tv Michael Beschloss Discusses the History of Presidential Inaugurations CSPAN January 19, 2017 6:11pm-6:37pm EST
now an interview with the author and historian michael beschloss on the traditions of the inauguration and some of the notable addresses. [inaudible conversations] >> michael beschloss author and a stern as we prepare for the 50th presidential inauguration, we have been looking back at some old films and pictures and one thing that's remarkable inconsistency is these ceremonies every four years. >> guest: that's the idea. the ceremony we will see this week may not look exactly like george washington taking his oath on the balcony in 1789 in new york city but the amazing thing is in a country that has
changed as much as ours has over the last two centuries this is one of the few ceremonies that is relatively consistent and also one of the few times in which the nation really tries to come together under a president who is trying to unify us. >> host: what does the representing her mind this peaceful transfer of power the last one when george w. bush left the white house and barack obama became our 44th president. >> guest: it's one of the things thank god we do well and probably we take too much for granted because if you look at the number of countries in which this does happen with so little fanfare and with such little agitation it really is unique. i think americans don't understand that. >> host: the role of them until i -- military and the parade and all that goes along with that? >> guest: this is the way people used to celebrate oftentimes with the parade before oftentimes.
military compared to the inaugural parade nowadays but one of the things if you just look at inaugural parades through history you knew nothing else about the president who was being inaugurated are at the time he was coming to power it would tell you an awful lot. >> host: how does it represent the president taking office because as we well know the ceremonies are organized by u.s. house and senate. the parade is organized by the transition committee by the president-elect and then of course you have the in the evening. >> guest: one of the impressive things about our system even this year we have two tend to think this is ben nothing but so moulton division and conflict that we have members of congress oftentimes from a different party from the incoming president oftentimes may disagree with him totally. nonetheless being the one to put on this inaugural ceremony. >> host: let's talk about five
of our dresses. want to go back to 1933 franklin d roosevelt set the stage for his remarks and why we are still talking about that speech today. >> guest: just about every president says i want an inaugural address like 1933. as roosevelt was coming in a moment the banks were in big trouble and were closing in the country was in great depression. they were looking to this president to fix the problem quickly and eleanor roosevelt said it was almost terrifying because you had the sense that whenever franklin told the members of congress to do and the people they would do not an experience of most presidents have. roosevelt had to essentially tell people who had -- because of the depression, huge unemployment that there was a reason not only to hope but not to have fear so he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. if you deconstruct that there were a lot of things to be
afraid of in 1933 but so so confident was he in so brave is the record that he gave people a lot of hope. >> host: what makes a good speech? what do you look for? >> guest: i think above all it is that you have the sense that you're actually listening to the president and that it is his voice that he is talking about the deepest most important things he wants to do as president and not always does the president follow that rule because oftentimes they will say jay i have to measure up to fdr or two lincoln's second inaugural so they hire speechwriters to write speeches that don't sound like them. for instance richard nixon in 1969, i don't know this but he had to have told the speechwriters i want this to be as great as john kennedy in his inaugural address of 1961 and the result was that was almost an imitation of the speech that kennedy had given. it didn't sound like nixon.
sounded like someone was trying to imitate him. >> host: what about abraham lincoln's second inaugural address? >> guest: it was a supply misstatement of what was deep and important to lincoln as you could get saying that with malice towards none, with charity for all. he was talking about the way he wanted to end the civil war which was coming very quickly but also the idea of reconstruction that he had for himself. >> host: and franklin roosevelt was sworn in it was march of 1933. that changed after that. why? >> guest: that change because roosevelt rightfully said and the congress said why did we had this long period from a presidential election in november to the inauguration of the new president. the constitution is to say the fourth of march. you have all those months in which you got a lame-duck president not to be able to do very much in the country is sort of in limbo.
so the result was that they moved the inauguration up and you could do this in a way that you couldn't in 18th century because you had modern communications and transportation. they didn't need all those months to get to a new administration. the downside is that these inaugurations in march usually it was springtime and in washington now oftentimes in the 20th of january logically is sort of a horror show and it has not been great for those who attend oftentimes. >> host: the second of the vice beaches of john f. kennedy in 1961. >> guest: that was something that kennedy had the help of a speechwriter theodore sorensen but a lot of that he did himself read what it was, it was kennedy's feelings at that point which were essentially i was elected by a very narrow margin, a hundred thousand popular votes. i've got to unify this country.
