An inaugural address can be a defining moment for a president and certain lines become iconic.
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
But why do some addresses echo through history while others don't?
I asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson， I am director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at The University of Pennsylvania.
And what she told me is that an inaugural address should do three things: unify the country, announce guiding principles, and affirm the limits of power.
So let's take those one by one, starting with the need to unify the country.
One of the more important characteristics of an inaugural is that it establishes that this is the president of all the people.
Coming after a campaign, a president's first ask to heal a divided electorate.
In 1801, Jefferson welcomed his opponents when he said, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. "
And in 1953, Eisenhower echoed Jefferson's plea for unity, "May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths. . ."
Eisenhower's inaugural explicitly suggests that we are coming together in this moment regardless of the kind of partisan divisions that we have had in the past.
That's actually a common theme across the inaugurals.
We remember it more when it is phrased more memorably, as it is with Jefferson or Eisenhower, but you'll actually find an element of it invirtually all of the inaugural addresses.
Second, an inaugural should announce principles that will guide the presidency.
"We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost."
But, unlike the state of the union, the inaugural should focus on principles, not policy.
When you get to policy proposals, you're back in campaign mode.
"In this present crisis, governmentis not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."
Notice that when Reagan said, 'government isn't the solution, government is the problem' what he was essentially doing was articulating a principle, not saying, 'and as a result, I recommend that we do x, y and z. '
The philosophy of the president is embodied in an inaugural and if it's maintained at a level of principle it is not highly problematic.
Third, an inaugural affirms the limits of ower stating that no one is above the law.
One concern, when you let some presidents—particularly among those who didn't vote for the candidate is that person may overreach and may misuse the power or use the power in ways that will hurt the people wedid not vote for the president.
Look at the passage in Gerald Ford's inaugural address which was, in effect his inaugural address that begins, ". . . our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works, our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men."
That is a repudiation of the Nixon Presidency. Ford is affirming it explicitly: that no president is above the law. That's the speech that tells us that, in language that we should always remember.
Besides indicating what the address should be about, past inaugurals suggest how a president should deliver it.
First, they should keep it short. People who assume that you have to speak at length in order to be eloquent are wrong.
Aleader's message should be clear and concise. The three shortest speeches were delivered by some of the most respected presidents, albeit during subsequent inaugurals, while the three longest came from some less well-known presidents, including William Henry Harrison, who aggravated a cold during his epic inaugural anddied the next month from pneumonia.
Second, Put the campaign behind you. Do not be Ulysses S. Grant, who whines about having a scandal-ridden campaign.
"I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history, which today I feel that I can afford to disregard in view of your verdict, which I gratefully accept as my vindication."
If you come out of an inaugural address feeling as if the candidate is still there and the president isn't we're still in campaign mode, this isn't a president speaking, it's a failed address.
A third caution is to avoid making it about yourself, which a president can do by using "we" instead of "I".
When you're trying to speak to a nation thath as been divided by a campaign, the unifying rhetoric requires that the audience hear itself in the rhetoric.
And as a result, the collective rhetoric, the rhetoric of "we" is the characterizing rhetoric of the best inaugural addresses.
"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Lastly, and most importantly, we tend to remember inaugurals. Because history vindicated the observation and the observation was made memorably.
So, you might say that the deciding factor fora successful inaugural speech is the presidency that follows.
There's a reason we remember FDR and Kennedy. Both were speaking at a point of crisis and their words inspired a future that would follow.
But no president did this better than Abraham Lincoln, who on the eve of Civil War, predicted a Union victory when he said: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."