the road over which they have chosen to advance.

While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration

On January 20, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first U.S. president sworn into office in January. It was his second of four inaugurations the first had been held fours years earlier on March 4, 1933. Roosevelt’s first inauguration had been shadowed by the onset of the Great Depression—within a week of taking office, the new president had declared a federal bank holiday.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Executive Oath of Office, The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. America’s Founding Documents. U. S. National Archives and Records Administration

Roosevelt’s second inaugural address was optimistic about the gains that had been made during his first administration, while acknowledging that much more was needed. In his speech he shared his vision of the nation’s potential and challenged Americans to continue in a united effort to address poverty.

Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley? I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources…I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown…But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens…who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life…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…

Inaugural Address External , Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 20, 1937. The American Presidency Project.

Congress had originally established March 4 as Inauguration Day. The date was moved to January 20 with the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.

Inaugural celebrations have run the gamut from Andrew Jackson’s raucous White House reception in 1829, to FDR’s somber wartime affair in 1945, but a basic pattern of activities has been established over the years. Around noon, the president is sworn in at the Capitol by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. After taking the brief, 35-word oath of office, the new chief executive delivers an inaugural address, followed by a parade through the city, and an evening of gala festivities.

TR’s Inaugural Ceremony, 1905. United States: 1905. Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division


Franklin Roosevelt's Second Inaugural Address

When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision—to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things first.


Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had been unable to create those moral controls over the services of science which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.


We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease. We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.


In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth we were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.


This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the Revolutionary War they created a strong government with powers of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people.


Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve the same objectives.


Four years of new experience have not belied our historic instinct. They hold out the clear hope that government within communities, government within the separate States, and government of the United States can do the things the times require, without yielding its democracy. Our tasks in the last four years did not force democracy to take a holiday.


Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase—power to stop evil power to do good. The essential democracy of our Nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.


In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of all power more democratic for we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.


Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials. By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.


In that purpose we have been helped by achievements of mind and spirit. 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. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.


This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.


In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling. But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among men of good will.


For these reasons I am justified in believing that the greatest change we have witnessed has been the change in the moral climate of America.


Among men of good will, science and democracy together offer an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual. With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the road of enduring progress.


Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue on our way? For "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth."


Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says, "Tarry a while." Opportunism says, "This is a good spot." Timidity asks, "How difficult is the road ahead?"


True, we have come far from the days of stagnation and despair. Vitality has been preserved. Courage and confidence have been restored. Mental and moral horizons have been extended.


But our present gains were won under the pressure of more than ordinary circumstances. Advance became imperative under the goad of fear and suffering. The times were on the side of progress.


To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our progressive purpose.


Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley?


I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.


But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.


I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.


I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.


I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.


I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.


I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.


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.


If I know aught of the spirit and purpose of our Nation, we will not listen to Comfort, Opportunism, and Timidity. We will carry on.


Overwhelmingly, we of the Republic are men and women of good will men and women who have more than warm hearts of dedication men and women who have cool heads and willing hands of practical purpose as well. They will insist that every agency of popular government use effective instruments to carry out their will.


Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.


If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations in its example of the will to peace.


Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.


To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.


In taking again the oath of office as President of the United States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American people forward along the road over which they have chosen to advance.


While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.


A Brief History of the U.S. Inauguration

The first president, George Washington, was inaugurated at Federal Hall in New York on April 30, 1789. Washington repeated the oath, read by Chancellor Robert Livingston of New York, with one hand on the Bible: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Establishing a custom that has been followed by all succeeding presidents, Washington added, “So help me God” at the end. In eloquent Enlightenment form, Washington’s inaugural address spoke of “the Great Author of every public and private good,” “the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men”, and civic virtue required for successful government.

Washington needed only 135 words to complete the address at his second inauguration in 1793. Some 48 years later, President William Henry Harrison needed 8495 words to complete his address. During that address, which lasted some two hours in the cold weather, Harrison failed to wear a winter coat and developed pneumonia. He died a month later.

The tradition of presidential procession of both the president-elect and soon-to-be-ex-president has its roots in the 1837 inauguration. On inauguration day that year, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren met and traveled to the Capitol together in a wooden carriage built from the remains of the U.S.S. Constitution. This processional tradition has been followed by all presidents with the exception of outgoing-president Andrew Johnson, who in 1869 remained in the Capitol signing legislation until the noon expiration of his term.

