Full Text: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

Remarks by the President on the Way Forward in Afghanistan

East Room

8:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security –- one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.

In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Then, our focus shifted.  A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year.  But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan.  When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.  I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.  Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.  This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.  One soldier summed it up well.  “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget.  You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.  Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support.  Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.  But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.

In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.  Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country.  Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.  In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain.  This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.  We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.  So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply:  No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.  We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.  What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.  No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region.  We’ll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.  For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us.  They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We’ve learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that’s been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.  To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.

I met some of these patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell.  A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden.  Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost –- brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten.  This officer — like so many others I’ve met on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -– spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one, depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.

That’s a lesson worth remembering -– that we are all a part of one American family.  Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.  Now, let us finish the work at hand.  Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story.  With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens, and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -– for this generation, and the next.

May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.

END           8:16 P.M. EDT

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Political Buzz June 22, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

December 1, 2009: President Obama’s Address Unveils New Afghanistan War Strategy

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

President Obama told the American people that 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the first part of 2010, “the fastest pace possible.”
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times President Obama said that 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the first part of 2010, “the fastest pace possible.”

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • FACT CHECK: Obama overlooks some tough realities: President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night did not always match the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. The president raised expectations that may be hard to meet when he told Americans his troop increase in Afghanistan will accelerate the training of that country’s own forces and be accompanied by more help from allies. A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts… – AP, 12-1-09

THE HEADLINES….

  • Qualified Support From G.O.P.; Skepticism From Democrats: Congressional Republicans offered qualified support Tuesday for President Obama’s proposed troop increase in Afghanistan but several senior Democrats took sharp exception to the president’s plan, illustrating the deep divide in the party over the conflict…. – NYT, 12-2-09
  • Obama Adds Troops, but Maps Exit Plan: President Obama announced Tuesday that he would speed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months, but he vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011. He said that the United States could not afford an open-ended commitment and that it was time for Afghans to take more responsibility for their country…. – NYT, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Afghanistan speech: five key points In President Obama’s Afghanistan speech, he announced Tuesday night that he will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But he’s already decided to start bringing them back by mid-2011: President Obama’s Afghanistan speech announced a new, historic chapter for the mission there, announcing the deployment of 30,000 additional troops in the “epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda” but also promising to begin withdrawing those forces within 18 months. The surge of forces will bring the total American commitment to nearly 100,000. It will be composed of several combat brigades, new trainers and support troops and will be deployed at “the fastest pace possible” to be on the ground and fighting by summer, an onerous task for a military deploying forces to a landlocked country with a crude infrastructure. The much-anticipated formal announcement of a policy in Afghanistan punctuates three months of soul-searching within the administration and, regardless of the outcome, represents an historical turning point for Afghanistan and the Obama administration…. – CS Monitor, 12-2-09
  • Analyzing Obama’s Afghan Speech: President Obama outlined his reasons for increasing troops in Afghanistan, but promised the war would not go on without end…. – NYT, 12-1-09
  • Obama orders 30,000-troop boost in Afghanistan: Declaring “our security is at stake,” President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night, nearly tripling the force he inherited but promising an impatient public to begin withdrawal in 18 months. The buildup will begin almost immediately — the first Marines will be in place by Christmas — and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone. In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president told the nation his new policy was designed to “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” though he made no mention of defeating Taliban insurgents or capturing al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden…. – AP, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Afghan War Compromise Doesn’t Quell Strategy Debate By offering something to all sides in the debate, Obama may have left all sides unsatisfied: President Obama, after vowing last week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, presented the nation Tuesday with a new war strategy that seemed to contain something for everyone: a troop increase, a preliminary timetable for withdrawal, tough words for the Afghan government and an emphasis on the U.S. partnership with Pakistan.
    But by offering something to all sides in the debate, Obama may have left all sides unsatisfied — from the liberal groups who have protested any troop increase to the conservatives who object to a fixed timetable for withdrawal that, they say, could signal to enemies simply to lie low and wait.
    The reaction to the plan in the hours after Obama’s prime-time speech was swift and wide-ranging, setting the tone for a potentially contentious foreign policy debate that could define the rest of Obama’s presidency. Fox News, 12-2-09
  • With Troops Go Demands: In ordering the accelerated deployment of 30,000 fresh American troops to the country, President Obama made clear that he would demand a far greater effort from President Hamid Karzai to staunch corruption in his government and from Afghan soldiers and police officers to fight Taliban insurgents. The extra American soldiers, the president said, would only be on the ground for a limited time to ensure the Afghans followed through. But that is the heart of the problem: in laying down the gauntlet for the Afghans, President Obama is setting criteria for success that he and his field commanders may be able to influence, but which ultimately they will not be able to control…. – NYT, 12-2-09
  • Obama Outlines Plan for Afghanistan Troop Surge: After a months-long review of the U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama laid out a new course Tuesday night, saying it is in “our vital national interest” to deploy 30,000 more troops to the fight…. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-09
  • Will Obama’s war become his Vietnam?: As President Obama announced he’s sending more troops to Afghanistan, he also took on critics who made comparisons between the current situation and the war in Vietnam…. – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Obama ally breaks with him on Afghanistan: Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky was one of President Obama’s earliest and most ardent supporters. She served in the Illinois state legislature with him, and she supported his run for the U.S. Senate. But on the issue of Afghanistan, the president can’t bank on the support of his longtime political ally. “He’s made up his mind that at this point there ought to be a troop increase, and I have to say I’m very skeptical about that as a solution,” she said… – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Afghanistan Drawdown to Begin in 2011, Officials Say: President Obama will announce on Tuesday night that he will begin to draw American forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011, even after sending some 30,000 more United States troops there to reverse the momentum of Taliban insurgents, the White House said.
    “The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers,” the president plans to tell the nation, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House. “They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight,” Mr. Obama plans to tell a national television audience from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. “And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”… – NY”T, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan to Envision Exit: President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday. Although the speech was still in draft form, the officials said the president wanted to use the address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday night not only to announce the immediate order to deploy roughly 30,000 more troops, but also to convey how he intends to turn the fight over to the Kabul government.
    “It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”… – NYT, 11-30-09

