From ‘With Malice Toward None’ to ‘Fear Itself’: Memorable Lines From Presidential Inaugurations

Inauguration speeches date to the country's first president, who delivered his to Congress

Abraham Lincoln's speech at his second inauguration ranks among the most famous inaugural addresses, delivered as the Civil War was ending and only a month before his assassination.

"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," he said.

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt told the country that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Fifty years later, President Ronald Reagan said that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Inaugural addresses date to the country's first president, George Washington, who delivered his first in 1789 before a joint session of Congress in New York City's Federal Hall. He spoke about the importance of government's duty to the public, and according to the Smithsonian, he seemed almost hesitant to take on the newly created role.

"I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good," he said.

President-elect Donald Trump, a man known for a more extemporaneous style, will deliver his address on Friday. 

What must he try to accomplish?

Listeners of every inaugural address want to know how much of the campaign's promises will become administration policy and how much will be forgotten, said Henry W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  

"This is the really big question regarding Donald Trump," Brands said. "Did he really mean all of those things that he said during the campaign?"

Inaugural addresses signal what an administration hopes to accomplish, and often how it will be different from the outgoing one, he said. 

What makes an address memorable is what happens afterward, he said. 

Lincoln did not celebrate victory but looked forward to bringing the Confederacy back into the Union.

Roosevelt's line is remembered because he went on to fulfill his promise of a "New Deal" for the American people, Brands said. He acted to stabilize the economy and create jobs programs for millions of unemployed Americans. 

"He says, 'government is the solution to our problems,'" Brands said.

Reagan, in his address, told the American people that the era of Franklin Roosevelt was over and he turned the country toward a more conservative time.

Other famous speeches: President John F. Kennedy, who succeeded President Dwight Eisenhower, told the country that "the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century," a line he delivered on a cold day without a top coat or a hat.

He wanted to show that the young generation was vigorous and "there's Old Ike shivering in that heavy overcoat," Brands said.

And President Barack Obama referred to his historic election: "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

Below are excerpts of some of the inaugural speeches that were televised.

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