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The Five Worst Inaugural Addresses of the 19th Century


2 of 5

Ulysses S. Grant's First Inaugural Address Did Not Live Up to the Moment
Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant, who did not seize an opportunity at his inaugural

Library of Congress

Standing at the podium only four years after Lincoln's second inaugural address, Ulysses S. Grant may have had an impossible act to follow. Lincoln's speech is widely considered the greatest inaugural address ever, so there isn't much chance that Grant could have topped it. But seems that he barely even tried.

Grant was actually succeeding President Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached while filling out the term of the murdered Abraham Lincoln.

And with the Civil War over, the nation was probably looking forward to better times. Grant could have come into office on March 4, 1869 offering some hope for the future.

Instead, Grant struck an oddly unambitious tone, mentioning at the outset that the presidency "has come to me unsought."

And most of his speech was simply workmanlike. There were lengthy explanations of how the enormous debts incurred to finance the Civil War had to be repaid, and other pieces of business were also mentioned. But the speech, delivered when it was, with the nation moving in a new direction after putting the carnage of the war behind it, should have been inspiring.

In fairness to Grant, The New York Times praised the speech's simplicity the next day in a front page article, so it's conceivable that it played better in person than it does today on the page.

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