Sworn in under his full name on the bible of President Abraham Lincoln, the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, then gave an approximately 20-minute long inaugural address.
Credited as a great orator, and stepping into the leadership role of a country in an economic crisis and two wars, how does the 44th president’s address compare to that of his hero, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln?
Further, how did each address the concerns of the people in their respective times? Surprisingly, some of the concerns, though almost 150 years apart, are eerily similar.
No Small Irony
It is not a small piece of irony that the first African-American President of the United States of America was sworn in on the bible of a man whose first inaugural address assured the much-divided United States of his intentions by stating, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He further stated that the country should support those laws of the land that returned runaway slaves to their owners.
Previous Administrations; Current Situation
Both presidents spoke of uniting a country divided by vastly differing beliefs, and of the greatness of the union. President Obama referred to prior administrations several times. In one such reference, he stated, “But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed.”
President Lincoln addressed the presidents before him by saying, “It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success.”
The initial gracious thanks to President Bush in President Obama’s address later followed by statements of criticism are more fodder for those who already criticize and question his motives and character.
Assurances to the People
President Lincoln addressed the fears many had of an incoming Republican president upsetting their way of life. “There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you.”
President Obama addressed those with fears about his largely Democratic administration, when he stated, “Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”
His critical response to those who questioned the plans of his administration did not go unnoticed and will surely be discussed in more depth over the course of his term.
Talking Points: America and the World
There were also some talking points that stood out in President Obama’s address. He spoke of America being a ‘friend to all nations’ and clearly stated that no apologies would be given for the American way of life. He addressed terrorists with the admonition that ‘our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.’ He also spoke of a responsibility America has to reach out to poor nations of the world.
Concerns raised by such statements are legitimate. How will such world outreach be funded? When the very definition of a terrorist is one who chooses violence over reason and discourse, what exactly will the new president do about such threats that words cannot resolve?
Founding Fathers and the Constitution
Though it has been widely questioned previously, President Obama also addressed his commitment to the ideals of the founding fathers and the documents that are the foundation of America several times in his address. He stated, “America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents. So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.”
He later added “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”
There is no question that those who fear his commitment to those ideals and documents will very much hold him accountable to his own words if he falters.
A Higher Power
As many presidents before him, President Obama mentioned an Almighty God in his inaugural address and even referred to scripture.
In a time when there is pressure to remove religious references from all things public and government, these references, along with his inclusion of an invocation prayer and adding ‘so help me God’ to his oath of office were very bold moves on his part. It is something the ‘religious right’ is sure to appreciate and may help build their faith and confidence in him.
President Abraham Lincoln’s (First) Inaugural Address, (1861)
Presidential Inaugural Addresses – Bartleby’s
Transcript, President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address (2009)