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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Inaugurations

Washington's 1793 second inaugural address is the shortest in presidential history – just 135 words!

Thomas Jefferson explains the difference in intention between a first and second inaugural address. In his notes from the day before he began his second term in office, Jefferson states:

"The first was promise. This is performance."

Perhaps the clearest distinction between a first and second inaugural address appears in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. During his first inaugural address in 1861, Lincoln explained why his election would not threaten the sanctity of the Union.

Four years later, with the bond between the states temporarily dissolved, Lincoln explained how, despite the best efforts of his administration, the threat of war became a reality:

"While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

In spite of his initial promises, the nation was devastated by war. Does Lincoln's second inaugural address provide plausible explanation for this diversion from intent? How do you think this address was received by the people? Why?

From James Monroe's account of the war with England in 1813, to Ronald Reagan’s discussion of a missile defense system, a president’s second inaugural address tends to focus more on current policy than future promises.

Inauguration Firsts

  • Calvin Coolidge's second inauguration was the first broadcast live on the radio.
  • Franklin Roosevelt's second was the first to occur on January 20, in accordance with the 20th amendment to the Constitution.
  • Harry Truman's second was the first to use a bulletproofed, closed limousine.
  • Ronald Reagan's second was the first in which the oath was taken in the Rotunda. It was also the first time a television camera was placed inside the president's limousine from the Capitol to the White House.
  • Bill Clinton's second was the first to be broadcast live on the internet.