Historic Inaugural Addresses Trump Can Draw From
Excerpts from presidents who faced a hostile press, economic malaise, and a weakened position in the world
The first rule of delivering an inaugural address: know your cautionary tales. Cautionary Tale #1: William Henry Harrison probably thought delivering an 8,000-word speech in the rain with no coat or hat would make for fantastic tough-as-nails optics.
Instead, William Henry Harrison literally caught his death in the cold and — after 32 days of his term — became the first president to die in office. Cautionary Tale #2: Republican Abraham Lincoln chose a Democrat as his running mate. It may have been smart political strategy, but it blew up in his face on Inauguration Day. One senator wrote home about the spectacle, “The inauguration went off very well except that the Vice President-Elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech.”
“We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected … We the people, ‘this breed called Americans.'”
President-Elect Trump has promised his speech will be short, and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence doesn’t drink, so all bodes well on those counts.
When Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States, he will belong to a small group of presidents who were staunch defenders of “we the people.” Presidents who were despised by governing elites and often maligned by the press. Presidents who were considered “one of the people” even though they were anything but.
Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. These men faced different problems in different eras. Their personalities, tactics, and views of the office were wildly different. But they all had one thing in common: They believed that the government should serve the people and not the other way around. They were the people’s presidents. As Trump writes his own inaugural speech, here’s something he can take from each of their inaugural addresses:
On Fake News, Thomas Jefferson
Ask any New England High Federalist why Thomas Jefferson beat John Adams in the election of 1800, and he’ll tell you it was fake news and French interference, and the Republic is in serious danger now that Jefferson is in the President’s house.
Thanks to the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to smack-talk the administration, one writer, James Callendar, got tossed in jail for hurling invectives at President Adams like “repulsive pedant” and “gross hypocrite” and describing him as a “hideous hermaphroditical character.” Meanwhile, no law was broken when the Federalist Gazette of the United States basically declared Jefferson a “Godless” atheist. Or when the same paper, apparently the Buzzfeed of its time, declared unconfirmed reports of Jefferson’s untimely demise to be “entitled to some credit.”
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Unlike his predecessor, who was very concerned about being undermined by negative opinions, Jefferson championed freedom of the press and declared that the simple remedy to lies were truths. “The public judgment will correct false reasonings and opinions, on a full hearing of all parties.”
Censorship is not the answer, and it never has been. The answer is more freedom of expression. That’s why President Trump must never acquiesce to mainstream media attacks meant to chill his free speech.
On the National Debt, Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson had a temperament problem. Legend has it, he kept 37 pistols ready at all times in case someone crossed him. In many ways, Andrew Jackson, the first Democrat, was like today’s Democrats; he liked helping himself to extra-constitutional powers, and he invented the spoils system. Unlike today’s Democrats, Andrew Jackson loved guns, the poorly educated, and fiscal responsibility.
In his first inauguration speech, he reminded Americans that perpetual debt is the opposite of independence:
“The observance of a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously both because it will facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary duration of which is incompatible with real independence.”
Since the debt will be closing in on $20 trillion as Trump takes office, the promise of a “strict and faithful economy” in the near future will be downright medicinal.
On Strength in Foreign Policy, Teddy Roosevelt
At his inaugural address, the great Teddy Roosevelt gave us the long version of “walk softly and carry a big stick.”
It went like this:
“While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, we must be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid. No weak nation that acts manfully and justly should ever have cause to fear us, and no strong power should ever be able to single us out as a subject for insolent aggression.”
As progressives continue to fuel the bogus narrative that Russian interference played a role in Donald Trump’s victory, they should remember that Obama’s lead-from-behindism created the atmosphere where Russia felt safe and secure to interfere. Obama was the chief architect of an idealism-on-steroids foreign policy that did away with consequences for wronging the U.S. You cross our red line, we reason that it wasn’t really all that red. You kidnap our people, we send you a plane full of ransom money. You interfere in our election, (insert uber-weak response here).
Donald Trump should tell the world that he’s tearing the “kick me” sign off America’s back, and while we won’t see the sort of adventurist foreign policy John McCain and Lindsey Graham would like, the days of foreign nations taking America’s lunch money are over.
On Making America Great Again, Ronald Reagan
If Trump succeeds in making America great again, he won’t be the first to accomplish that feat. Like Trump, Reagan was taking the reins from a self-righteous administration who wrongly equated greatness with weakness. He understood that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Then, he reminded everyone what made America great in the first place: “We achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before.”
He spoke of the people who truly make America great while simultaneously deriding artificial factions created for furthering political agendas:
“We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we are sick–professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers. They are, in short, We the people, ‘this breed called Americans.'”
Reagan talked about lowering taxes and raising personal responsibility. He talked about the past and drew tears with the story of Martin Treptow, who died in World War I. He talked about the present, which was characterized by a disastrous economy. And he talked about a vision of the future — a vision of American greatness that was realized in the following years.
Eddie Zipperer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College and a regular LifeZette contributor.