Inaugural Addresses: Best & Worst

By Thomas Nagorski

Jan 13, 2009 2:16pm

Our crack research staff dug up an interesting, 15-year-old assessment by Washington Post writer David Von Drehle of the best and worst inaugural addresses. Given when the article was written it necessarily leaves out both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — and given the date we also cannot seem to find a link on the web. So we reprise the list here:

BEST

1) Lincoln’s 2nd: "Perhaps the best speech ever given by an American."

2) FDR’s 1st: "Rousing beacon in a time of despair"

3) Teddy Roosevelt: "A worthy reveille to The American Century"

4) Reagan’s 1st: "Strongest statement of a political philosophy since Jefferson’s first"

5) Truman: "Succinct definition of the U.S. position at the dawn of the Cold War"

6) Lincoln’s 1st: "Bold, morally crass, a plea to save the Union from war"

7) Garfield: "First glimmer, in such speeches, of a modern vision of national government"

8) Jefferson’s 1st: "His great mind, dissecting the Constitution the way he once dissected King George"

9) Taft: "Rich, especially in its frank discussion of racial issues"

10) Kennedy: "Ringingly powerful. The messenger as message"

WORST

1) Buchanan: "In times of gravest national peril, a craven, simpering speech"

2) Jefferson’s 2nd: "Patronizing and vain, unworthy of a giant"

3) William Henry Harrison: "Like a know-it-all uncle who won’t shut up" (Poor guy — he was dead a month later)

4) George H.W. Bush: "Metaphors stretched till they screamed, cliches jammed like Beltway traffic"

5) Grant’s First: "A pinched, small-minded speech at a large and needy historical moment"

6) Van Buren: "A farewell on his first day in office"

7) John Quincy Adams: "Overwrought and essentially vacuous"

8) Lyndon Johnson: "A string of scarcely connected paragraphs"

9) Harding: "So many words to say so little"

10) Pierce: "Hard to say whether he was naive or stupid"

(FYI — longest speech: Harrison, 1861, nearly two hours; shortest — Washington, 1793, 90 seconds)

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