What Makes An Inauguration Memorable?

President-elect Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial
President-elect Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial during an inaugural concert in Washington , Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP

On Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama will deliver one of his biggest speech yet: The Inaugural address as the 44th President of the United States. Jeff Greenfield looks back on all the acts he'll be following - from highlights to stumbles.

Over 215 years, 42 men have given 55 speeches as they were inaugurated The President of the United States of America. And, as CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports, most of them have been forgotten almost as soon the words were spoken.

So, what makes an Inaugural memorable?

Lincoln's Second Inaugural was delivered as the Civil War was ending.

"Lincoln's second is a masterpiece of concision, it packs a punch. It says, this is what the war was and this is what we must do now," said Peggy Noonan, a former presidential speechwriter.

His pleas to, "bind up the nation's wound, with malice toward none, with charity for all," took on special power when his assassination, just six weeks later, left those wounds to fester in the post-war years.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It was the moment that helped make Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural a classic. The nation's very economic survival was in doubt.

Unlike Lincoln's "bring us together" message, FDR delivered a scorching partisan attack on the 'unscrupulous money changers' for their "stubbornness" and "incompetence."

And he promised to wield unprecedented presidential power: "To wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."

When Kennedy was sworn in, it wasn't a crisis he had to address, but doubts about his stature. He was the youngest president ever elected. So he spoke almost wholly to the world community - friends and foes - blending resolve and conciliation.

"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate," Kennedy said.

Barack Obama gained the White House in good measure because of the speeches he made. But with the looming economic fears, it is what he says more than how he says it that will be the measure of his success.

"He has the opportunity to look at his political foes and say, this is no time for politics as usual. Work with me. Help us," said Noonan.

One other must? Brevity.

In fact, length can be fatal. William Henry Harrison's spoke for so long, he caught pneumonia and died a month later.