Inaugural addresses don’t just write themselves. And are rarely written by the person delivering the address. Typically, inaugural speeches are written by a team, overseen by a head speechwriter. How involved the president-elect or reelected president is in the crafting of words depends on personality and time.
Before words stain the page, however, broad themes are outlined, decisions about the speech’s purpose and length are considered, and past inaugural addresses are consulted. For John F. Kennedy’s historic inaugural address, Ted Sorensen, the lead speechwriter, referred to the inaugural addresses of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower.
Kennedy and Sorensen both agreed that Kennedy’s speech should be the shortest since Theodore Roosevelt’s 990 word address, with the exception of FDR’s abbreviated wartime speech in 1945. They didn’t meet that goal—the reading copy came in at over 1,300 words—but it is one of the shortest.
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Once words are put to paper, the speech will endure multiple suggestions, edits, and drafts. Barack Obama’s second inaugural address is not different. The following edits to the President’s speech, which didn’t make it into the final draft, are purported to have come from his staff. We have reason to believe, however, that these suggestions were written by Derrick G. Jeter. —The Editors of The Black Sphere.
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“Four years ago, I stood in the sacred shadow of presidents who came before—of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Now, standing here under a sun-drenched sky, at this second inaugural celebration of my coronation as head of this great nation, I step out of their shadow and announce that I am the one America has been waiting for; I am the change you seek.”
“For a second time the American people have declared yes I can. But I say to you: this is not a victory of party but a celebration of me.”
“At my first appearing change came to America and the fundamental transformation began. Today, let friend and foe alike mark my words: I will ask the American people to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship to continue the alteration of this great nation.”
“No longer can we allow that charter of negative liberties to hold back the tide of progress. The Constitution, which I have just sworn to uphold, must change with changing times. And these times demand it. That is why it will be the policy of my administration that nothing is wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right by my imagination and innovation.”
“Four years ago we began a journey into an economic nightmare. My predecessor, President Bush, unpatriotically spent $4 trillion on two unfunded wars, driving us into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. To meet that challenge, I determined that government wasn’t the problem; government was the solution. So, as a result of patriotic spending of near $8 trillion dollars in my first term and convincing Congress to make folks like myself pay more in taxes, the American economy today is once again the dream of every man, woman, and child. Both here and abroad.”
“I call upon Congress to pass legislation holding responsible those who continue to cling to their God and guns for the intolerance, incivility, and violence sweeping our land. The protection of our children is our first responsibility and the better angels of our nature requires that the rights of some be surrendered for the rights of others.”
“And so, my fellow comrades: ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you.”
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @derrickjeter.