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The Five Best Inaugural Addresses of the 19th Century

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Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Was an Eloquent Beginning to the Century
Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson gave a philosophical inaugural address in 1801

Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office for the first time on March 4, 1801 in the Senate chamber of the US Capitol building, which was still under construction. The election of 1800 had been closely contested and was finally decided after days of balloting in the House of Representatives. Aaron Burr, who nearly became president, became vice president.

The other losing candidate in 1800 was the incumbent president and candidate of the Federalist Party, John Adams. He chose not to attend Jefferson’s inauguration, and instead departed Washington for his home in Massachusetts.

Against this backdrop of a young nation embroiled in political controversy, Jefferson struck a conciliatory tone in his inaugural address.

“We have called by different names brethren of the same principle," he said at one point. "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Jefferson continued in a philosophical tone, making references to both ancient history and the warfare then being waged in Europe. As he put it, the United States is “kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe.”

He spoke eloquently of his own ideas of government, and the occasion of inauguration thus afforded Jefferson a public opportunity to distill and express ideas which he held dear. And a major emphasis was for partisans to put differences aside and to aspire to work for the greater good of the republic.

Jefferson's first inaugural address was praised widely in its own time. It was published and when it reached France it was hailed as a model for republican government.

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