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The Five Best Inaugural Addresses of the 19th Century


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Benjamin Harrison Delivered a Surprisingly Well-Written Speech
Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison, whose grandfather delivered the worst inaugural address ever

Library of Congress

Inaugural addresses of the 19th century are generally collections of platitudes and patriotic bombast. But a few stand out as being quite good, and one in particular, Lincoln's second inaugural, is generally considered one of the greatest speeches in all of American history.

A surprisingly good inauguration address was delivered on March 4, 1889 by Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of the president who gave the worst inaugural address ever. Yes, Benjamin Harrison, who's remembered, when he's remembered, as something of a point of trivia, as his time in the White House came between the terms of the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland.

Harrison gets no respect. The Encyclopedia of World Biography, in the very first sentence of its article on Harrison, describes him as “possibly the dullest personality ever to inhabit the White House.”

Taking office at a time when the United States was enjoying progress and wasn’t facing any great crisis, Harrison chose to deliver something of a history lesson to the nation. He was likely prompted to do so as his inauguration occurred a month shy of the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s first inauguration.

He began by noting that there is no Constitutional requirement that presidents give an inaugural address, yet they do it as it creates a “mutual covenant” with the American people.

Harrison's inaugural speech reads very well today, and some passages, such as when he talks about the United States becoming an industrial power following the Civil War, are actually quite elegant.

Harrison only served one term. After leaving the presidency, Harrison took to writing, and became the author of This Country of Ours, a civics textbook which was widely used in American schools for decades.

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