Andrew Jackson at the 1829 inauguration.

Thought to be the greatest of all addresses, Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address in March, 1865. With the Union embroiled in civil war, Lincoln invoked God to bring a speedy end to the fighting. However, he went on state his acceptance if God were to allow bloodshed to continue after hundreds of years of slavery, because “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Under the Twentieth Amendment, the date of the Presidential Inauguration was moved from March to January 20, which falls a couple of weeks after the certification of votes of the Electoral College. The last president to be inaugurated in March after an election year was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. After re-election in 1936, Roosevelt was the first president to be inaugurated under the new amendment on January 20, 1937.

Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration is also noteworthy because of what he did before his swearing-in. FDR went with his wife to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a church service on the morning of March 4, setting a presidential precedent of attending an inaugural-day worship event.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy became the United States’ youngest and first Catholic president. During his inaugural address on January 20, he delivered his now-famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Ronald Reagan broke with tradition in 1981 by having his presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol’s west front, which could hold more visitors than the normally used east front.

Today, the presidential inauguration carries on the traditions of inaugurations past. To learn much more about presidential inauguration history, please visit the inauguration website of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Event information presented here is unofficial and may change at any time. Be sure to check with the event organizer for official details and event modifications.


Inauguration Day trivia! From historic firsts to feats

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20. Thomas D. McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Joe Biden is about to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States — while Kamala Harris makes history as the first-ever woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to take the oath as vice president. All this you know. But here are a few Inauguration Day facts you might not know.

Inauguration Day used to be held on March 4. The 20th Amendment, certified in 1933 and commonly known as the “Lame Duck Amendment,” moved the day to Jan. 20 (or Jan. 21 in case the 20th falls on a Sunday) — a lot closer to the start of a new Congress. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on Jan. 20.

A lithograph depicts William Henry Harrison's presidential inauguration in 1841. Library of Congress/The Washington Post

A hatless, coatless, 68-year-old William Henry Harrison was sworn in on a wet, cold March 4, 1841, giving the longest inaugural address in history … and died one month later of pneumonia. At least according to his doctor, Thomas Miller. Harrison sure broke a lot of records: longest address, shortest-serving, first to die in office — but did his inauguration kill him? That’s disputed. A 2014 study concluded the ninth president actually died from enteric fever, “likely a consequence of the unsanitary conditions” in the US capital during most of the 19th century.

The 1909 inauguration of William H. Taft was the snowiest on record. Keystone View Company/Library of Congress

The coldest January inauguration on record? That goes to Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. In 1985, the mercury dipped to a frigid 7 degrees, with afternoon wind chill temps in the range of 10- to 20-below. The coldest March inauguration goes to Ulysses S. Grant’s second swearing in, in 1873. The morning low temperature of 4 degrees remains D.C.’s coldest March day on record. With raging winds, wind chill temps were 15- to 30-below that afternoon. The snowiest? In 1909, some 9.8 inches fell when William H. Taft was sworn into office, all according to the National Weather Service.

President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan after the 1981 inauguration. George Tames/New York Times

The warmest January inauguration on record, again, goes to Reagan, who saw a balmy 55-degree Inauguration Day in 1981. Officially, the warmest March inauguration goes to Woodrow Wilson in 1913, who saw 55 degrees. It’s estimated that Jefferson also saw 55 degrees, on March 4, 1801, but official weather records didn’t begin until 1871, according to the NWS. It’s estimated that George Washington saw 61 degrees for his second inauguration in 1793 in Philadelphia. Technically, Gerald Ford had the hottest inauguration in ’74 with 89 degrees — but that was August.

Four Massachusetts natives have taken the oath: Braintree’s John Adams in 1797 and his son, John Quincy Adams, in 1825 JFK in 1961, and Milton native George H. W. Bush in 1989. Vermont’s Chester A. Arthur took office in 1881 and Calvin Coolidge in 1923. New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce was inaugurated in 1853 and Connecticut-born George W. Bush in 2001.

Joe Biden took the oath for the vice presidency in 2013. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

The tradition of swearing on a Bible dates back to George Washington. Biden will swear on his massive Biden family Bible, which dates to 1893. Biden has used the same 5-inch thick book for every swearing in since he first became a senator in 1973. “[E]very time I’ve been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and it’s inscribed on the Bible,” Biden told Stephen Colbert last month. (Dr. Jill Biden will hold the Bible during the ceremony. “Have you been working out?” Colbert joked.) Harris, meanwhile, will be sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and take her oath on a Bible owned by Thurgood Marshall. Most presidents swear on the Bible — but not all. John Quincy Adams chose a law book containing the Constitution. He was also the first president to wear pants, rather than knee breeches, to his Inauguration.

