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The Five Best Inaugural Addresses of the 19th Century

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Andrew Jackson's First Inaugural Brought a New Era to America
Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, whose first inaugural address signified a change in America

Library of Congress

Andrew Jackson was the first American president from what was then considered the west. And when he arrived in Washington for his inauguration in 1829, he tried to avoid celebrations planned for him.

That was mainly because Jackson was in mourning for his wife, who had recently died. But it’s also true that Jackson was something of an outsider, and seemed happy to remain that way.

Jackson had won the presidency in what was perhaps the dirtiest campaign ever. As he detested his predecessor, John Quincy Adams, who had defeated him in the “Corrupt Bargain” election of 1824, he didn’t even bother to meet with him.

On March 4, 1829, huge crowds for the time turned out for Jackson’s inauguration, which was the first to be held outside at the Capitol. At that time the tradition was for the new president to speak before taking the oath of office, and Jackson gave a brief address, which took little more than ten minutes to deliver.

Reading Jackson's first inaugural address today, much of it sounds fairly quaint. Noting that a standing army is "dangerous to free governments," the war hero speaks of the “national militia” which “must render us invincible.”. He also called for “internal improvements,” by which he would have meant the building of roads and canals, and for the “diffusion of knowledge.”

Jackson spoke of taking advice from the other branches of government, and generally struck a very humble tone. When the speech was published it was praised widely, with partisan newspapers raving that it “breathes throughout the pure spirit of republicanism of the Jefferson school.”

That is no doubt what Jackson intended, as the opening of his speech was quite similar to the opening sentence of Thomas Jefferson’s widely praised first inaugural address.

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