tv Michael Beschloss Discusses the History of Presidential Inaugurations CSPAN January 19, 2017 10:39am-11:01am EST
also howard mortman sent out a picture giving a sense of crowd control being put in place for the inauguration. we got this from our capitol hill producer craig kaplan as he tweeted out a picture of commemorative metro cards that riders will get. historian and author sat down with steve skully to discuss history and tradition of presidential inaugurations. he talked about how former presidents approached writing their addresses and predicted what president-elect trump would include in his first speech as commander in chief tomorrow. >> as we prepare for the 58th presidential inauguration, we were looking back at some old
films and pictures and one thing that is remarkable, the consistency of the ceremonies every four years. >> that's sort of the idea. the ceremony we'll see this week may not look exactly like george washington taking his oath on that balcony in 1789 in new york city but the amazing thing that in a country that changed as much as ours has this is one of the very few ceremonies that is relatively consistent and one of the few times in which the nation really tries to come together under a president who is trying to unify it. >> what does it represent in your mind this peaceful transfer of power? the last time we saw it was george w. bush left the white house and barack obama became our 44th president. >> it is one thing that 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 fan fare and with such little agitation it really is unique. i think americans don't understand that. >> the role of the military, the parade and all the traditions that go along with that, what is its origins? >> this is the way the people used to celebrate. often times with parades that were often times pretty military compared to inaugural parade. if you look at parades through history you knew nothing else about the president who was being inaugurated or the time he was coming to power. >> how does it represent the president taking office. they are organized by the house and senate and parade by the --
>> people tend to think that this has been nothing but tumlt and division and conflict. you will have members of congress often times who are of a different party from the incoming president who may. >> let's talk about five inaugural addresses. i want to go back to 1933. franklin d. roosevelt. set the stage for his remarks and why we are talking about that speech today. >> about every president says i want an inaugural address like roosevelt. they were looking to this president to fix the problem quickly. eleanor roosevelt said it is almost terrifying because you
have the sense that -- and so roosevelt had to essentially tell people who had lost hope. there were a lot of things to be afraid of in 1933. so self-confident was he, so great was the rhetoric that it gave people a lot of hope. >> what makes a good speech? what do you look for? >> i think above all it is that you have the sense that you are actually listening to the president that it is his voice and he is talking about the deepest most important things he wants to do as president. and not always does a new president follow that rule because often times they will say i have to measure up to fdr or to lincoln's second inaugural or greats. so they hire speech writers who
write speeches that don't sound like them. for instance richard nixon. he had to have told speech writers i want this as great as john kennedy. and the result is that speech was almost a parody, almost imitation of the speech that kennedy had given. it didn't sound like nixon but someone trying to imitate it. >> what about abraham lincoln's second inaugural address? >> it was as sublime a statement of what was deep and important to lincoln as you can get saying that with malice towards none, with charity for all talking about the way he wanted to end the civil war which was coming quickly and the idea of reconstruction that he had for the south. >> and when franklin roosevelt was sworn in it was march of 1933. that changed after that.
why? >> that changed because roosevelt said and the congress said why do we have this long period from a presidential election in november to inauguration of new president as constitution used to say 4th of march. you have all of those months with a lame duck president not able to do much and the country is in limbo. so the result was that they moved the inauguration up and you can do this in a way that you couldn't in the 18th century because you had modern communications and transportation. you didn't need all those months to get to a new administration. the down side is that these inaugurations that were in march usually was spring time and in washington it was rather pleasant. now often times the 20th of january is sort of a horror show. it's not been great for those who tend often times. >> the second of the five
speeches john f. kennedy. >> that was something that kennedy had close help of speech writer but a lot of it he did himself. what it was, it was a statement i was elected by a narrow margin. i have to unify this country. what is the way i can unify the country? it's not to talk about domestic things. people have big differences over civil rights and labor, taxes, minimum wage. 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 that he is giving a statement of what america's purpose was in the world and even more specifically in the cold war in 1961 did the trick. republicans said that was a great speech. it gave kennedy instant stature that he did not have before.