i'm a minority president said he thought was the way i can unify the country is not to talk about domestic things because people have the differences over civil rights and labor, taxes, minimum wage but on foreign-policy a vast majority agree. so he said let's do a speech that is almost 100% on foreign-policy and the result is in giving a statement of what america's purpose was in the world but even more specifically the cold war in 1961 did the trick. republicans said that was the greatest speech. he gave kennedy instant stature that he did not have before. >> host: of course the weather that day was cold. >> guest: was very cold and enormous snow but as it turned out that sort of added to the legendary sense of the day because people had to sort of to dig their way out to get to the capital and there were some great metaphors there. >> host: let's talk about three more recent inaugurations. for the first time in history
the inauguration move to the west front of the capital in 1981. ronald reagan sworn in as our 40th president and you have a sitting president who was up until that day still trying to release of hostages in iran. >> guest: that's right and amadou to the west because you could get more people on the west side of the capitol and reagan said and i think he was expressing the views of a lot of people, better to have it on the west side of the capitol with the new president looking westward towards the american people all the way to the west coast rather than the east side which is the opposite of that and reagan made use of that in that speech. >> host: in 2001 george w. bush, one of the most decisive elections in american history one because the bush v. gore decision so what was his mantra? are was his mission getting ready for that speech? >> guest: a little bit like kennedy in 1961 plus. kennedy had this narrow margin.
george bush had a margin of 537 votes in florida and the supreme court. he knew that he had to unify a country much of which was very skeptical of them in the speech was very effective. >> host: barack obama is not only president but also an author and his own speechwriter. what do you think he was thinking when he took the office eight years ago? >> guest: i think, and i think there is evidence of the. stu: , he wanted to give a good speech but at the same time obama was almost the opposite of many presidents trying to impress people with their oratory. obama was elected with a huge help of his famous 2004 democratic convention speech which brought international attention. other speeches during the campaign which had added to his standing and so i think to some extent obama were shrinking back and saying i don't want a stage with huge rhetoric that looks as if i'm trying to be kennedy or am trying to be fdr. i don't want people to say that
i'm nothing but an or eight or and the result is it's a fine speech but if you had to remember phrases and slogans from it it's pretty hard. >> host: let me go to the larger issue in you touch on this with richard richard nixon, how do you deliver a speech that is in your own voice but also looking back at what past presidents have done and what we remember today? >> guest: one thing is it really helps if you have a president who has a sense of history and you would expect him to say in his speech but i'm not saying this just to keep the story. i think presidents are people who have -- don't know every name or date but have some understanding of what has worked in history for precedence and what has not. a few were becoming president and you don't know about lincoln civil war in some detail or the experience that john kennedy had or george washington, you were missing in a way certain elements of the user's manual
for the presidency. and a new president while writing a speech beginning to serve as president of the white house is dealing with all sorts of mystifying problems with fragmentary information. he is often tired and this time pressure in one of the things that can give you some insight is to know in what case in history, what made presidents succeed in what made them fail. at least it does give you some context. so i think in terms of inaugural addresses, the great addresses, the ones that you have mentioned on i agree with you on the ones you are thinking of, those are all people who actually knew a lot about history. >> host: you have a chance to sit down with current and former presidents without revealing any confidential adviser questions that they asked you. what do you think goes through their minds when you are talking with historians about how they view their place in american history? >> guest: well they will all
say we know that the way history works is that we can't influence the story and the process. it has to unfold. some of them are not quite as sanguine about how their historical reputation will form as that might suggest but i think again presidents are people who are not too concerned about history but not too unconcerned. by too concerned i mean you know doing things with the idea that this might impress some historian 50 years from now but at the same time you want a president who is concerned about history because oftentimes a decision has to be made that's going to be unpopular at the moment a half-century later. >> host: i want to go back to the lincoln speech. have you had the chance to ask a question of abraham lincoln about that speech and how he prepared that speech as an historian and author have you thought about a question you would ask them? >> guest: i think where i would ask is how were you able
to write that speech with all its literary and the vocal and historical references on the basis of probably less than a year and a half of formal education in your whole life? the answer for me would need and he would be too modest to say this but it goes to the most basic part of the american idea of which is you don't need to have a fancy education to be a great leader. you don't have to come from some family that was rich or some other predictable part of the country. abraham lincoln who had lost his mother when he was six had it not great relationship with his father and came from a poor family, did not have a formal education guess this brilliant curious young mind made sure largely on his own that he read the bible eddie read shakespeare and he read military history all of which proved to be very important toward this president
and especially when he gave a speech like that. >> host: there are couple of traditions that will unfold on inauguration day and i want to share some of the stories you have heard over the years. let's begin with the copy because the president-elect goes across the street, meets the outgoing president and first family. what has happened over the years with respect to this year? >> this is a day of at its best stability and harmony essentially when you have a new presidential amy that may not necessarily get along with the old presidential family. sometimes that breaks down. in 1953. truman was the outgoing president. dwight eisenhower was coming in. they had been closed until the campaign of 52 that to some extent pitted them against each other and there was a time when eisenhower was resentful of truman's criticism of him during that campaign so truman just
inside the blue room i think it was and waiting for the eisenhower's to come and for coffee. no one is coming in and they find out what's going on. the eisenhower's had driven up the north portico but they were not getting out of the car. they weren't getting out of the car because at that moment eisenhower was so angry at truman. >> host: what about the ride up pennsylvania avenue? >> guest: that oftentimes can be awkward in a situation like that. roosevelt and hoover in 1933 running against each other. they were not dear friends to put it mildly and hoover was silent. he was depressed. he did not like roosevelt and roosevelt said later he kept on trying to start a conversation with hoover and finally they saw a building being built along the route and said something like is not a nice deal and hoover was still pretty silent so roosevelt gave up. one of the better stories from
my point of view in 1981 reagan and carter had run against each other but they were a little bit more amicable between them. carter was understandably during this ride as you are mentioning is trying to get reports on whether the american hostages had yet been released in tehran and otherwise he was a little bit distracted. in his usual manner reagan tried to warm up the atmosphere by telling old stories of hollywood and hollywood moguls like jack warner and warner bros. so went up to the side of the capitol. carter gets out and talks to one of his aides. carter said the ride was fine but jack warner -- it didn't work. >> host: there's a relatively new tradition of the outgoing president leaving a letter for the incoming president and we saw the letter that george herbert walker bush left clinton.
