Barack Obama's Inauguration Is One for the History Books

With the theme "a new birth of freedom," Obama has modeled his inauguration after Abraham Lincoln's.


Ronald Reagan moved the ceremony from the East Front of the Capitol to the West Front in 1981, seeking to symbolize his connection to the independent spirit of the West and California, where he had been governor. It opened up a magnificent vista that encompassed the Washington Mall, and every president since then has kept that venue.

Jimmy Carter was the first president to walk from the Capitol to the White House, in 1977. Reagan, who followed Carter in 1981, stayed in his limousine for the parade. But George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all emerged from their limousines to greet well-wishers and walk part of the route.

Over the years, only a few inaugural addresses have been truly memorable. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt helped to reassure the country when he said, "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." And he captured the national mood when he added: "This nation asks for action, and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously."

In 1961, John F. Kennedy had two lines that historians have widely praised. The first was his call to service: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country." And the other was overtly generational: "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world."

Inauguration Day was originally March 4. But in 1933, it was moved forward to January 20, by constitutional amendment, to hasten the transition from one president to the next.

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