>> the weather that day cold. >> and enormous snow. as it turned out that sort of added to the legendary sense of the day because people had to sort of dig their way out to get to the capital and there were great metaphors there. >> three more recent inaugurations. for the first time in history the inauguration moved to the west front of the capitol. ronald reagan sworn in as 40th president. you had a sitting president who was up until that day trying to release hostages in iran. >> they moved it to the west because you can get more people in the west side of the capitol. 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 where the new president is looking westward towards the american people all the way to the west coast rather than the east side which is the opposite of that.
>> in 2001 george w. bush, one of the most divisive elections in american history, won because of the bush v. gore decision. what was his mission getting ready for that speech? >> a little bit was like sort of kennedy in 1961 plus. kennedy had this narrow margin. george bush had a margin of 537 votes in florida. he knew he had to unify a country much of which was very skeptical about him. >> barack obama is not only president but an author and his own speech writer. what do you think he was thinking when he took the office eight years ago? >> i think and i think there is evidence of this, too. he wanted to give a good speech but at the same time obama was almost the opposite of many presidents who were trying to impress people with their oratory. obama was elected with a huge help of his famous 2004
democratic convention speech which brought him to national attention. other speeches during the campaign which had added to his standing and so i think to some extend obama was shrinking back and saying i don't want a speech with huge rhetoric that looks as if i am trying to be kennedy or fdr. i don't want people to say i am nothing but an orator. and the result is that it is a fine speech but if you had to remember phrases and slogans from it pretty hard. >> let me go to the larger issue. how do you deliver a speech that is in your own voice but also looking back at what past presidents have done in what we remember today? >> one thing is that it really helps if you have a president who has a sense of history and you would expect me to say this. i'm not saying this just to keep historians employed. i think the best presidents are
people who have not every name or date but some understanding of what has worked in history for presidents and what has not. if you are becoming president and you don't know about lincol. if you are becoming the president, and you don't know about lincoln and the civil war in some detail or the experience that john kennedy had or george washington. you are missing the sort of in a way certain elements of the user's manual for thet presidency. any new president while writing a speech or beginning to sever ast in the white house is dealing with mystifying problems with fragmentary information and there is time pressure, and one of the things that can give you insight as to know in what cases in history, an you know, what made the presidents succeed and fail. and you will never have an exact parallel, but at least it does give you some context. i think that in terms of the inaugural addresses and the ones
that you have mentioned, i agree on the ones that you are think of, those are all of the people who knew about history. >> and you have had a chance to sit down and talk to current and former presidents without revealing confidential advice that goes through you and what is going through your mind when they auk about the historians when they view your place in american history? >> well, they will all say that the way that history works is that we can not really influence the historians and the process has to unfold. some of them are not quite as sanguine about how the historical reputation will form as that might suggest. but i think that, again, the great presidents are people who are not too concerned about history, but not too unconcerned. by too concerned, i mean, 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 is going to be unpopular at the moment, but great for the country a half century later. >> i want to go back to the lincoln speech, and if you had a chance to ask abraham lincoln about how he prepared that speech or why he put things into that speech, have you thought of that? >> yes, i would like to know how he wrote the speech with the historic and biblical references on less than a year and half of forle mall education in his life. and he would be too immodest to say this, but it is going to go to the most basic part of the american ideal that you don't have to have a formal edge duuc to be literate. and you don't have to have predictable rhetoric.
he lost a son when he was 6, and not a great relationship with his father and came from a poor family and not a formal education, but yet the brilliant mind made sure that he read the bible, and shakespeare and military history which were important to him as president and especially giving a speech like that. >> there are a couple of traditions that will unfold on inauguration day, and i want to share some the stories that you have heard over the years. begin with the coffee. because the president-elect departs blair house and goes across the street to meet the outgoing president and the first family and what has happened over the years and what to expect this year? >>leal with, that is another, and this is a day at its best civility and harmony and especially when you have a new presidential family who may not necessarily get along with the old presidential family.