POLITICAL QUOTES

The President at West Point

  • Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Eisenhower Hall Theatre, United States Military Academy at West Point, West Point, New York 8:01 P.M. EST WH, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Address on the War in Afghanistan: Following is the text of President Obama’s address on a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, as released by the White House on Tuesday…
    Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our Armed Services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan — the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion. It’s an extraordinary honor for me to do so here at West Point — where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country….
    To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.
    We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.
    The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest possible pace — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
    Because this is an international effort, I’ve asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility — what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.
    But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government — and, more importantly, to the Afghan people — that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
    Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security. This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas — such as agriculture — that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
    The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They’ve been confronted with occupation — by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect — to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.
    Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
    We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That’s why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border….
    It’s easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. (Applause.) I believe with every fiber of my being that we — as Americans — can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment — they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people…. – NYT, 12-1-09

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Spelling out his plans for Afghanistan, President Obama on Tuesday said he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion.” More Photos >

  • President’s Afghan drawdown plan called risky, ‘unrealistic’: Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor and former Army officer, said the balancing act could leave Obama facing “really unpalatable” choices in 2011 and beyond.
    “If you’re in my camp, you’re hard-pressed to see how everything is going to go smoothly in Afghanistan,” said Bacevich, who has called the Afghan war unnecessary and impossible to win.
    Obama could be forced to choose between sticking to his plans and leaving the American mission unfinished or extending the U.S. role in an unpopular war.
    “It’s hard to conceive that public support will have risen,” he said. “On the other hand, a president facing re-election who pulls the plug on a failing war is going to find himself charged with being an ineffective commander-in-chief.” – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Julian Zelizer “President Obama set to hike troops in Afghanistan, risking political fallout and recalling Vietnam”: “Is Obama in danger of becoming an unpopular wartime president?”: “What we’ve seen with other presidents is the more you get bogged down by war, the more that becomes how Americans and fellow politicians define your presidency,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He cited former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Bush as examples. Obama must quickly establish civil stability and get U.S. troops out within the year — a difficult task, Zelizer said.
    “Does the president’s challenge in Afghanistan mirror Johnson’s troubles in Vietnam?”: Johnson, like Obama, faced divisions in the White House and Congress on whether to escalate the war, and both wars are incredibly messy with no clear-cut enemy, Zelizer said. Obama, however, has Vietnam to learn from. “The memories and the fears of Vietnam, they’re shaping the debate over Afghanistan,” Zelizer said…. – AM NY, 12-1-09

