Square One-The Inaugural Addresses of U.S. Presidents
Every four years, the citizens of the United States go to the polls to elect the president of their country. Invested with the power to veto or sign laws and set the course for foreign policy, the U.S. president is perhaps the most visible symbol of the country and guides the country during a tenure usually lasting between four and eight years. The oratorical skills of the president are particularly important, and the inaugural addresses that the presidents have delivered all give a picture of the goals and aims of each presidency. The following information is presented to help readers get a basic overview of each man who has served as president of the United States. Links to every inaugural speech that has been delivered provide a firsthand view of how each man regarded his official responsibilities.
George Washington (1789–1797)
The first president of the United States, George Washington was the commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was the unanimous choice of the Electoral College for president, and many of his choices have set the tone for the American presidency ever since.
John Adams (1797–1801)
Prior to his single term as president, John Adams served as the first vice-president of the United States. Though he would lose a chance at a second term to Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ contributions as a Founding Father are immeasurable, and historians are making new assessments of his importance.
Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
Thomas Jefferson is well known for penning the Declaration of Independence, but many important events also occurred during his tenure as the third U.S. president. This Virginian greatly expanded the land area of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase, dealt with the Barbary pirates, and strove to maintain the country’s neutrality in dealing with foreign affairs.
James Madison (1809–1817)
Often regarded as the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. Having served as Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison led the nation through the War of 1812 during his own presidency.
James Monroe (1817–1825)
Prior to his tenure as president, James Monroe served in the Continental Army and helped to arrange the Louisiana Purchase. His presidency is best known for his “Monroe Doctrine,” which declared former colonies in the Americas off-limits to European intervention.
John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)
John Quincy Adams is one of only two presidents whose fathers also held the office. The son of John Adams, John Quincy Adams expanded the power of the executive branch, advocating federal sponsorship of the arts and sciences.
Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)
After defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812, Andrew Jackson became a national hero and the favorite candidate of the common people for the presidency. Jackson was the first president elected through a system incorporating the popular vote and is often regarded as the first modern Democrat.
Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)
After first serving as Andrew Jackson’s secretary of state and then as his vice-president, Martin Van Buren won the office of president in 1836. A severe financial crisis marked much of Van Buren’s years as the commander in chief, and the election of William Henry Harrison meant that he would not get a second term in the White House.
William Henry Harrison (1841)
William Henry Harrison won the election of 1840 largely because of his fame as a military commander against the American Indians. He is most notable for giving the longest inaugural address in U.S. presidential history, which required a two-hour delivery in cold, wet weather. Harrison developed a cold and then pneumonia, dying after only thirty days in office.
John Tyler (1841–1845)
William Henry Harrison’s vice-president, John Tyler, was sworn in as the tenth president of the United States following Harrison’s death. Being that he assumed the presidency without actually being elected, Tyler gave no inaugural address; nevertheless, he had some notable successes as president, including the annexation of Texas.
James K. Polk (1845–1849)
James K. Polk had a long and distinguished career in politics before he was elected president, serving first as the speaker of the House of Representatives and then governor of Tennessee. His presidency was marked by territorial expansion; in deals with Mexico and Great Britain, Polk acquired the territories of Oregon, California, and New Mexico for the United States.
Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)
Even though he “owned” slaves himself, President Zachary Taylor’s policies angered slaveholding states because of his lackluster support for the practice. This contributed to growing tensions between north and south, which never came to their full head during his lifetime. Taylor died in office after serving only a year.
Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)
As Zachary Taylor’s vice-president, Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency upon Taylor’s death. Consequently, he gave no inaugural address and served out the rest of Taylor’s term. Among the notable events of his term in office was the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Colombia.
Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)
A native of New Hampshire, Franklin Pierce won the election of 1852 and became the fourteenth president of the United States. During his term in office, disagreements between North and South were fanned into flames through the repeal o the Missouri Compromise, leading to violence in Kansas.
James Buchanan (1857–1864)
Originally from Pennsylvania, Buchanan served both in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate before he became president. Buchanan, the only president to have never married, is widely regarded as one of the least successful presidents because he failed to hold the Union together as disagreements intensified between north and south.
Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865)
The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln is regarded as the greatest president ever to serve the United States. Though his election provoked the southern states to secede from the Union, Lincoln guided the country through its devastating Civil War, defeating the South and laying the foundation for the reunification of the country. In addition to abolishing slavery, Lincoln’s actions strengthened the power of the Federal Government.
Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)
Lincoln’s vice-president Andrew Johnson was actually a Democrat, which did not bode well for successful relations with the Republicans in Congress when he took the oath of office following Lincoln’s assassination, delivering no inaugural address. He presided over a messy reconstruction of the United States after the Civil War and was the first president to be impeached, though he was acquitted by one vote.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)
Ulysses S. Grant rose to fame as the general-in-chief of the Union armies during the Civil War. Though he offered generous terms of surrender to the South while he was general, Grant was not well prepared to lead the nation through its continuing reconstruction. He was accused of dishonesty several times while in office.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)
Winning the Electoral College by one vote, Hayes nevertheless lost the popular vote for president and assumed office amid much controversy. Hayes withdrew troops from the South, which did not help advance the civil rights of former slaves, and, as promised, served only one term without running for reelection.
James Garfield (1881)
James Garfield served only a few months in office before a disgruntled attorney who had lost his bid for appointed office assassinated the president. In his brief time in office, he stared down the Senate to win confirmation for several contested presidential appointments.
Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)
Because he was Garfield’s vice-president and came to office after Garfield’s assassination, Chester A. Arthur never delivered an inaugural address. While in office, however, Arthur acted to make the federal appointment system more transparent and left office as a widely respected political figure.
Grover Cleveland (1885–1889)
After a period of Republican dominance in presidential elections, Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat elected to the presidency following the Civil War and the only president to serve two non-consecutive four-year terms. He entered office as a bachelor and later married during this first term. His first term in office was marked by an attempt to regulate the growing railroad industry.
Benjamin Harrison (1889 –1893)
Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of former president William Henry Harrison, and he is one of the few U.S. presidents to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. As president, Harrison signed bills to strengthen federal infrastructure and encourage the development of the navy and steamboat industry, but this Republican lost his attempt at reelection to Grover Cleveland, the Democrat he defeated only four years earlier.
Grover Cleveland (1893 –1897)
Much of Cleveland’s second term as president was spent dealing with a severe financial crisis. His policies were unpopular, as was his harsh dealings with railroad workers in Chicago. By the end of this second term, the Democratic party abandoned him and chose another candidate to run in 1896.
William McKinley (1897–1901)
William McKinley won a large majority of the popular vote in 1896 to become president of the United States. Often caricatured as a servant of various industrial monopolies, McKinley conducted a strong foreign policy that led to U.S. intervention in Spanish disputes in Latin America. He was assassinated early in his second term, allowing his vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt, to succeed him.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)
The youngest president in United States history, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt strengthened the executive branch greatly during his time in office. Roosevelt made the U.S. a greater player on the world stage, won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to settle the Russo-Japanese war, and was known as a “trust-buster” for his work to break-up corporate monopolies. A colorful figure that captured the American imagination, Roosevelt is regarded as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.
William H. Taft (1909–1913)
All William H. Taft ever wanted was to become a justice on the Supreme Court, and he was appointed the court’s chief justice about a decade after he lost reelection to the presidency. Taft was a lackluster politician who angered progressives in the Republican Party, splitting the vote and allowing Woodrow Wilson to win the office in 1912.
Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)
An intellectual who believed that the United States should make the world safe for democracy, Woodrow Wilson served first as president of Princeton University and then as governor of New Jersey before he won the presidency in 1912. Wilson steered the U.S. through World War I but was unable to get the country to join his League of Nations following the conflict.
Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)
Warren G. Harding was a businessman and a leader of charitable organizations before winning the election of 1820 and assuming the presidency in 1921. Harding’s term was marked by scandal, as his friends in high places used their offices for personal enrichment. He died of a heart attack after two years of service.
Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)
Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s vice-president, actually took the oath of office from his father, a notary public, when he heard of Harding’s death. Coolidge presided over a lengthy period of economic prosperity, and he was known as an honorable man who helped restore the dignity to the office that had suffered during the term of his predecessor.
Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)
Early in his single term as president, Herbert Hoover faced the stock market crash of 1929, which led to the Great Depression. Although he is often accused of doing little to improve the economy, Hoover actually pursued a program of federal intervention that ended up worsening the situation. Consequently, he lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the election of 1932.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945)
The fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the most beloved presidents in U.S. history on account of the way he comforted and encouraged the country during his unprecedented four terms of office. Roosevelt greatly expanded the role of the federal government in the lives of U.S. citizens, and debate continues as to whether his policies improved or worsened the economy. Still, his leadership during World War II helped keep Western Europe safe from tyranny and led to the ascent of the United States as a major world power.
Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)
As Franklin D. Roosevelt’s final vice-president, Harry S. Truman assumed the office upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945. During his time as president, Truman approved the use of the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II. He narrowly won reelection in 1948, sent the U.S. army to defend South Korea, and helped to rebuild Western Europe as the Cold War began.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961)
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the natural choice of the Republican party as their candidate in the 1952 presidential election, having served as the commander of the Allied forces during World War II. He helped to ease tensions with the Soviet Union, emphasized a balanced budget, intervened to achieve school desegregation, and presided over a time of general peace and prosperity.
John F. Kennedy (1961–1963)
After narrowly winning election in 1960, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office and became the first Roman Catholic U.S. president in 1961. Kennedy faced significant foreign policy difficulties with the Soviet Union, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was unfortunately assassinated early in his term. To this day, several questions still surround this heinous act.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)
Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s vice-president, became president after Kennedy was assassinated. Johnson pursued a program he called the Great Society, which introduced social welfare programs like Medicare and Medicaid to U.S. society. He also signed the Civil Rights Act, but his escalation of the Vietnam War made him unpopular later in his second term, and he declined to run for reelection.
Richard M. Nixon (1969–1974)
His narrow loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960 did not lead Richard M. Nixon to give up his dream of beginning president, and he won election as president as the Republican nominee in 1968. Nixon’s policies helped to end the Vietnam War, and he opened up relations with China. His obsession with reelection, however, resulted in the Watergate scandal, and early in his second term, he became the only president to have ever resigned the office.
Gerald R. Ford (1974–1977)
Gerald R. Ford was appointed as Nixon’s vice-president, and so he ended up becoming president without ever having won an election to the presidency or the vice-presidency. After giving a speech that was not technically an inaugural address, Ford had to deal with severe inflation, energy shortages, and more, and his most notable act was perhaps his pardon of Nixon in order to help heal the land. He narrowly lost his bid for reelection to Jimmy Carter.
James Carter (1977–1981)
A former peanut farmer and governor of Georgia, James “Jimmy” Carter placed a strong emphasis on diplomacy and human rights during his single term as president. Despite his best efforts, his inability to tame inflation or bring about a resolution to the Iran hostage crisis led to his landslide defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan, a Republican who narrowly lost the nomination of his party to Gerald R. Ford just four years earlier.
Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)
As one of the most beloved men to hold the office of president, Ronald Reagan is credited with helping to restore hope and optimism to America after the turbulent 1970s. Reagan’s advocacy of a strong national defense is credited with helping to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union, but his tax cuts combined with increased federal spending led to massive budget deficits even as the economy recovered from high inflation and unemployment.
George H.W. Bush (1989–1993)
Formerly director of the CIA and then Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush was sworn in as president in 1989. Bush’s presidency was notable for strong foreign policy achievements in the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and the relatively peaceful dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Perceived indifference to economic issues, however, meant that he would lose his chance at a second term to Democrat Bill Clinton.
William J. Clinton (1993–2001)
William J. “Bill” Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992 after running on a message emphasizing the economy. Although several perceived missteps early on led to the opposition gaining control of Congress, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, worked with the House and Senate to balance the budget and preside over one of the longest economic expansions in U.S. History.
George W. Bush (2001–2009)
After losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral College, George W. Bush, the eldest son of former president George H.W. Bush, was sworn in as president in 2001. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush enjoyed unprecedented popular approval, but his decision to invade Iraq and attempt to reform Social Security lowered his approval rating dramatically by the end of his second term.
Barack Obama (2009–)
After beating early favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination, Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. Obama is the first African American president and has won wide acclaim for his oratory skills. His strong domestic policy initiatives, however, have thus far received mixed support.
More Square Deals
Roosevelt and The rough Riders
The Civil War, which had ended just 30 years earlier, left U.S. troops weakened, and volunteers were encouraged to join the Spanish-American War effort. Roosevelt called on his peers to join the 1st U. S. Volunteer Cavalry with him. These peers included cowboys he’d worked with in the Dakotas as well as former Harvard classmates—anyone able-bodied, good on horseback, and willing to serve his country.
After training in a few locations across the American Southwest, the men mustered in Tampa, Florida, to leave for Cuba. Despite a severe shortage of food, horses, and supplies, Colonel Roosevelt led his men in a successful charge on San Juan Hill. Many accounts credit Roosevelt’s forceful personality in keeping the unit motivated, and the successful battle was one of the major turning points in the United States’ favor. Press coverage at home, and the widely touring show “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders,” cemented his reputation as a no-nonsense man’s man once and for all.
Photo Credit: LOC LC-DIG-pga-01946