Interview with Kevin Boyle, Winner of the National Book Award

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HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 1-24-05

Interview with Kevin Boyle, Winner of the National Book Award

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

Kevin Boyle, a professor of history at Ohio State University, recently won the National Book Award (non-fiction) for Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. The book tells the story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African-American physician who moved his family to an all-white neighborhood in 1920’s Detroit. When a white mob gathered to force Sweet back to the ghetto, Sweet gathered friends and acquaintances for protection. The confrontation ended in a murder indictment when a white man was killed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took charge and ensured that famed attorney Clarence Darrow defended Sweet in a sensational trial that ended in Sweet’s acquittal.

HNN asked Mr. Boyle to discuss his book and the award. The interview was conducted by email.

What prompted you to write about Ossian Sweet’s story now, at this point in time, and in your career?

Civil rights history had slowly been pushing its way to the forefront of my work for years before I started Arc of Justice. The movement had been an important part of my first book, and I’d followed that with several articles on race and class in post-World War II Detroit. Civil rights had also become a larger part of my teaching. I think it was 1996 or 1997 when Patricia Sullivan and Waldo Martin first invited me to participate in an NEH Summer Seminar on teaching civil rights, which was just a fabulous experience. And in 1997-98 I taught a civil rights course at University College Dublin, where I was on a Fulbright. The students were so bright and so engaged — and I just loved it. The decision to work on the Sweet case came out of those experiences. I saw it as a way to talk about issues that really mattered to me and that I found absolutely compelling.

Do you feel that the fact that you are a native Detroiter affected you interest in Ossian Sweet? Did your personal life affect your choice of topic and insights?

Being from Detroit made all the difference. I wish I had a dramatic story of stumbling across the case while burrowing through moldering archives. But the truth is that a lot of Detroiters know of the case; it’s mentioned in the newspapers every so often; it’s told in local histories. The key was realizing that outside of Detroit it was virtually unknown.

Being from Detroit was important in another way as well. I grew up in a city profoundly divided by race. I saw those divisions play out in my neighborhood, in local schools — everywhere. Once you’ve seen how deep the racial divide is, it’s hard to let go of the issue. Detroit leaves its mark.

How well known in academia and to the public was Ossian Sweet’s story before your book was released and brought it to national attention again?

The Sweets’ story appears in various books. Sidney Fine’s magisterial biography of Frank Murphy devotes a chapter to the trial. It’s discussed in Philip Dray’s amazing At the Hands of Persons Unknown, Kenneth Jenken’s biography of Walter White, and Robert Schneider’s recent book on the NAACP. And as I said, folks in Detroit know it. When I’d tell people back home what I was working on, they’d give me a look that said, “Not again.” But the case didn’t have a book-length study until this year. And most Americans had never heard of it.

How did you research Arc of Justice? What kind of sources where used to construct this story so vividly?

I dug as deeply as I could into the primary sources. Some of the sources were pretty obvious. The NAACP’s records were fabulous, as they are for so many topics. There’s a trial transcript available at both the Burton Library in Detroit and the Bentley Library in Ann Arbor. Clarence Darrow’s papers are at the Library of Congress. The newspapers provide the trial plenty of coverage. And there are some terrific small collections in Michigan, including the diary of a woman who attended the trial and became an object of Darrow’s advances.

The real fun was pushing beyond those records, recreating the world of the Sweets. I spent a lot of time working through census records, insurance maps, and city directories. I still remember how exciting it was to find the record left by Ossian’s great-grandmother when she opened her account with the Freedman’s Bank just a few years after emancipation. I poked through official records that weren’t easily available: the land records for the homes on the Sweets’ block, for instance; the incorporation records for the improvement association that tried to drive the Sweets out; the death certificates for the Sweets’ children. Then there were the moments of pure luck. The family who live in the Sweets’ home invited me to visit, to walk around the house, to see the view of the street as Ossian would have seen it. A marvelously gifted actor who teaches theater at the University of Detroit Mercy gave me what I think is the only existing copy of the interrogation transcript made by the police on the night of the incident. I had two wonderful guides who took me all around the African-American neighborhood in Bartow, Dr. Sweet’s home town in Florida, and introduced me to people who knew Ossian, including his youngest brother, Sherman Sweet.

