Obama Inaugural Address: Watch Two Speeches From Past Presidents to Get Ready


Editor's Note: This article is an installment in an 11-part series on the inaugurations of incumbent presidents who were elected to additional terms in office, culminating in an on-the-ground report of Obama's second inauguration.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1957) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1965).

Dwight Eisenhower (1957)

The 1956 presidential election marked the centennial anniversary of the Republican Party as a national organization (it had been founded in 1854 but fielded its first presidential candidate in 1856). Although their champion, John C. Fremont, had been defeated by the far inferior James Buchanan in that '56 election, Eisenhower comfortably won a second term over perennial opponent Adlai Stevenson one hundred years later. Unfortunately, the inaugural address that he used to mark this historic event was disappointingly lackluster. Platitudes on America's wealth and promise were followed with boilerplate denunciations of Communism and reiteration of classic Cold War internationalism. Perhaps the only noteworthy feature of the address was its unapologetic embrace of the United Nations, a position that's hard to imagine being advocated by modern presidents even as it was taken for granted half a century ago.

We recognize and accept our own deep involvement in the destiny of men everywhere. We are accordingly pledged to honor, and to strive to fortify, the authority of the United Nations. For in that body rests the best hope of our age for the assertion of that law by which all nations may live in dignity.

And beyond this general resolve, we are called to act a responsible role in the world's great concerns or conflicts--whether they touch upon the affairs of a vast region, the fate of an island in the Pacific, or the use of a canal in the Middle East. Only in respecting the hopes and cultures of others will we practice the equality of all nations. Only as we show willingness and wisdom in giving counsel in receiving counsel--and in sharing burdens, will we wisely perform the work of peace.

For one truth must rule all we think and all we do. No people can live to itself alone. The unity of all who dwell in freedom is their only sure defense. The economic need of all nations-in mutual dependence--makes isolation an impossibility: not even America's prosperity could long survive if other nations did not also prosper. No nation can longer be a fortress, lone and strong and safe. And any people, seeking such shelter for themselves, can now build only their own prison.

Lyndon Johnson (1965)

When Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, he did so with a larger percentage of the popular vote than that won by any presidential candidate before, or since. Ironically, though, the proactive and optimistic liberal idealism for which Johnson stumped in that political contest would never reach the heights that it did in 1964 and 1965. During that brief two-year span, Johnson would bring the civil rights movement to its apex with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965; end national-origin immigration quotas with the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965; declare a "War on Poverty with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which among other things created Head Start and the Job Corps; pass the first significant government aid to public education with the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965; authorize Medicare with the Social Security Act of 1965; and pioneer modern environmentalism by establishing a legal definition of "wilderness" and protecting 9.1 million acres of natural land with the Wilderness Act of 1964.

With such a record from the 12 months prior and the 12 months impending, it was understandable that Johnson would be brimming with zest for progressivism. That is evident in passages like this:

In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now then we will have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, that freedom asks more than it gives, and the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.

If we succeed it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but rather because of what we believe.

For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and in our own union. We believe that every man must some day be free. And we believe in ourselves.

And that is the mistake that our enemies have always made. In my lifetime, in depression and in war they have awaited our defeat. Each time, from the secret places of the American heart, came forth the faith that they could not see or that they could not even imagine. And it brought us victory. And it will again.

For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest that is sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say farewell. Is a new world coming? We welcome it, and we will bend it to the hopes Of man.

And to these trusted public servants and to my family, and those close friends of mine who have followed me down a long winding road, and to all the people of this Union and the world, I will repeat today what I said on that sorrowful day in November last year: I will lead and I will do the best I can.

But you, you must look within your own hearts to the old promises and to the old dreams. They will lead you best of all.

For myself, I ask only in the words of an ancient leader: "Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this thy people, that is so great?"