Warnings and Wisdom from Presidents Past
by William J. Federer, The American Minute
Editor’s Note: We’ve had a week to absorb the most recent inauguration of our current President. Below are quotations from the inaugural addresses of some of our past American Presidents. One of these things is not like the other.
The 20th Amendment changed the date of Presidential Inaugurations to JANUARY 20th. Prior to 1933, March 4th was Inauguration Day.
WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, MARCH 4, 1841, INAUGURAL:
“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.”
JAMES MONROE, MARCH 4, 1817, 1ST INAUGURAL:
“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:
“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, 1ST INAUGURAL:
“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:
“If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations…therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves…and to the generations yet unborn.”
JOHN F. KENNEDY, JANUARY 20, 1961, INAUGURAL:
“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.”
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, MARCH 4, 1825, INAUGURAL:
“Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain.”
ANDREW JACKSON, MARCH 4, 1829, 1ST INAUGURAL:
“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, JANUARY 20, 1965, INAUGURAL:
“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, 2ND INAUGURAL:
“As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the Judgments of the Lord are true and righteous.'”
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 or venality 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.”
GEORGE WASHINGTON, APRIL 30, 1789, 1ST INAUGURAL:
“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.”
THOMAS JEFFERSON, MARCH 4, 1805, 2ND INAUGURAL:
“I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old.”