Q & A: How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 1-17-05

How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

Looking at earlier wartime inaugurations the trend was toward simple ceremonies such as James Madison’s in 1813, Abraham Lincoln’s in 1865, Woodrow Wilson’s in 1917, Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1945, and Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1953. The simplest of all was Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural in 1945 amidst World War II. However, the post World War II era saw inaugural ceremonies becoming increasingly more lavish affairs despite the fact that war or protest was ensuing. Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965, and Richard Nixon’s two inaugurations in 1969 and 1973 were large showcase affairs. The tradition continues this year with George W. Bush’s $40 million inaugural celebration.

James Madison

1813: The United States was at war with Great Britain when James Madison took the oath of office for the second time in 1813. The war was still confined to the sea and there were no physical reminders of war in Washington at the time of the inauguration. The theme of his inauguration was the nobility of the American people vs. the brutality of the British, and he called on the population to fight with dignity. Madison took the oath of office in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and it was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall. In the evening Madison attended an inaugural ball. (Dolley Madison had established the first inaugural ball in 1809.) The next year an invading British garrison burned the Capitol and executive mansion.

As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed.

The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed. How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy! — James Madison, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1813

Abraham Lincoln

1861: Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural occurred at the country’s most desperate moment when seven southern states had already seceded from the union forming the Confederate States of America, and civil war seemed imminent. Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the president of the Confederacy two weeks earlier. A somber mood prevailed at Lincoln’s inaugural. His safety was in danger, and he was guarded by General Winfield Scott’s soldiers, providing unprecedented protection for a president-elect. The United States Calvary that escorted Lincoln in the procession to the Capitol was heavily armed as he rode in an open carriage with President James Buchanan, and the military remained on alert throughout the ceremony. Judge Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln on the East Portico of the Capitol, then in the midst of renovation (the wooden dome was being replaced with an iron one).

In his inaugural address Lincoln claimed, “No government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” The New York Times wrote that “from the fiery trial the loose federation emerged as a compact nation, which makes this the most significant inauguration after that of Washington.” President Lincoln then proceeded to the White House where he received the Diplomatic Corps and well wishers. The inaugural events concluded when Lincoln and the rest of the presidential party made their appearance at the inaugural ball that was held the same evening.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. 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.— Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

1865: Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration came close to the end of the Civil War. Lincoln did not participate in the procession to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony since he had already gone there earlier in the morning to sign last-minute bills into law. For weeks preceding the inauguration Washington had been rainy, causing Pennsylvania Avenue to become a sea of mud and standing water. The spectators stood in deep mud to see the president’s swearing-in ceremony. On the East Portico of the Capitol Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office to Lincoln.

The inaugural ceremonies featured four companies of African American troops; a lodge of African American Odd Fellows. African American Masons joined the procession to the Capitol, and then back to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony. This was the first time that African Americans participated in the inaugural processions, thereby demonstrating the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. There was constant music conducted by bands interspersed along the procession, which lasted an hour and was a mile long. Lincoln rode toward the White House in an open barouche and was escorted by the white and black troops for security purposes. In the evening following Lincoln’s swearing-in ceremony there was a public reception at the White House. The inaugural ball took place the night in the Patent Office; this was the first time a government building was used for the ball.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. — Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

