The Voices of Inaugural Addresses Past

avatarthumbnail.jpgHere was the premise that I started with … after feeling a little stunned about an AP story saying “many” expected President Obama’s Inaugural address to be chiseled in marble someday (maybe, maybe not, but let’s at least have him take the oath first), I intended to provide snippets from Inaugural addresses past, allowing you to guess who said what and providing the answers later.

Then I opened the page in “The American President: A Complete History” – a gift from the wife – to these words uttered just less than 76 years ago. Nearly all of us know one of the beginning phrases, but there’s more … so much more … that still resonates:

“… This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

“In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds if faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

“More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

“Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we still have much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

“True they have tried, but their efforts have been case in the pattern of an outwork tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

“Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

“Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4 1933

Words and ideas truly worth their weight in chiseled marble.

Here are a few more. From 72 years before FDR …

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching fro every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Abraham Lincoln, March 4 1861

And two decades earlier …

“… But the delicate duty of devisions schemes of revenue should be left where the Constitution has placed it — with the immediate representatives of the people. For similar reasons the mode of keeping the public treasure should be prescribed by them, and the further removed it may be from the control of the Executive the more wholesome the arrangement and the more in accordance with the republican principle.”

William Henry Harrison, March 4 1841

A dozen years earlier …

“The management of the public revenue — that searching operation in all governments — is among the most delicate and important trusts in ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of my official solicitude. Under every aspect in which it can be considered it would appear that advantage must result from the observance of a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously both because it will facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary duration of which is incompatible with real independence, and because it will counteract that tendency to public and private proligacy with a profuse expenditure of money by the Government is but too apt to engender. …”

Andrew Jackson, March 4 1829

And finally …

“The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.

“Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, causing human misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.

“But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

“You and I, as indivuduals, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?

“We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding — we are going to begin to act, beginning today.

“The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as e have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

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

Ronald Reagan, January 20 1981

Perspective often disappears in this era of the 24-hour news cycle. But if there’s one thing that history teaches us, that the statements above should indicate, is that there truly is very little that is new under the sun.

Hope has been a defining element of the American people for nearly 233 years. It’s not this exclusive generation’s right, but it most certainly is our birthright.

How will President Obama’s words be viewed through the prism of two decades or 180 years? Only time will tell.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Dalton is a 30-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at allphoenixrealestate.com.