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Inaugural Oratory:

It will be interesting to see whether Obama yields at all to the demands of the weather in his inaugural address. It's been brutally cold in Washington the last few days, and while it should warm up some by Tuesday, it's going to be pretty crisp out there, and many people in the crowd will be hoping that the new President moves things along in his speech. [Fortunately, for those standing in the cold, there are "Constitutional safeguards" ensuring that at least the portion of the events leading up to the swearing-in will proceed on schedule; the 20th Amendment provides that the new President's term in office begins exactly at noon, and and a result the swearing-in really has to be complete by then, or we don't have a President].

On the other hand, you know that Obama's instinct here is to rise to the occasion with a real blockbuster, and that it's hard to make a brief speech a blockbuster. In any event, I don't know about you, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing if he can pull off something special on Tuesday. I cannot for the life of me remember a single inaugural address since Kennedy's — and Kennedy's, whatever else went wrong with his presidency (and plenty did), was a speech that nobody who heard it, live or on TV, would ever forget. Nothing makes me happier about Obama's election than the fact that he has, single-handedly, brought serious oratory, and serious concern for our beloved English language, back into politics, from whence it has been missing for a long, long time.

Speaking of which: Though it takes up a good chunk of valuable Volokh Conspiracy real estate, I hope you won't mind if I reprint, in its entirety, possibly the best, and certainly the first truly great, inaugural address, Jefferson's in 1801. If you haven't read it, or haven't read it in a while, it makes for good reading. It's always refreshing to read Jefferson's prose, and there's an interesting story about this speech — actually many interesting stories, but I'll only recount one of them. The speech is best-remembered for the phrase

"We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists."

It struck the perfect note, after an election campaign that was distinguished mostly by its bitterness and discord. [And it's a note, surely, that Obama will sound on Tuesday] What's interesting is that Jefferson's original hand-written version of the speech had it as:

"We are all republicans. We are all federalists."

The official printer inserted the initial capitals in the printed text, and they have survived in all subsequent printings. It actually makes a pretty big difference. He wasn't referring to the two emerging political "factions" (as they were then called), but to larger principles. With the initial caps, he's extending an olive branch to Adams and Hamilton and the other capital-F Federalists. But that's not quite what he had in mind. He didn't actually think that we were all capital-F Federalists - he certaintly didn't think that he was a capital-F Federalist. He was, though, a federalist.

Plus, I love the First Inaugural because it has one of the truly great Jeffersonian sentences:

Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.

FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS,

Called upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here reassembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire. A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, traversing all the seas with the rich productions of their industry, engaged in commerce with nations who feel power and forget right, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye &mdash when I contemplate these transcendent objects, and see the honor, the happiness, and the hopes of this beloved country committed to the issue and the auspices of this day, I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking. Utterly, indeed, should I despair did not the presence of many whom I here see remind me that in the other high authorities provided by our Constitution I shall find resources of wisdom, of virtue, and of zeal on which to rely under all difficulties. To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.

During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But 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. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own federal and republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants tote thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed,and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace,commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti republican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people — a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense,that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.

I repair, then, fellow-citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all,I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation and the favor which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose preeminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country's love and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional, and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage is a great consolation to me for the past, and my future solicitude will be to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.

Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make. And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.

Update: I couldn't resist commenting on Dr. T's reference to Kennedy's Inaugural Address as "blather." I'm not sure what to say about that, other than "I beg to differ."

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. . . .

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge—and more. . . .

So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. . . .

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are— but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. . . .

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Blather? That's some pretty fine prose, if you ask me — and the fact that pretty much everyone who heard it in 1961 can still remember much of it - well, Dr. T., if you've written anything as good, I sure as hell would love to see it.

Update 2. And for those commenters who especially appreciated Jefferson's text -- hey, you should read my book! Seriously -- you'll like it.

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Both the Chief Justice and the President Flubbed the Oath: Little Green Footballs says that "it was Justice Roberts who messed it up, not Obama." But it appears to me that the President had the presence of mind to pause after catching the Chief Justices's error and then repeated the error himself. First, here is what the Constitution says:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Here is the transcript (which does not indicate the President pausing to enable the Chief Justice to correct himself):
ROBERTS: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack...
ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...
OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...
ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.
Here is the video so you can judge for yourself:


The Significance of the Flubbed Oath: To my mind, the flubbed oath at today's inaugural teaches one important lesson: The answer to the question, "How many former editors of the Harvard Law Review does it take to administer the Presidential oath properly?" is "More than two."
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Inauguration Tidbits:

Just got home from watching the Inauguration down at the federal courthouse, and lemme tell you all -- it was F**ing cold out there!!

Putting aside the oath kerfuffle, I thought it was a pretty stirring event. Obama's speech was terrific -- perhaps not Lincoln's Second, or Jefferson's First, in terms of soaring oratory, but a wonderfully crafted speech full of very beautifully-turned phrases. My favorites:

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

A nice conflation of Jefferson's "all men are created equal" and "the pursuit of happiness" with Lincoln's "the last full measure of devotion" from the Gettysburg Address.

And I also liked:

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

A good collection of linked metaphors -- the clinging to power, the clenched first, the open hand of friendship. Nice.

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Should Obama Retake the Oath of Office?

Carolyn Lochhead has an interesting story in the San Francisco Chronicle on the flubbed oath at yesterday's inauguration:

The oath reads: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

In giving the oath, Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully," at which point Obama paused quizzically. Roberts then corrected himself, but Obama repeated the words as Roberts initially said them.

A do-over "would take him 30 seconds, he can do it in private, it's not a big deal, and he ought to do it just to be safe," said Boston University constitutional scholar and Supreme Court watcher Jack Beermann. "It's an open question whether he's president until he takes the proper oath."

The courts would probably never hear a challenge, and some might argue that Obama automatically took office at noon because that's when President Bush left the office. But because the procedure is so explicitly prescribed in the Constitution, Beermann said if he were Obama's lawyer, he would recommend retaking it, just as two previous presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur, did under similar circumstances.

53 Comments