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Echoes of the Presidential Past

American historian Bruce Kuklick shares his thoughts on this inaugural moment.
January 2009

As President Barack Obama commenced his inaugural address on Tuesday, the pundits and journalists who've spent recent months drawing (and debating) comparisons between Obama and past presidents were not the only ones expecting to hear invocations of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"I would never have the guts to compare myself to Lincoln and to Roosevelt when I was an untried Illinois senator. At the same time people take you at your word, so if you can get away with it, good."

- Bruce Kuklick

“If Obama is shrewd, you’ll hear some hints of Lincoln-esque phrases,” said history professor Bruce Kuklick in an interview conducted two weeks before the inauguration. “But you can’t do it verbatim. You’ve got to make people think, ‘Oh, that sounds like…‘ And then, before they can figure it out, you’ve moved on.”

Most inaugural addresses aren’t memorable, says Kuklick, and only time will tell if Obama’s will be “enshrined in the pantheon of terrific speeches” that includes the inaugural addresses of the abovementioned, as well as those of Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.

Click play to hear Professor Kuklick discuss notable inaugural addresses in American history, as well as popular comparisons between Barack Obama and his presidential predecessors.

 

Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, 1801

 “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, 1865

 “With malice toward none, with charity for all…”

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, 1961

A New Turn in American Politics

Challenging Times in 1933 vs. 2009

High Expectations

Comparing Barack Obama to Franklin D. Roosevelt

An Aura of Hope