The seven inaugural moments that mattered

Updated
File Photo: U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in this Jan. 20...
File Photo: U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in this Jan. 20...
AP Photo, File

Looking ahead to President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, Hardball’s Chris Matthews examined the most memorable and moving inaugurations in U.S. history.

From Jimmy Carter’s historic walk down the inauguration parade route, to George W. Bush’s reference to the Florida ballot debacle, to JFK’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, here are seven inauguration moments that mattered:

Who: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

When: 1933

What FDR said: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

Chris’ take: “In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as president for the first of his four terms. And with these words, he delivered an inaugural address that may have been the most important speech of the 20th Century. That voice rings true. FDR’s first inaugural was the last to be held in March. The 20th Amendment –which was ratified in January 1933–moved all subsequent inaugurals to January.”

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Who: John F. Kennedy

When: 1961

What JFK said: “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world”

Chris’ take: “Later in the speech JFK said another of his most famous lines: ‘Ask Not What your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’ It’s a line he paraphrased from George St John, the headmaster at Choate, Kennedy’s prep school.”

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Who: Jimmy Carter

When: 1977

Chris’ take: “And with trust in government at a low point after Watergate and the Vietnam War, the new president took a symbolic step to change that image. After he was sworn in and delivered his inaugural address, Carter and  wife Rosalynn walked the entire inaugural parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol all the way down to the White House. He was the first president in history to do so.”

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Who: Ronald Reagan

When: 1981

What Reagan said: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Chris’ take: In 1981, Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in an economic downturn and called for an era of national renewal, and he had this message for the role of government in American life and the country’s new conservative tide. Later, at the Inaugural luncheon in Statuary Hall, President Reagan announced that after 444 days in captivity, the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran were on their way home.”

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Who: Bill Clinton

When: 1993

What Clinton said: “When our Founders boldly declared America’s independence to the world and our purposes to the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure, would have to change; not change for change’s sake but change to preserve America’s ideals: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though we marched to the music of our time, our mission is timeless. Each generation of Americans must define what it means to be an American.”

Chris’ take: “Back in 1993, the 46-year-old Bill Clinton took the oath of office for the first time. He became the first baby boomer in the White House and told the country that change is not something to fear. Clinton, who had a history of being long-winded, of course, went on to deliver what aides said was the third-shortest inaugural address in history.”

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Who: George W. Bush

When: 2001

What Bush said: “This peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country. With a simple oath, we affirm old traditions, and make new beginnings. As I begin, I thank President Clinton for his service to our nation. And I thank Vice President Gore for a contest conducted with spirit, and ended with grace.”

Chris’ take: “In 2001 George W. Bush took the oath of office after a bitter legal battle that only ended when the United States Supreme Court ordered the state of Florida to stop counting ballots. The newly sworn President Bush made reference to that struggle and tipped his hat to his opponent, Vice President Al Gore…Not everyone was as graceful as Gore –thousands of protesters demonstrated against the new president, some even egging his limousine during the inaugural parade.”

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Who: President Obama

When: 2009

What Obama said: “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed–why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Chris’ take: “Four years ago, in his first inaugural address, the president paid tribute to the historic nature of his election. Call me a romantic, but I’m looking for a major, even a historic address this coming Monday.”

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The seven inaugural moments that mattered

Updated