>> guest: that's pretty much a ronald reagan development who left a note for his successor george h.w. bush i believe on a piece of paper that said don't let the turkeys get you down or something like that. classic reagan loved to write letters and the credit goes to george h.w. bush for turning this into a tradition by writing him this absolutely lovely letter to bill clinton essentially saying you when iran against each other. he had told him this was a tough campaign but you don't have to worry about me i'm not going to go in that letter he says i will be rooting for you. >> host: has the transition process improved over the last couple of presidential transitions? >> guest: absolutely because one of the problems was that there was usually no apparatus or process and the result was that you could oftentimes have a new president even at the time
of the cold war coming in and looking for national security documents that he need deal with the soviet union and the drawers had been cleaned out. there was -- there is no procedure and no budget, a president-elect gets money for staff. it's a much bigger operation and much smoother. even better in the last couple of transitions there have been these national security exercises where the aides to a new president and sometimes the new president, incoming president himself will go to the west wing and their predecessors will tell them what to do if there's a national security crisis especially god forbid if that happens in our after you are not graded. >> host: have you done any research on the bibles used over the years with significant to the bible the president will use for his ceremony? >> guest: that something that will tell you a lot about the
end new president and i think the bible will too and donald trump for instance reportedly is going to be using a family bible oftentimes you have a president who chooses and historical bible. i seem to remember that barack obama use the lincoln bible which showed his reference abraham lincoln. >> host: and mike pence will be using reagan's bible. guess who indeed dismissing over dispense who gets politically -- if you look at the role of former presidents we will now have barack obama among the youngest ever in american history going back to teddy roosevelt to have a younger former ex-president so what's next for him? >> guest: well hopefully he's got a long life in which he contends they need to serve the country and that's an emblem of all we are going to see in the future because oftentimes people live longer these days and you have presidents, former presidents have a much longer career as an ex-president jimmy
carter became an ex-president in 1981 and here we are 36 years later unfortunately he is still going strong. so that is why we have seen this development of almost an office of an ex-president where they have senators senators and they decide what they will do with their lives. that was an troop eisenhower who was 70 when he left and harry truman had not been ill particularly the truman assumed he would be in retirement. >> host: let me conclude with a question about you. why your interest? why your fascination with the american president and the american presidency? >> guest: all right, this was the story. when i was eight years old i grew up in illinois and my family took me to the lincoln site in springfield and i was shown the chair that lincoln said that when he read to his children and i asked the guy, i was eight years old when lincoln's sons didn't behave
well what did he do come to be spanked them and the guy gave me a disgusted look, no lincoln didn't believe in discipline. can you believe he let those brats run wild in the house? i heard that in the lincoln was my man. >> host: you will be watching the ceremony from the vantage point of nbc but what are you looking for and what he think the american people should expect on friday? >> guest: they should expect a new president to give a speech that unifies. that's what we should expect of every new president on inauguration day because if you think about it many or most of the things the president does our political. the president is asking for certain programs, endorsing certain candidates. those things inevitably divide. that's true of the state begin with the president coming in and saying to congress these are all the things i wanted to do. some things you will agree with
and some things you will not but the idea of inauguration day is not a new president sets aside what he believes in and issues that perhaps not everyone will agree with but some sense that he recognizes as johnson used to say he is the president of all the people. he doesn't get many chances and this is probably the most important one. >> host: michael beschloss as always thank you for your time. >> guest: thank you, great to see you. a live look just outside the main hall at union station in washington d.c. watching some of the arrivals for candlelight dinner taking place in the main hall of the station tonight. president-elect donald trump, vice president-elect mike pence their families thanking donors at tonight's candlelight dinner.
thinking donors at tonight's dinner at union hall. we have been carrying live coverage of confirmation hearings for donald trump's cabinet picks. today former texas governor rick perry a nominee for energy secretary is on the hill. he spoke today at his confirmation hearing about past comments he has made about the energy department itself. let's take a look at that. >> chair if of jamie and my limited time i have left, i have a couple of other issues i'd like to touch upon. i have learned a great deal about the important work being done every day by the outstanding men and women of the department of energy. i've spoken several times to secretary beau needs about the operation. i've spoken to his predecessors and it confirmed my desire is to lead this agency in a thoughtful manner surrounding mf