Reading this list, I realize that there isn’t anything extraordinary about the sources themselves. To make the story vivid just required reading the sources differently than I would have had I been writing another way. If the story comes alive, it’s because of the detail, the tiny bits of information that the sources contain but are easy to overlook. Let me give you an example. At one point I describe where Sweet first lived when he moved to Detroit. I wanted to make the point that the area wasn’t completely black but instead had a number of immigrants living on it. I could have just said that. Instead I went down the block, giving the neighbors’ names: Joseph Saprenza, the Catalanos, Frank Gidzie, Sam Monecato. The names themselves don’t advance the story. But they give the reader a sense of intimacy, a connection to real people.

How do you feel your recounting of Ossian Sweet’s story differs from Phyllis Vine’s One Man’s Castle, which was also released this past year?

I haven’t read Ms. Vine’s book. I’m sure it’s a very good piece of work.

You told Barnes and Noble: “Here was someone writing history the way I wanted it to be written. More importantly, here was a book that captured the enormous complexity and profound tragedy of modern American race relations. It’s taken years, but with Arc of Justice I feel as if I have confronted the ghosts of Detroit in the way Lukas taught me.” What was so inspiring in your opinion in the method J. Anthony Lukas chose to write Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families? Why did you choose to write Arc of Justice in a similar style?

Lukas did so many things in that book, it’s hard to know where to start. He gave his readers real, complex people. He showed how those people were caught up in — and how they shaped — extraordinary events. He fashioned riveting scenes. He avoided easy answers, instead embracing moral ambiguity. And by doing those things, he wrote the finest book available on the racial tensions that beset American cities in the 1960s and 1970s. It was an absolutely stunning achievement. I’m not the sort of person who stays up late into the night reading, but Common Ground made me lose a lot of sleep.

Besides Anthony Lukas, who else do you find has influenced your writing of history? Who were your mentors? Did they have any impact on your writing of your book?

I did my doctoral work under the direction of Sidney Fine at the University of Michigan. It’s no exaggeration to say that he taught me how to be an historian. He stressed immersing yourself in the research, and he certainly made me a better, more precise writer. I also learned a great deal from the eight years I spent working in the history department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The department had an ethos that its faculty should want to write for the public, and a number of my colleagues — Steve Nissenbaum, Kathy Peiss, Gerry McFarland, Dick Minear, Carl Nightingale, and others — did that so well. I’ve tried to follow their lead.

As to other influences, I live in awe of David Levering Lewis, both for the brilliance of his work and the beauty of his prose. Taylor Branch’s epic story-telling is a great inspiration. The analytical insights of David Roediger, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Tom Sugrue shaped a great deal of the book.

And I absolutely love the masterpieces of micro-history: Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre; Carlo Ginsberg’s The Cheese and the Worms; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale. Getting that intimate sense of people’s lives — feeling for a moment what it meant to live in another time and place — that’s the history I want to tell, although I’ll never do it as well as those people have done it.

Do you think that writing Arc of Justice in a rather poetic style where one feels that they are reading a book of historical fiction, although it is accurate history is a more effective style than the traditional academic approach to writing history?

I’m really honored when someone says the book has a poetic style. But I don’t think there’s one way to write history. We’ve all read absolutely brilliant histories that aren’t done as stories. There’s room for many approaches, many styles, many experiments.

You mentioned in you acceptance speech for the National Book Award that there were many titles to the book before you decided on Arc of Justice. What were some of them? What prompted you to choose Arc of Justice, which comes from a quote often used by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.? (“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”)

I’m embarrassed to tell you some of them, they were so bad. It started out as “The People v. Sweet,” a truly boring idea. For a long time it was “Sweet Justice,” but my editor decided, rightly, that it was too cutesy a title. I originally used “Arc of Justice” for the title of a job talk, of all things, and I wanted it to make precisely the opposite point that Martin Luther King made. I ended the talk, as I ended the acceptance speech, by saying that the Sweet story shows that the arc of the moral universe is very, very long, but it does not always bend toward justice. When we decided to use the phrase for the tile, I worried that the point might be lost. So I put the quote at the opening of the book, then balanced it with a very dark Langston Hughes poem: “That justice is a blind godess / Is a thing to which we blacks are wise. / Her bandage hides two festering sores / That once perhaps were eyes.”

Why did you choose to begin with the actual shooting that took place at the Garland Avenue house, and then go back to lay the foundation and recount Sweet’s background and the situation in Detroit at the time, and then continue on with Sweet’s trial?

That decision came straight from the classroom. When I give lectures in big survey classes, I like to begin with a dramatic story, because it grabs the students’ attention and sets the scene for the analysis to follow. Doing the same thing with the book just seemed obvious to me.

