So America inaugurated a president on Monday. But there’s a fun way to give it some context with your Kindle. In 2010 I was delighted to discover all the presidential inaugural addresses are available as a free Kindle ebook! What did other presidents say in their own famous speeches? They’re all there, from Bush and Clinton down through Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy…all the way to the very first presidential inaugural address ever given, by George Washington.
It was on a balcony in New York City that Washington stood, and history records that he seemed nervous. “[N]o event could have filled me with greater anxieties,” he begins his speech, than to have received the news that he’d been elected America’s very first president. Washington opens his speech by describing his home, “a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection,” saying that he’d hoped to settle down there and spend his old age there in comfort. (He was already 57…) And he says modestly that he’s worried about the difficulties ahead, and hopes his countrymen will still have some affection for him if some new incapability appears later — “as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me!”
I love using my Kindle like a time machine, and you can also travel forward a few years to read the inaugural address of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, respectively. President Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, insisted on reading his entire two-hour inauguration speech – the longest in U.S. history – during a cold and rainy day in Washington D.C. He refused to wear a hat or coat, possibly trying to remind the audience that he was still the tough military general that had served in the War of 1812. And ironically, he died three weeks later after catching pneumonia.
Wikipedia insists that long speech was unrelated to Harrison’s death, but it’s still fun to sneak a peek at the hopes he held for the four years he never got to see. Every famous president from American history has their own inauguration speech — President Kennedy, President Truman, and one especially poetic address by Abraham Lincoln. And it was during his inaugural speech that Franklin Roosevelt made one of his most famous statements.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It was just 28 years later that President Kennedy was inaugurated, and that speech is also in the collection, featuring an optimistic call to duty. (“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”) I’m looking forward to reading all the speeches, and it’ll be fun to flit around from century to century.
And of course, you can always use the web browser on your Kindle to read a transcript of the newest presidential inaugural speech…from Monday!