Every four years, a president is elected. The Constitution states that the president, whether newly elected or reelected, must be sworn in on January 20, because the term of the previous president ends at noon of that same day. The inauguration ceremony includes not only the swearing in, but also a speech. Presidents take this opportunity to tell the country their hopes and dreams for the future. It is an important time for the country. Two inaugural speeches that stand out among the rest are speeches by Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. These two speeches share a vision of America that was full of hope, shining through danger.
CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why do presidents use the inauguration speech to talk about dreams for the nation?
Abraham Lincoln was president from 1861 to 1865. He was elected twice and served during the American Civil War. His first address came just weeks after the Southern states had inaugurated their own president, Jefferson Davis. Lincoln tried to bring peace to the divided nation. It was clear that he did not want war. But war came all too soon, and for the rest of his time as president he would preside over a divided country.
MAIN IDEA AND DETAILS: What is this paragraph mostly about?
Lincoln's second inauguration occurred on March 4, 1865. The Civil War was almost over. The inauguration had been delayed. For weeks it had rained in Washington. The streets were muddy and had standing water in places. Even in the mud, thousands of spectators stood to watch Lincoln being sworn in. A little more than a month later, Lincoln would be assassinated.
CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why might Lincoln's inauguration have happened after January 20?
It was clear that the war weighed heavily on Lincoln, as it did on all people in the country. Almost every person was touched by the death of someone in the war. Tensions ran high as people waited to hear what was next for the country. Lincoln appreciated this tension; his speech was one of the shortest in inauguration history. He filled it with history, both of his previous speech and to explain the causes of the war.
The speech is known for its religious overtone. In it, Lincoln told the country that they should not judge their fellow countrymen. He tried to show that all people in the country are human. And he reminded them that even though they were on opposite sides, they still prayed to the same god. Those prayers, which sought to harm people on the other side, were never fully answered he said. He tried to get all Americans to pray again for peace and forgiveness. Throughout the speech, he reminded people that everyone had been affected by the conflict. It was a war that pitted families against each other.
MAIN IDEA AND DETAILS: How does the speech use religious overtones to unite the country?
Lincoln's final statement sums up his heartfelt hopes for the nation torn in two by the conflict. "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." This final hope made no distinction between the parties involved in the Civil War. Rather, it acknowledged that both sides had wounds, widows, and orphans. The country's duty was to all people in the nation, to care for and cherish them. Most especially, it was to create a just and lasting peace among all people who would call themselves Americans.
While Lincoln spoke at the end of a war, his sentiments of peace and caring for others are important ideas. Almost one hundred years later, another speech would be read that would echo many of the same sentiments from Lincoln's speech.
MAIN IDEA AND DETAILS: What is one main idea of Lincoln's speech?
John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961. The election was very close, and Kennedy was eager to unite the nation. His speech also marked a new era as young Americans, those who were born in the 20th Century, first assumed leadership of the country. As the youngest elected president, Kennedy had to prove he could lead the country during a war. Though countries were not fight, but they gathered as many arms as they could.
CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why was Kennedy's speech so important to Americans?
Kennedy's speech was supposed to bring the country together. He represented young Americans, who had been born in the 20th Century, fought in a world war, and were then struggling through a time of peace when countries were gathering weapons. He united people around the idea that all Americans were proud of their history. Even so, he also meant to unite them in a common future. He pointed out that people had two awesome abilities. They could abolish all poverty, and they could abolish all forms of human life. This was the choice given to people.
Kennedy's dream for the nation was simple. He wanted people to join together to assure the success and survival of liberty. To do this, he wanted to fight inequality wherever it happened. He wanted the nation to fight not only wars, but also poverty. His dream was for people to create a new world. This world would have peace, security, and justice. He reminded people that they all share the same rights as Americans. His dream was to share those rights with the world.
MAIN IDEA AND DETAILS: What is one thing Kennedy wants the nation to do?
The speech closes with a line many people have said over and over again. "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Like Lincoln, Kennedy challenged the American people to think beyond themselves. He wanted the rights given to the American people to be brought to all people. His dream was that Americans serve as an example to the world.
ANALYZE: What main ideas do both speeches share?
It is one of the jobs of the president to present goals for the nation. Sometimes this is a to-do list. Things that the president hopes to do for the people. At other times, it is a dream for the nation. It is a challenge that people united can aspire to. Both speeches still stand as important dreams for today.
AUTHOR'S PURPOSE: What is the author's purpose of this passage?