Lincoln Inaugural address

March 4th was Presidential Inauguration Day from 1793 till 1933, when it was changed by the 20th Amendment to January 20th. Many presidents gave warnings in their inaugural addresses.

James Monroe, March 4, 1817, Inaugural Address

“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. … Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. … The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin.”

Franklin Pierce, March 4, 1853, Inaugural Address

“The dangers of a concentration of all power in the General government of a confederacy so vast as ours are too obvious to be disregarded. … You have a right … to expect your agents in every department to regard strictly the limits imposed upon them by the Constitution. … Liberty rests upon a proper distribution of power between the State and Federal authorities.”

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861, first Inaugural Address

“The candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made. … the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of the eminent tribunal.”

Theodore Roosevelt, March 4, 1905, Inaugural Address

“If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is today, and to the generations yet unborn.”

John F. Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961, Inaugural Address

“The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

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John Quincy Adams, March 4, 1825, Inaugural Address

“Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain.”

Andrew Jackson, March 4, 1829, Inaugural Address

“As long as our Government … secures to us the rights of person and of property, liberty of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.”

Lyndon B. Johnson, Jan. 20, 1965, Inaugural Address

“We have no promise from God that our greatness will endure. … If we fail now, we shall have forgotten … that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored.”

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865, second Inaugural Address

“As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the Judgments of the Lord are true and righteous.'”

William Henry Harrison, March 4, 1841, Inaugural Address

“I too well understand the dangerous temptations. … Limited as are the powers which have been granted, still enough have been granted to constitute a despotism if concentrated in one of the departments … particularly … the Executive branch. … The tendency of power to increase itself, particularly when exercised by a single individual … would terminate in virtual monarchy. …

“As long as the love of power is a dominant passion of the human bosom, and as long as the understanding of men can be warped and their affections changed by operations upon their passions and prejudices, so long will the liberties of a people depend on their constant attention to its preservation. … The tendencies of all such governments in their decline is to monarchy, and the antagonist principle to liberty there is the spirit of faction – a spirit which assumes the character and in times of great excitement imposes itself upon the people as the genuine spirit of freedom, and, like the false christs whose coming was foretold by the Savior, seeks to, and were it possible would, impose upon the true and most faithful disciples of liberty. It is in periods like this that it behooves the people to be most watchful of those to whom they have intrusted power.”

George Washington, April 1789, draft notes for first inaugural

“The best institution may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest purposes. Should, hereafter, those incited by the lust of power and prompted by the supineness (laziness) or venality (open to bribes) of their constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men, however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification, can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable … that no wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.”

To read appeals to heaven made by presidents upon assuming office prior to 1933, see below.

First president George Washington, stated in his Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789:

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Second president John Adams stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1797:

“Veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service.”

Third president Thomas Jefferson, stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805:

“I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old from their native land and planted them in a country.”

Fourth president James Madison stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1809:

“We have all been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

Fifth president James Monroe stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817:

“With my fervent prayers to the Almighty that He will be graciously pleased to continue to us that protection which He has already so conspicuously displayed.”

Sixth president John Quincy Adams stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1825:

“Knowing that ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain,’ with fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future destinies of my country.”

Seventh president Andrew Jackson stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1833:

“It is my fervent prayer to that Almighty Being before whom I now stand, and who has kept us in His hands from the infancy of our Republic to the present day.”

Eighth president Martin Van Buren stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1837:

“I only look to the gracious protection of that Divine Being whose strengthening support I humbly solicit, and whom I fervently pray to look down upon us all. May it be among the dispensations of His Providence to bless our beloved country with honors and length of days; may her ways be pleasantness, and all her paths peace!”

Ninth president William Henry Harrison stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1841:

“I deem the present occasion sufficiently important and solemn to justify me in expressing to my fellow citizens a profound reverence for the Christian religion, and a thorough conviction that sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true and lasting happiness.”

Tenth president John Tyler did not give an Inaugural Address, but stated in a proclamation April 13, 1841, after William Henry Harrison’s death:

“When a Christian people feel themselves to be overtaken by a great public calamity, it becomes them to humble themselves under the dispensation of Divine Providence.”

Eleventh president James K. Polk stated in his Inaugural Address, March 4, 1845:

“I fervently invoke the aid of that Almighty Ruler of the Universe in whose hands are the destinies of nations and of men to guard this Heaven-favored land. … I enter upon the discharge of the high duties which have been assigned to me by the people, again humbly supplicating that Divine Being, who has watched over and protected our beloved country from its infancy to the present hour.”

Twelfth president Zachary Taylor stated in his Inaugural Address, March 5, 1849, delivered a day later than usual as he refused to be sworn in on Sunday in honor of the Sabbath:

“The dictates of religion direct us to the cultivation of peaceful and friendly relations with all other powers. … In conclusion I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the high state of prosperity to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conducted our common country. Let us invoke a continuance of the same protecting care which has led us from small beginnings to the eminence we this day occupy.”

To read the rest of Bill Federer’s examination of inaugural addresses, click here.

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