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Presentation Inaugurations: Stepping into History

Economics and Hope for the Future

Economic prosperity has been an important inaugural subject for almost every American president. From the concerns of James Madison and Ulysses S. Grant over apparently insurmountable debt in the nineteenth century, to the economic depression, recession, and prosperity of the twentieth century, the economy has served as a campaign platform. The economic success of a presidency is often the barometer by which people will remember an administration.

In Ulysses S. Grant's first inaugural address, he described the economic challenges facing the nation:

The procession from the Senate chamber to the east steps of the Capitol [March 4, 1873].

"A great debt has been contracted in securing to us and our posterity the Union. The payment of this, principal and interest, as well as the return to a specie basis as soon as it can be accomplished without material detriment to the debtor class or to the country at large, must be provided for. To protect the national honor, every dollar of Government indebtedness should be paid in gold, unless otherwise expressly stipulated in the contract."

Although Herbert Hoover's administration was plagued by unfortunate economic factors, in his 1929 inaugural address, Hoover lauded America's potential:

"Ours is a land rich in resources... filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity. In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced. In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure. In no nation is the government more worthy of respect...I have an abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope."

[Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover in automobile for Roosevelt's inauguration, March 4, 1933].

Months later, the stock market crashed and the nation began its descent into the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover was, unfortunately, charged with the economic disaster that followed.

This public sentiment paved the way for the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal campaign. In his 1933 inaugural address Roosevelt emphasized that economic recovery was dependent upon new policies and a new national attitude. Roosevelt's address struck a chord when he said:

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."

Decades later, in his 2008 inaugural address, Barack Obama spoke to the importance of taking action to ensure future economic growth.

"Everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.... All this we can do. And all this we will do."