It’s D-Day for Joe Biden: the new President of the United States delivers his inaugural address. Some of his predecessors marked History with these first words, sometimes marking the philosophy of their entire mandate.
What will we learn from Joe Biden’s inauguration speech in the United States? The former Democratic senator is sworn in on Wednesday, January 20, in an ultra-secure Washington city, without an audience. He is addressing a divided America, all the more since the violence on Capitol Hill. Will his words pass to posterity? Certain speeches by his predecessors, other American presidents, have made American history.
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The inaugural speeches of American presidents are generally speeches of national unity. But not always: “The American carnage stops here and now”, launches Donald Trump, in 2017. The Republican leaves his mark from the start.
He thus denounces the “American carnage”, which would have occurred during the Obama years. Insecurity, deindustrialization, a sinking educational system, Trump arrives to “save America” and restore power to the people. “America first”, he repeats. The slogan “America first” will punctuate his four years in the White House.
For his second inauguration in 1793, George Washington gave the shortest speech: barely 135 words, compared to a speech of more than two hours for President William H. Harrison in 1841. The latter, arrived on horseback, without a coat or hat bitterly cold, died a month later of pneumonia.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson’s speech was obviously striking, in the midst of the First World War. Invested for a second presidential term, he recalls that the United States is neutral in the war between Germany and the other European powers, but indicates that this position will probably be very difficult to maintain. In this case, the Americans finally entered the war a month later.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address, March 4, 1933 in Washington. (GEORGE RINHART / CORBIS HISTORICAL / GETTY IMAGES)
Not all inauguration speeches go down in history, but Americans all know Roosevelt’s of March 4, 1933: “The only thing we need to be afraid of is fear itself.” Roosevelt must then reassure an America which is going through an unprecedented economic crisis, in the midst of the Depression.
In January 1961, a major speech, again, by Kennedy, in the middle of the Cold War. Great speaker, JFK says: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you. But what you can do for your country.” As an anecdote, that day, the thermometer read -5 ° C. The army uses a flamethrower to melt an eight-inch layer of fresh snow on the artery of the traditional parade between the Capitol and the White House. The “Inauguration day” has been organized on January 20, since 1937.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan also gave his inauguration speech in freezing temperatures: -13 ° C. At 73, the new president takes refuge inside the Capitol to take the oath, leaving the crowd and its 140,000 guests to wait outside. Reagan has this phrase, which sums up Republicans’ ideology perfectly: “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.”
Sometimes, it is not the speech that we retain. “Hope rather than fear”, declared Barack Obama in January 2009. Words that unite, not memorable formulas, but, again, polar cold. A huge crowd and the symbol of the first black president to be sworn in in front of the Capitol. History also retains a blunder: Barack Obama is mistaken in the text of the oath, in front of an audience of nearly two million people. The responsibility rests with the president of the Supreme Court who pronounces in the disorder the words of the constitutional oath. As a precaution, the 44th president is once again sworn in, the next day at the White House.
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