Which presidential inaugural address was the best?

Photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his fourth Inaugural Address
President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his fourth Inaugural Address, 01/20/1945 (National Archives Identifier 199054)

This question just came in from a fan of the National Archives:

Is there a consensus as to which presidential inaugural address was the best? I recognize that in this case “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and it may be more accurate to think of the top five rather than single one out.  Any advice would be appreciated.

We are looking for the wisdom of the NARAtions crowd to help answer the question.  What’s your answer?

Photo of President George W. Bush Taking Notes, 09/11/2001
911: President George W. Bush Takes Notes, 09/11/2001 (National Archives Identifier 5997217)

8 thoughts on “Which presidential inaugural address was the best?

  1. While I did not vote for him or feel he was an excellent president, I think John F. Kennedy gave the most memorable and inspiring inaugural address.

  2. Though Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address is recognized as a remarkable work, in my book the most important inaugural address of all time was Jefferson’s first. In the wake of the incredibly divisive elections, during which the long-feared affect of factionalism solidified into two bitterly divided political parties, Jefferson reminded Americans that a functional democracy is the product of continual debate and discussion while at the same time remains rooted in common commitments and beliefs. He said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.” He finished with the famous line, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Right now, when our political parties are so antagonistic toward one another, this sentiment is even more meaningful, proving that the continual relevance of Jefferson’s first inaugural is the most important one.

  3. Hands down Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. It’s legacy has far outgrown it’s initial impact. It continues to inspire anyone who takes the time to walk up the steps of the Memorial and look around them.

  4. George Washington’s 1st address was pretty decent! Most historians agree that it was mostly written by James Madison.

  5. I believe FDR’s Pearl Harbor attacks speech serves as his oral testament in terms of speeches. I know I have strayed from the original consideration as stated through inaugural addresses questions, but I believe the words “A day which will live in infamy” continue to live in enduring analogies all throughout the American experience of the 20th Century. Having said that, Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for country” supposes a responsible balance between citizenship and government that, to this day, still resonates with the state of American society today and what it needs to go forward as a country concerning future structure and outlook.

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