When Donald Trump gives his inaugural address tomorrow, expect our 45th president to try to soothe some tensions after a particularly contentious campaign and tumultuous transition.
While his speech will be closely watched by persons who may remain skeptical of his agenda, President-elect Trump is expected to call for national unity, a theme which is familiar ground for new commanders in chief. From Abraham Lincoln’s promise of “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” Franklin Roosevelt’s reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and John F. Kennedy’s proposition of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” history remembers these speeches as expressions of healing and reassurance as the American tradition of peaceful transition of government continues intact.
White House insiders expect Trump to deliver a relatively short speech about the pressing issues facing the nation, while retaining ideas from his campaign such as “Make America Great” or “America First.” Trump will take the oath of office as one of the least popular chief executives out of the past seven men who have ascended to the office, according to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post which found only 40 percent of respondents approving of his campaign, transition, and cabinet nominations. In his expected call for national unity, Trump will follow a historic tradition going back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, on through the Civil War, Great Depression and World War II, the national discord of the 1960s, Watergate, 9/11, and current days of division.
“So many presidents are so forgettable,” says Robert Dallek, a noted presidential historian. He said it depends primarily on the man giving the speech. Some are bettor orators, others more charming, but it’s how they are remembered through history that solidifies their place in inauguration lore. “[Those] who deliver a forgettable speech don’t make much of a mark on the country’s memory. So I think their inaugurals reflect the quality of the men, and the historical reputation they leave us.”
Historians have long debated which has been the best inauguration speech, but they’ve generally coalesced around the following five as the most inspiring:
—No. 5 After triumphing against Aaron Burr in arguably the ugliest presidential campaign in history as charges ranging from bribery to miscegenation were hurled from both sides, Thomas Jefferson became our third president. It was the first time that the presidency had shifted from one political party (Federalist) to another (Democrat-Republican) and Jefferson’s enemies feared a radical ideology and a march to war. On March 4, 1801 (the 20th Amendment moved Inauguration Day to Jan. 20), Jefferson was in the Senate chamber and spoke of the “sacred principle” of majority rule and, on a personal note, a “sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents”:
“Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”