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Inaugurations
Memories | Looking Ahead

The inaugural oath marks the transformation of a citizen to a President and a campaign promise into an administrative policy. In his 1841 inaugural address, the longest address in history, William Henry Harrison described the dangers a candidate faces after winning a presidential election:

"Although the fiat of the people has gone forth proclaiming me the Chief Magistrate of this glorious Union…it may be thought that a motive may exist to keep up the delusion under which they may be supposed to have acted in relation to my principles and opinions; and perhaps there may be some in this assembly who have come here either prepared to condemn those I shall now deliver, or, approving them, to doubt the sincerity with which they are now uttered. But the lapse of a few months will confirm or dispel their fears. The outline of principles to govern and measures to be adopted by an Administration not yet begun will soon be exchanged for immutable history, and I shall stand either exonerated by my countrymen or classed with the mass of those who promised that they might deceive and flattered with the intention to betray."

Since William Henry Harrison passed away a month into his term, it is difficult to judge his administrative record but his point remains valid. In the starring role of the presidency, the candidate is finally held accountable!

Ulysses S. Grant was unhappy about the way in which he was depicted by many of his critics:

"I did not ask for place or position...but was resolved to perform my part in a struggle threatening the very existence of the nation. I performed a conscientious duty, without asking promotion or command, and without a revengeful feeling toward any section or individual. Notwithstanding this, throughout the war, and from my candidacy for my present office in 1868 to the close of the last Presidential 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."

While Grant may have felt there was vindication for his performance as president, history was not so kind. His two terms in office are generally considered to have been ineffective. While he and George Washington experienced a similar transformation from war hero to president, their presidential legacies differ greatly. Were the personal attacks on Grant were justified? Did they affect his ability to govern? What "signs of that time" affected Grant's presidency?

President Clinton transitioned from foreign policy to economic issues in his inaugural address, demonstrating that changing times can change the precedence of platforms. With the end of the Cold War, the centerpiece of Clinton's campaign was domestic policy such as economic improvement and universal health care. Although these promises resulted in only modest change, many people believe that there was economic improvement while President Clinton was in office.

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