President Barack Obama and his administration mark the start of their second term in office today.
It closes the book on a chapter of our country’s legacy; it writes the first line of another.
The inaugural ceremonies have long wielded the quill of history, marking the eras of our nation’s rise.
It began with George Washington, who actually took the oath on April 30th, 1789 in New York City.
Washington would establish a great deal of the tradition all other presidents would follow.
Though not all of his examples would become standard practice. For instance, Washington didn’t exactly use the inauguration as an opportunity for oratory. His second inaugural address – just 135 words long, still the shortest in history.
Over time that brevity faded into obscurity. William Henry Harrison blew that speech out of the water – at least in length. He delivered an 8,000 word epic in 1841. The effort probably killed him. He died a month later of pneumonia.
But word counts don’t sum up this collection of speeches. After all, some illuminate the darkest corners of our history.
Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural to explore the country’s war-torn psyche, even suggesting that the Civil War might be God’s punishment to both the north and south – a divine reprimand for letting slavery happen at all.
John F. Kennedy used fiery rhetoric in 1961 to cut through the hard freeze of the Cold War, issuing ultimatums and challenges – as well as one of public speaking’s most known imperatives, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
And today too will find it’s place in history, so watch closely.
Because inaugurations are about the leaders being sworn in, but they’re also about the peaceful transfer of power our forefathers dared to dream, about the audacity to tempt fate in search of greatness, about unity, and ambition.
So witness the awe of democracy in motion, feel pride, and accept responsibility for your small corner of this great system on this incredible day.