Woodrow Wilson

1917: As Woodrow Wilson prepared to take his second oath of office the rest of the world was embroiled in a war that was entering its third year with no end in sight. Although the United States had not entered the World War–Wilson had said during the campaign that there was such a thing as a nation too proud to fight– there was still an uproar about the pomp of the inauguration ceremonies. The inaugural ball was cancelled, though this may not have been because of the war. Wilson disliked balls and nixed plans for a ball during his first inaugural. Certain officials suggested that the public ceremonies be cancelled completely because of the international situation. However, tradition won out and a bill was signed allotting $30,000 for the inaugural ceremonies. Robert N. Harper chairman of the local Inaugural Committee, issued a statement discussing the direction the ceremonies would take:”I am pleased to announce that the inauguration ceremonies will be held. While the greatest possible simplicity will be observed, it is intended to make this inauguration unusually impressive in order to afford an opportunity for a perfectly spontaneous exhibition of the patriotic feeling of the country.”

The thing I shall count upon, the thing without which neither counsel nor action will avail, is the unity of America: an America united in feeling, in purpose and in its vision of duty, of opportunity and of service.– Woodrow Wilson, Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1917

Franklin Roosevelt

1941: Franklin Roosevelt’s third inauguration was unprecedented in American history. The world was at war, but the United States still officially neutral.

Roosevelt was accompanied throughout inauguration day with an increasingly visible number of Secret Service guards. Roosevelt began the day by continuing the tradition he started in 1937 by attending church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, next to the White House prior to his swearing-in ceremony. Then the president went forth to the Capitol. Roosevelt’s inaugural address was shorter than usual, only twelve minutes long. Time magazine reported that “the speech was not in the President’s usual literary style. It was pseudo-poetic, full of little except generalities, as if it had been written for him by someone such as Playwright Robert E. Sherwood.”

The inaugural parade was designed to be shorter than usual. This corresponded with Roosevelt’s plan for simplicity. There was an air demonstration planned with Army, Navy and Marine Corps planes participating, which was a new addition to the inaugural parade. Roosevelt chose to watch the parade from an open stand. The parade at first featured the usual parade fare, but then the mood turned more solemn as a glimpse of what American involvement in the war would mean. For five minutes the parade route was dominated by armored cars, soldiers on motorcycles, tanks; light tanks, medium tanks, trucks carrying pontoon bridges, kitchen trucks, trucks drawing six-inch guns, eight truckloads of anti-aircraft guns–the machines of war. Roosevelt canceled the inaugural ball as he had in 1937 during the Depression. But an inaugural concert was staged at Constitution Hall; the performers included Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Massey and Ethel Barrymore.

If we lose that sacred fire–if we let it be smothered with doubt and fear–then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish. The preservation of the spirit and faith of the Nation does, and will, furnish the highest justification for every sacrifice that we may make in the cause of national defense. In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941

1944: Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration occurred at a time of world war, and the president’s increasingly failing health. Roosevelt decided upon a short and simple inaugural ceremony. The morning of his inauguration, instead of attending church services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Roosevelt arranged for a private service at the White House East Room with 250 members of his official family. Instead of taking the oath at the Capitol, he took it on the South Portico of the White House. Immediately below the portico were 7,806 invited guests; on the Ellipse there were another 3,000 in attendance.

After taking the oath of office Roosevelt gave the shortest of his four inaugural addresses at 573 words. He did not once mention domestic affairs, but gave a passing remark about the war. The speech indicated the president’s mood and focused on the world after the end of the war. Afterwards, 2,000 invited guests streamed into the Red Room for the post-inaugural luncheon, which would be the last one of its kind. It was the largest affair held in the Roosevelt White House for years but it was also spare. The guests stood and the menu included; chicken salad, hard rolls without butter, unfrosted pound cake, and coffee. The First Lady hosted a tea for those who did not come to the luncheon. There was no parade or ball. The day’s events were capped off with a private dinner which included the Roosevelt family’s first rib roast in months.

