Second inaugurals: then and now

Michael Barone reviews the second inaugurals of American presidents in his Wall Street Journal column “The 16th second inaugural.” The learning on display sets Barone off from his journalistic “peers.” He has no peers. He makes several predictions regarding President Bush’s inaugural tomorrow; here are a few that are guaranteed to be on the mark:

It can safely be predicted that Mr. Bush will not deliver the shortest Second Inaugural–George Washington’s was only 135 words–nor the longest–James Monroe in 1821 went on for what must have been an hour. And we can be certain that he will not deliver the most sublime. Abraham Lincoln did that in 1865 in his Second Inaugural, surely the greatest speech ever delivered by an American president.

Most striking to me, however, is how frequently the themes President Bush will sound tomorrow have been struck in the second inaugurals quoted by Barone. Here, for example, is his quote from Grant’s in 1873:

“The civilized world is tending toward republicanism,” he said in 1873, three years after France ousted its last monarch and established its Third Republic. “I do believe that our Great Maker is preparing the world, in His own good time, to become one nation, speaking one language, and when armies and navies will no longer be required.”

I think President Bush will pull up short of a one-world prediction, but otherwise it’s a bingo. Barone makes some slightly different predictions. We’ll see.


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