THE FIRST INAUGURATION

A painting depicts George Washington's inauguration on April 30, 1789.

George Washington’s first inauguration was held not in March, but on April 30, 1789, and not in D.C., but Federal Hall in New York City — oh, and they forgot the Bible. The Inauguration Day parade happened to be marshaled by a man named Jacob Morton, a freemason who also served as master of nearby St. John’s Lodge. So Morton quickly ran to grab a Bible from the Masonic Lodge.

Biden, 78, will make history as the oldest person ever sworn in as president. The youngest? Teddy Roosevelt was just 42 when inaugurated in September 1901, taking over after the assassination of William McKinley. Brookline native John F. Kennedy was 43 on his Inauguration Day. Both Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant were 46. Barack Obama was 47. Franklin Pierce was 48. The median age is 55 years and 3 months — the exact age of Lyndon B. Johnson when he was sworn in after JFK’s assassination.

Washington is the only elected president to be inaugurated in two different cities. However, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Johnson were each inaugurated in different cities after taking over due to a president’s death. For the record: the first Washington, D.C., inauguration was Thomas Jefferson’s in 1801.

INNOVATION INAUGURATIONS

Harry S. Truman's inaugural address was the first to be televised in 1949 BECKER/Associated Press

Speaking of Jefferson, his was the first inaugural speech to be reprinted in a newspaper, the National Intelligencer. The Ford Model T was introduced in 1908 — but it wasn’t until March 4, 1921, that President Warren G. Harding became the first president to ride to and from his inauguration in an automobile, according to the White House Historical Association. Meanwhile, the first inauguration that Americans could hear over the radio was Calvin Coolidge’s in 1925. The first one televised was President Harry Truman’s in 1949. And Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 was the first to be livestreamed on a newfangled thing called the Internet.


Second Inaugural Address

WHEN four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision - to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things first.

Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need - the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had been unable to create those moral controls over the services of science which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.

We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease. We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.

In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth we were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the Revolutionary War they created a strong government with powers of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people.

Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve the same objectives.

Four years of new experience have not belied our historic instinct. They hold out the clear hope that government within communities, government within the separate States, and government of the United States can do the things the times require, without yielding its democracy. Our tasks in the last four years did not force democracy to take a holiday.

Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase - power to stop evil power to do good. The essential democracy of our Nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.

In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of all power more democratic for we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public's government. The legend that they were invincible - above and beyond the processes of a democracy - has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.

Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials. By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.

In that purpose we have been helped by achievements of mind and spirit. 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. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.

This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.

In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling. But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among men of good will.

For these reasons I am justified in believing that the greatest change we have witnessed has been the change in the moral climate of America.

Among men of good will, science and democracy together offer an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual. With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the road of enduring progress.

Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue on our way? For "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth."

Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says, "Tarry a while." Opportunism says, "This is a good spot." Timidity asks, "How difficult is the road ahead?"

True, we have come far from the days of stagnation and despair. Vitality has been preserved. Courage and confidence have been restored. Mental and moral horizons have been extended.

But our present gains were won under the pressure of more than ordinary circumstances. Advance became imperative under the goad of fear and suffering. The times were on the side of progress.

To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our progressive purpose.

Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley?

I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens - a substantial part of its whole population - who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

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.

If I know aught of the spirit and purpose of our Nation, we will not listen to Comfort, Opportunism, and Timidity. We will carry on.

Overwhelmingly, we of the Republic are men and women of good will men and women who have more than warm hearts of dedication men and women who have cool heads and willing hands of practical purpose as well. They will insist that every agency of popular government use effective instruments to carry out their will.

Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.

If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations in its example of the will to peace.

Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.

To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.

In taking again the oath of office as President of the United States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American people forward along the road over which they have chosen to advance.

While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.


Grieving: November 27, 1963

The peaceful transition of power by presidential election is often greeted with joy, but perhaps no national crisis is as sorrowful as when death ends a presidential term to begin another. Such was the case when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president, was sworn in the same day aboard Air Force One and became the 36th president of the United States. His ceremony was brief, conducted in a few minutes before the plane took off for Washington, D.C. Later that evening, he delivered a short statement:

This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help—and God's.