In the days and the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace. . . . We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately–but we shall strive. . . . We have learned lessons–at a fearful cost–and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace. . . . We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. . . . We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fourth Inaugural Address, January 20, 1945

Dwight D. Eisenhower

1953: Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as president during the Korean War. Eisenhower broke precedent by beginning his inaugural address with a prayer. His address emphasized American leadership in the world, and focused on the challenge of establishing peace, freedom and unity in the free world. The swearing-in ceremony was followed by a ten division parade that was the longest and largest inaugural parade in history, lasting four hours and 39 minutes with 25,000 marchers, 73 bands, 59 floats, horses, elephants and civilian and military vehicles. As a tribute to those serving in Korea some of the servicemen fighting there were brought home to march in the parade. The salute to Eisenhower also included 1,000 military planes from jets to super bombers, which flew over the parade. The inaugural celebration was capped off with two inaugural balls at the National Armory and Georgetown University’s McDonough Hall. Approximately 75,000,000 people were able to watch the inaugural ceremonies on television.

No person, no home, no community can be beyond the reach of this call. We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh our every deed with care and with compassion. For this truth must be clear before us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America. The peace we seek, then, is nothing less than the practice and fulfillment of our whole faith among ourselves and in our dealings with others. This signifies more than the stilling of guns, easing the sorrow of war. More than escape from death, it is a way of life. More than a haven for the weary, it is a hope for the brave. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953

Lyndon B. Johnson

1965: Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration came at the beginning of America’s active military involvement in Vietnam. Johnson insisted that America’s involvement would be minimal, and the inauguration was planned as if it was not occurring at a time of war. Gone were the military pageantries that characterized earlier inaugurations, Johnson did not believe that the day should be used to glorify the military. The four-day celebration was extravagant, costing $1.5 million, and was an attempt to be “bigger and better” than any of the previous inaugurations. According to an account in the New York Times, Johnson wanted to “surmount tradition and make the hoopla of the inauguration a dramatic display of the highest aims and accomplishments of the entire nation.”

The first event was the Distinguished Ladies Reception held at the National Gallery of Art, which featured 5,000 guests. Throughout the inaugural’s first day of festivities there were receptions in honor of the president all around Washington. On the evening of the first day of events, the Inaugural Gala; a variety show was held at the National Guard Armory. The gala was sponsored by the National Democratic Committee for the party faithful and was a free event that included 8,000 guests. The four banquet dinners that preceded that gala were also free to Democrats who had contributed a minimum of $1,000 to the campaign. The gala included some of the most pre-eminent entertainers of the day; including Alfred Hitchcock as the master of ceremonies and Carol Channing as the mistress of ceremonies.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s procession to the Capitol in 1965 was marked by stringent security measures, including a bullet-proof limousine. The swearing-in ceremonies were described by the New York Times as both “a sermon and a circus; a prayer and a parade; the bible and the ballyhoo.” Lady Bird joined her husband as he took the oath of office, the first wife of a president to do so. Capping the festivities were four inaugural balls at the National Guard Armory, the Mayflower, Sheraton-Park Shoreham and the Statler Hilton.

The hour and the day and the time are here to achieve progress without strife, to achieve change without hatred: not without difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions which scar the Union for generations. — Lyndon B. Johnson, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1965

Richard Nixon

1969: Richard Nixon’s first inauguration took place amidst the height of the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, racial tension and urban disintegration at home. The inauguration festivities were far more restrained than Johnson’s, yet still quite elaborate. The inauguration included four days of festivities, including an All-American Gala in the District of Columbia Armory produced by the “Tonight Show’s” Ed McMahon. With tickets reaching $100 the guest list included a variety of Hollywood entertainers. The night before the Inauguration there was a lavish concert for the Nixons and his vice president at Constitution Hall performed by Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir, among others. The concert’s tickets ranged in price from $5 to $500.

The swearing in ceremony was on a gloomy cold day, and along the parade route toward the White House 1,000 anti-war protesters gathered and shouted obscenities such as “Four more years of death!” In hopes of uniting a much divided country over the Vietnam War the inauguration’s theme was “bring us together again.” Nixon took the oath of office on two bibles; both family heirlooms. The inaugural parade was one of the shortest running just two hours but was filmed with color cameras and broadcast live on television. There were six inaugural balls, one of them at the Smithsonian Institution. They were formal white tie affairs; tickets were priced at $70 a couple. A box seat for eight cost $1,000. Approximately 30,000 attended the balls. The Nixons made appearances at all six of them.