and sometimes that breaks down. 1953, harry truman was the outgoing president and dwight ize en heisenhower was coming i they had been close until the campaign of 1952 to some extent pitted them gaiagainst each oth and there was a feud that eisenhower was resentment of truman's criticism of him in the campaign. so truman is inside of the blue room, i think it is with mrs. truman waiting for the eisenhowers to come in for coffee and no one is coming in, and he said, find out what is going on, and the eisenhowers had driven up to the north port coe, but they were not getting out the of the car, and they were not getting out of the car, becau becauset that moment eisenhower was so angry at truman. >> what about the ride up pennsylvania avenue? >> that is oftentimes awkward in a situation like that, roosevelt and hoover in 1943 had run against each other and not dear friends to put it mildly, and
hoover was silent, depressed, and he did not like roosevelt, and roosevelt said later that he kept on trying to start a k conversation with hoover and finally they saw a building being built along the route, and roosevelt said something like, isn't that nice steel, and hoover was silent and so he gave up. one of the stories from my point of view is that with president carter and during this ride that you were mentioning, he was trying to get reports on whether the american hostages had been released in teheran and otherwise distract and so reagan in the usual manner tried to warm up the atmosphere by telling old story of hollywood and hollywood moguls like jack warner of warner brother, and so, went up to the side of the
capital and carter gets out and talks to one of the aides and he asked how did the ride go, and he said the ride is fine, but who is the jack warner he keeps talking about? it didn't work. >> and there is a reltively known tradition that there is a let er left for the incoming president, and we heard that r herbert walker bush left one for his successor? >> it was for president reagan saying "don't let the turkeys get you down" to h.w. bush. and then it turns into a tradition of bush telling clinton, it was a tough
campaign, but don't wor i r i won't with be criticizing you and remember, i will be rooting for you. >> and has the transition process improved over the last couple of presidential transitions recently? >> absolutely. because there was no apparatus or the 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 toddle deal wi-- he needed to dh the soviett u union and the dras had been cleaned out. now there is a budget, and new president-elect and the operation is smoother and even in the last couple of transitions, there is a couple of national security for the incominging president himself will go to the west wing, and
their predecessors will tell them what to do if there is a national security crisis and especially god forbid fitp happens an hour after you were inaugurated. >> have you done research on the bibles used over the years or the significance of the bible that the president will use for his ceremony? >> that is something that, you know, again, i was saying about how the parades will tell you a lot about the new president, and the bibles will, too. and donald trump for instance as reported will be using a family bible. oftentimes, you will have a president who chooses a historical bible, and i seem to are remember that barack obama used a lincoln bible which showed his reverence for abraham lincoln. >> and mike pence is using reagan's bible. >> yes, and dismissing any suspense over who his political hero is. >> and now, we will have barack obama as one of the youngest in american history and you so go
back to teddy roosevelt to have a former younger ex-president, and what is next for him? >> well, hopefully, he has a long life of decades in in which he can continue to serve the country, and that is sort of the emblem of what we will see main the future. because, you know, oftentimes people live longer these days, and you have presidents, former presidents who have a much longer career as an ex-president. jimmy carter became an ex-president in 1981 and here we are 36 years later and fortunately, he is still going strong. that is why you have seen the development of almost an office of the ex-president where they have centers and they d deciey what to do with their lives, but it is not true of ize en heiseno was 70 when he left, and harry truman had not been ill particularly, but truman assumed he would be in retirement. >> let me conclude with an interest about you, and why you have a fascination about you and
the american presidency? >> well, this is a story. when i was 8 years old, i fwru up in illinois, and my family took me to the lincoln sites in springfie springfield. i was shown the chair that lincoln sat in when he read to the children. i asked the guide and i was 8 years old when lincoln's sons didn't behave well, what did he do? did he spank them and the guide said with a disgusted look and he said, no, he did not believe in discipline and he let those brats run through the house. and so that is my man and i began to read books about him and got fascinated. >> you will be look agent this from the vantage point of nbc, and what do you this they the american people should expect friday? >> they should expect the new president to give a speech that is going to heal and unify, an