Johnson later recalled that he knew he “could not let the tide of grief overwhelm me … the nation was in a state of shock and grief. The times cried out for leadership.” To begin the recovery, Johnson turned to former president Dwight D. Eisenhower for advice. The two men had worked together often when Eisenhower was in office and Johnson was serving in the Senate. Johnson valued the former president’s insight and agreed with his advice that addressing the nation would be necessary.

On November 27, 1963, five days after Kennedy’s death and two days after the funeral, Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress that was broadcast on television to the American people. The speech wasted no time in acknowledging the nation’s grief:

All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.

The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time … No words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began.

In the face of this loss, Johnson, like presidents before him, highlighted the importance of unity in finding a way forward through shared sorrow:

These are the United States: A united people with a united purpose. Our American unity does not depend upon unanimity. We have differences but now, as in the past, we can derive from those differences strength … Both as a people and a government, we can unite … I am here today to say I need your help. I cannot bear this burden alone. I need the help of all Americans, and all America … I profoundly hope that the tragedy and the torment of these terrible days will bind us together in new fellowship, making us one people in our hour of sorrow.

And Johnson closed the speech with a callback to Kennedy’s inauguration address to assure the American people that his work would not cease:

On the 20th day of January, in 19 and 61, John F. Kennedy told his countrymen that our national work would not be finished “in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But,” he said, “let us begin.” Today in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue.

Johnson did continue, and in July 1964 signed into law the Civil Rights Act, first proposed by Kennedy in June 1963. Johnson would continue on and be elected president in his own right in November 1964.


Why Does Inauguration Day Fall on January 20?

In many countries a newly elected leader takes power within a couple weeks or𠅊s in the case of Great Britain𠅎ven the day following an election. In the United States, though, more than 11 weeks can pass between Election and Inauguration Days in order to give an incoming president time to choose a cabinet and plan for a new administration. The result is a lengthy lame-duck period, but it used to be even longer.

The Congress of the Confederation set March 4, 1789, as the date 𠇏or commencing proceedings” of the new government established by the U.S. Constitution. While a particularly bad winter delayed the inauguration of George Washington by eight weeks, subsequent incoming presidents and vice presidents took their oaths of office on March 4. 

Admission Card to the Inauguration of President Cleveland, March 4, 1893.

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

The four-month gap was needed in part because of the time it took to count and report votes and to travel to the nation’s capital. However, the lengthy lame-duck period caused problems such as in the aftermath of the 1860 election when seven states left the Union during the long “Secession Winter.” President-elect Abraham Lincoln had no power to act, and outgoing President James Buchanan took no action, leaving the issue for his successor.

As technological advances greatly reduced the times to tabulate votes, report the results and travel, such a long lame-duck period was no longer logistically necessary. As a result, the 20th Amendment, which was ratified on January 23, 1933, moved up Inauguration Day to January 20 and the first meeting of the new Congress to January 3. 


Franklin Roosevelt's Third Inaugural Address

On each national day of inauguration since 1789, the people have renewed their sense of dedication to the United States.

In Washington's day the task of the people was to create and weld together a nation.

In Lincoln's day the task of the people was to preserve that Nation from disruption from within.

In this day the task of the people is to save that Nation and its institutions from disruption from without.

To us there has come a time, in the midst of swift happenings, to pause for a moment and take stock—to recall what our place in history has been, and to rediscover what we are and what we may be. If we do not, we risk the real peril of inaction.

Lives of nations are determined not by the count of years, but by the lifetime of the human spirit. The life of a man is three-score years and ten: a little more, a little less. The life of a nation is the fullness of the measure of its will to live.

There are men who doubt this. There are men who believe that democracy, as a form of Government and a frame of life, is limited or measured by a kind of mystical and artificial fate that, for some unexplained reason, tyranny and slavery have become the surging wave of the future—and that freedom is an ebbing tide.

But we Americans know that this is not true.

Eight years ago, when the life of this Republic seemed frozen by a fatalistic terror, we proved that this is not true. We were in the midst of shock—but we acted. We acted quickly, boldly, decisively.

These later years have been living years—fruitful years for the people of this democracy. For they have brought to us greater security and, I hope, a better understanding that life's ideals are to be measured in other than material things.