The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes “with healing in its wings”; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny. — Richard M. Nixon, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969

1973: Richard Nixon’s second inauguration occurred as negotiations to end the war in Vietnam were being renewed. The three day inauguration cost $4,000,000, and was such an extravaganza that Bob Hope, a Nixon supporter, joked that it commemorated “the time when Richard I becomes Richard II.” The inaugural ceremonies opened Thursday afternoon at the Smithsonian Museum with a reception honoring Vice President Agnew and his wife. The first glamour event of the inaugural was a “Salute to the States,” at the Kennedy Center which was held in honor of the nation’s governors; 40 of them attended the event along with 5,000 guests with Pat Nixon, daughter Julie, and Mamie Eisenhower. The two-hour show ran simultaneously in two separate halls to accomodate the large number of guests. Emcees Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope shuttled between the two rooms. The second day of the inaugural ceremonies included three concerts for the president at the Kennedy Center.

Throughout the inaugural festivities there were peaceful anti-war protests around Washington. In addition there was a counter-inaugural concert held at Washington Cathedral the same night as the Kennedy Center concerts for the president. The day of the inauguration 75,000 antiwar demonstrators gathered quietly at the Lincoln Memorial for a “March Against Death and for Peace.” There were a total of five balls on inaugural night “to celebrate the Inauguration of President Nixon in a festive, traditional manner,” as stated in the official press information kit. The inaugural balls were held at the Museum of National History, the Kennedy Center, the Pension Building, Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, and Sheraton Park Hotel, scene of a ball expressly reserved for young people. The inaugural festivities finished on Sunday January 21, with an ecumenical worship service at the White House conducted by Billy Graham and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Let us be proud that by our bold, new initiatives, and by our steadfastness for peace with honor, we have made a break-through toward creating in the world what the world has not known before–a structure of peace that can last, not merely for our time, but for generations to come. — Richard M. Nixon, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1973

George W. Bush

2005: This is the first inauguration since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and is being held as the Iraq war enters its third year. This year’s inauguration will be by far the most ostentatious wartime inauguration. The $40 million event is funded with the donations of lobbyists and corporations. The inaugural events will include nine balls, three candlelight dinners, a presidential gala on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony, a brunch for dignitaries, and a youth rock concert hosted by the Bush twins. 250,000 spectators are expected to watch Bush get sworn in. He will be perched on a new, higher speaker’s podium. After his inaugural address Bush will stand as 400 service members from all branches pass in review and become his escorts for the parade. 11,000 people will take part in the 1.7-mile-long parade that includes 45 marching bands, and 5,000 men and women in uniform. The price for good seats at the events are expensive. Seats for the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue are $125, ball tickets are $150 and a chair at the swearing-in on the Capitol’s east front is approximately $250.

Some have criticized the scope of the festivities. Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., recently wrote in a letter to his colleagues that “Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted — if not canceled — in wartime, and stated that $40 million would buy armor for 690 Humvees or provide a $290 bonus for each service member stationed in Iraq.” Even a Bush supporter, Texas billionaire Mark Cuban, publicly suggested that the inaugural balls be canceled and the money donated to tsunami victims of South Asia. To counter the attacks President Bush and his supporters are presenting the quadrennial pageant as an opportunity to salute American troops — “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service” is the theme of this year’s inaugural ceremony. The events include the first Commander-In-Chief Ball for men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

We are a nation at war, and it is fitting that the inaugural events reflect not only the great sacrifices made by our troops everyday to protect our freedom, but also the cherished ideals that make our nation so unique. — Jeanne Johnson Phillips, Presidential Inaugural Committee Chairman, January 2005

The inauguration is a great festival of democracy, people are going to come from all over the country who are celebrating democracy and celebrating my victory, and I’m glad to celebrate with them. — George W. Bush responding to criticism about his inaugural festivities, January 2005

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