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Inaugural Address to Add Trump to Long List of Historic Figures

  • VOA News

A composite of some of the richest and poorest U.S. presidents (top row from left): James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson (AP Photo), Zachary Taylor. (Bottom row, from left) Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Harry Truman and George Washington.

After Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office Friday amid the pomp and circumstance surrounding his inauguration, he will deliver his first address to the United States as commander-in-chief. As per tradition, Trump will speak outside the Capitol, where hundreds of thousands are expected to gather on Washington's National Mall.

We don't yet know the length of Trump's address, although some early reports suggest it could be around 20 minutes long.

President-elect Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President-elect Mike Pence pauses after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Jan. 19, 2017, one day before his presidential inauguration.
President-elect Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President-elect Mike Pence pauses after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Jan. 19, 2017, one day before his presidential inauguration.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer says the incoming president has been making "edits and additions" and that the address will be "a very personal and sincere statement" about Trump's vision for the country.

Trump "will discuss what it means to be an American" along with the challenges faced by the middle class, according to Spicer, who added the speech will reflect the philosophy of Trump regarding the proper role of government.

Advance copies of Trump's much-anticipated speech have not yet been made available to reporters, who are expected to parse his words for clues as to how he will govern.

Anticipation of and mystery surrounding of the inaugural address of a president-elect has long been part of American history. The lengths of these speeches have varied widely. Consider President George Washington's second-term inauguration.

George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas. (Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Francis Warden Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Common
George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas. (Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Francis Warden Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Common

On March 4, 1793, Washington delivered the shortest inauguration speech in American history, 133 words.

A painting of William Henry Harrison, who became the the ninth American president in 1841. (Courtesy: National Archives)
A painting of William Henry Harrison, who became the the ninth American president in 1841. (Courtesy: National Archives)

In 1841, amid a snowstorm and freezing temperatures, William Henry Harrison gave what remains the longest inaugural address, a total of 8,495 words.

A month later, Harrison was dead. During the inclement weather, he developed a respiratory infection, and according to historians, succumbed to pneumonia.

Fear itself

Inaugural addresses have also produced some of the most memorable phrases in the American lexicon:

Thomas Jefferson was 78 and still gardening when this portrait by Thomas Sully was painted in 1821. (Thomas Jefferson Foundation)
Thomas Jefferson was 78 and still gardening when this portrait by Thomas Sully was painted in 1821. (Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

"We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."

Thomas Jefferson March 4, 1801

Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy: National Archives)
Portrait of President Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy: National Archives)

“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… “

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses both houses of Congress in Washington, Jan.4, 1939, for a State of the Union speech focused largely on American defense.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses both houses of Congress in Washington, Jan.4, 1939, for a State of the Union speech focused largely on American defense.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

President John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife, Jackie.
President John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife, Jackie.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

First Lady Nancy Reagan looks on as President Ronald Reagan is sworn in, January 21, 1985.
First Lady Nancy Reagan looks on as President Ronald Reagan is sworn in, January 21, 1985.

“In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981

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