Most vital to our present and our future is this experience of a democracy which successfully survived crisis at home put away many evil things built new structures on enduring lines and, through it all, maintained the fact of its democracy.

For action has been taken within the three-way framework of the Constitution of the United States. The coordinate branches of the Government continue freely to function. The Bill of Rights remains inviolate. The freedom of elections is wholly maintained. Prophets of the downfall of American democracy have seen their dire predictions come to naught.

We know it because we have seen it revive—and grow.

We know it cannot die—because it is built on the unhampered initiative of individual men and women joined together in a common enterprise—an enterprise undertaken and carried through by the free expression of a free majority.

We know it because democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men's enlightened will.

We know it because democracy alone has constructed an unlimited civilization capable of infinite progress in the improvement of human life.

We know it because, if we look below the surface, we sense it still spreading on every continent—for it is the most humane, the most advanced, and in the end the most unconquerable of all forms of human society.

A nation, like a person, has a body—a body that must be fed and clothed and housed, invigorated and rested, in a manner that measures up to the objectives of our time.

A nation, like a person, has a mind—a mind that must be kept informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and the needs of its neighbors—all the other nations that live within the narrowing circle of the world.

And a nation, like a person, has something deeper, something more permanent, something larger than the sum of all its parts. It is that something which matters most to its future—which calls forth the most sacred guarding of its present.

It is a thing for which we find it difficult—even impossible—to hit upon a single, simple word.

And yet we all understand what it is—the spirit—the faith of America. It is the product of centuries. It was born in the multitudes of those who came from many lands—some of high degree, but mostly plain people, who sought here, early and late, to find freedom more freely.

The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the middle ages. It was written in Magna Charta.

In the Americas its impact has been irresistible. America has been the New World in all tongues, to all peoples, not because this continent was a new-found land, but because all those who came here believed they could create upon this continent a new life—a life that should be new in freedom.

Its vitality was written into our own Mayflower Compact, into the Declaration of Independence, into the Constitution of the United States, into the Gettysburg Address.

Those who first came here to carry out the longings of their spirit, and the millions who followed, and the stock that sprang from them—all have moved forward constantly and consistently toward an ideal which in itself has gained stature and clarity with each generation.

The hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth.

We know that we still have far to go that we must more greatly build the security and the opportunity and the knowledge of every citizen, in the measure justified by the resources and the capacity of the land.

But it is not enough to achieve these purposes alone. It is not enough to clothe and feed the body of this Nation, and instruct and inform its mind. For there is also the spirit. And of the three, the greatest is the spirit.

Without the body and the mind, as all men know, the Nation could not live.

But if the spirit of America were killed, even though the Nation's body and mind, constricted in an alien world, lived on, the America we know would have perished.

That spirit—that faith—speaks to us in our daily lives in ways often unnoticed, because they seem so obvious. It speaks to us here in the Capital of the Nation. It speaks to us through the processes of governing in the sovereignties of 48 States. It speaks to us in our counties, in our cities, in our towns, and in our villages. It speaks to us from the other nations of the hemisphere, and from those across the seas—the enslaved, as well as the free. Sometimes we fail to hear or heed these voices of freedom because to us the privilege of our freedom is such an old, old story.

The destiny of America was proclaimed in words of prophecy spoken by our first President in his first inaugural in 1789—words almost directed, it would seem, to this year of 1941: "The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered . deeply, . finally, staked on the experiment intrusted to the hands of the American people."

If we lose that sacred fire—if we let it be smothered with doubt and fear—then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish. The preservation of the spirit and faith of the Nation does, and will, furnish the highest justification for every sacrifice that we may make in the cause of national defense.

In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy.

For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America.

We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.


A History of Presidential Inaugurations

Every four years on January 20th, the United States holds a ceremony for the inauguration of the President of the United States. There are traditions for the inauguration, some of which have been passed down since the very first.

Why do we use January 20th as the date, and how did many of these traditions get started?

Learn more about the history and traditions of the Presidential Inauguration on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

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Inauguration Day is the day the president of the United States takes the oath of office and begins a new presidential term.

Because it is so short, I’ll read the oath of office here:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Inauguration Day wasn’t always on January 20th. In fact, for most of American history, the day fell on March 4th.

When the constitution was first written, one of the issues which had to be dealt with was the time it took to get information and people from the various states to Washington.

Everything was done by horseback and as the nation grew westward, the length of time it took to get to Washington increased. California was admitted to the Union in 1850, 12 years before the transcontinental railroad was completed.

