While many inaugural addresses are unforgettable, others played a significant role in American history and still resonate in our minds today. Here are the top 3 inaugural addresses from Lawrence Mitchell, an award-winning scholar and international public speaker.
Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd, 1865
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is often considered the best inaugural address of all time and even the best speech ever given in American history. At just 700 words, this address was one of the shortest ever given yet one of the most significant. This speech was given at a time of great turmoil. The Civil War was coming to a close, and the president spoke about the meaning and consequences of the war, as well as healing and the mutual forgiveness of the North and South. His closing line says it all, “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.”
Franklin Roosevelt’s 1st, 1933
When Roosevelt became president the country was amidst the Great Depression, the most despairing economic period in U.S. history. About one-fourth of the nation’s workers were out of work, almost 50% of the nation’s banks had failed, and the stock market had lost 75% of its value since the market crashed in 1929. Roosevelt’s inaugural address discussed how he hoped to lead the nation out of the turmoil and assured Americans that the country’s common difficulties only concerned material things. The most famous line from his address was “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
John F. Kennedy, 1961
JFK was the youngest person to be elected president, as well as the first Roman Catholic president. He was elected when America was amidst the Cold War, and his election signaled a new era of American politics. His address mirrored that sentiment, and also focused on rallying Americans together after a very close election. The most quoted line from Kennedy’s speech was, “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”