Likewise, the nation didn’t always vote on the same date. For the first presidential elections, there was no popular vote. State legislatures selected electors, and they often voted as early as September.

So the March 4th date was to give ample time between the electoral college voting, and for the incoming president to assemble a cabinet and get everyone to Washington.

The first presidential inauguration didn’t actually take place on March 4. Due to a bad winter, Washington’s first inauguration took place on April 30, 1789, in New York City. It was held on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street. You can visit Federal Hall National Monument today, however, it isn’t the same building, and there is no balcony.

There are several traditions that started with George Washington.

First, was putting his hand on a bible when taking the oath of office. The bible which was used was taken from the St. John’s Lodge No. 1 of the Ancient York Masons.

The bible was randomly opened to Genesis 47, which says, “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea and he shall be for a haven of ships, and his border shall be unto Zidon”. The passage was totally random and had absolutely no meaning whatsoever.

The same Washington Bible has been used in the inaugurations of several other presidents: Warren Harding, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush.

There is no requirement about the use of a bible. It is just tradition. Some presidents haven’t used a bible at all. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce put their hands on a book of law. Theodore Roosevelt, having taken the oath after the death of William McKinley, didn’t put his hand on anything. Lyndon Johnson put his hand on a Catholic missal, because they couldn’t find a bible on Air Force One, and didn’t want to waste time looking for one.

Franklin Pierce was also the only president to use the words “affirm” rather than “swear” in the presidential oath.

Washington also ad-libbed the phrase “…so help me God” and the end of the Oath, and then kissed the bible, both of which have been done by subsequent presidents.

There have been several cases of presidents flubbing the oath. In 1909 William Howard Taft repeated the oath incorrectly as given by the Chief Justice.

In 1929, Taft, this time acting as Chief Justice, did the same thing to Herbert Hoover, when he said “preserve, maintain, and defend the Constitution”, instead of “preserve, protect, and defend the constitution”. Hoover did not retake the oath.

Eisenhower inserted the word “the” in front of “President”, and Lyndon Johson was prompted to say “presidency” by Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Chief Justice John Roberts moved the word “faithfully”, and President Obama, after pausing, followed his lead. He retook the oath again the next day just to be safe.

Washington also gave the first inaugural address. He didn’t give it to the public which had gathered for the inauguration, however. Rather, he went inside and gave it to Congress.

His second inaugural address was the shortest in history at only 135 words. This time he took the oath in Philadelphia.

The longest inaugural address in history was given by William Henry Harrison, who gave a marathon 1-hour 45-minute speech which was 8,445 words long. To put that in perspective, the scripts I create for this podcast are usually between 1,000 to 2,500 words long.

No president who ascendent to the office at the death of a predecessor had given an inaugural address, but they all have addressed congress soon after.

John Adams became the first president to have the oath administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This too is not required by law, and technically anyone can administer the oath of office.

There have been several oaths that have been administered since then by someone other than the Chief Justice. Usually, upon the death of a president, they try to get anyone who is a judge. In the case of Calvin Coolidge, when Warren Harding died, the oath was administered by his father who was a notary public.

The change in the inauguration date occurred with the 20th amendment, which was known as the lame-duck amendment. Prior to this, both the congress and the president were inaugurated on the same date, March 4th.

The first president to be inaugurated on January 20th was Franklin Roosevelt during his second inauguration in 1937. Needless to say, inaugurations suddenly got a lot colder.

The warmest January 20th inauguration was Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration when the temperature was 55F or 13 Celcius. The coldest inauguration was Reagan’s second when temperatures were 7 degrees Fahrenheit or -14 Celcius.

There have been other traditions that have started in the 20th century. In 1921 Warren Harding traveled to the capitol in an automobile.

The first televised inauguration was Harry Truman in 1949.

Since 1953 Congress has hosted a luncheon for the incoming president.

In 1965, Lady Bird Johnson held the bible, becoming the first First Lady to have an active role in the inauguration.

An interfaith prayer service was started in 1985.

One tradition which never got off the ground was adopted by Andrew Jackson. He invited the public to the White House and over 20,000 people showed up. There were so many people, Jackson had to flee the White House through a window.

To date, there have been 59 presidential inaugurations over a period of 232 years.

Every inauguration is different, but they all share common traditions that have tied them together throughout American history.

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