In you opinion how much did Ossian Sweet’s trial bring the plight and treatment of African Americans to the forefront nationally? If so was this only because a high-profile white lawyer, Clarence Darrow, took on the case? Was there any change in their conditions, if only fleetingly as a result of the trial? Did it have an effect on the later Civil Rights Movement?

That was one of the hardest questions for me to tackle. Most historians, I guess, want to be able to say that their topics made a fundamental change. I wish I could have claimed that, too. But the truth is, the Sweet case only brought attention for a short time, and then, as you say, because Clarence Darrow had such star power. But the case didn’t stop the march of segregation in the urban north. In that important sense, the story is a tragedy, not a triumph.

In your talk on Arc of Justice for C-Span’s History on Book TV you mentioned that you the situation changed in the South for African Americans, but not in the North “American cities remain divided places, they remain segregated Black and White, and of all the cities in America none is more segregated than Detroit.” Do you believe that segregation is at the same magnitude as it was in the 1920’s, even after the Civil Rights Movement?

No, I don’t. Obviously the Civil Rights Movement accomplished great things. It wiped out the most terrible of Jim Crow’s abuses. And it made racism disreputable. Of course racism persists; I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it’s no longer reputable for whites to express the sort of venom that was perfectly acceptable in the dominant society earlier in the century. But the segregation of cities is persistent, and strikingly so. Every ten years the Census Bureau publishes its measurements of segregation for the major metropolitan areas. And while the indexes have shown improvement over the decades, it’s incredibly slow improvement. For the Detroit metropolitan area to be truly integrated, according to the 2000 census, 84 percent of African-Americans would have to move. That’s better than the 90 percent the number once was. But it’s not much better. And the remarkable thing is that there’s no public discussion of the issue, no outrage. Just this week the newspapers reported that race may have been behind the torching of a housing development in Maryland. Is that so different than the Sweets’ story?

Did you ever imagine the reception your book would have when you initially began working on the topic?

The events of the past few months have caught me completely off guard. I’ve been very, very lucky.

How has winning the National Book Award changed your life and how do you feel it will change your career?

My life doesn’t feel different. The kids still head off to school at 8:20 every morning. The dog still gets her walk every evening. I still haven’t finished that book review I promised. But there’s a very nice award sitting on the sideboard in the dining room. And I’m really grateful for that.

What Historians Thought of President Bush’s 2nd Inaugural Address: Excerpts

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 1-22-05

What Historians Thought of President Bush’s 2nd Inaugural Address: Excerpts

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

Allan Lichtman (Presidential Historian, Professor of History American University)

• “It’s one of the most ringing endorsements of American intervention in American history… There’s no limit to a subject so broadly defined, he set out, in broad thematic terms, a justification for a free hand.”

Thomas Cronin (President of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington)

• “Bush’s speech was messianic in many ways. He plainly wants to play an internationalist role, saying we’re going to fight on behalf of those who are fighting terrorism around the world. It was a proclamation of almost a crusade.”

John Lewis Gaddis (Professor of History, Yale University)

• “It’s very much in the tradition of great speeches of the past. This is where we want to be some distance from now. We understand we can’t get there tomorrow. But it’s important to have that destination described.”

Barbara Kellerman (Research Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University)

• “I would point to three things in particular. One is a statement of purpose where he says so it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements in every nation and culture. The ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. Second, he makes the point of a clear comparison with communism. Very important. We’re in a multigenerational long-term fight here for peace and liberty around the world. And third, finally, for the moment, I was struck by the language, repeated use of the word slavery. Repeated use of the word tyranny. Reference to bullies. Particularly singling out women’s rights. So this first half of the speech was clear, moral, purpose and, make no mistake about it.”

Henry Graff (Emeritus Professor of History at Columbia University, on PBS)

• “This was a typical second term speech. It’s broad, there are no names aside from Lincoln’s. It reads better than it was delivered. I thought it was delivered without passion, I compare as I think most people will without the passion that went into a similar comparable salute to freedom that was delivered by Kennedy. I would also like to say that we ought to observe the high place that the Vice-President had in this ceremony. Vice-presidents have not had a place like this, most of them, almost all of them, sworn in the Senate chamber, and they come out sworn in to the session. Monroe was the only President in a long time that would even ride with with a Vice-President, and of course we know that Truman drove with Alben Barkley, but this was very special.”
• “I think the second speech that a president gives as an inaugural is one that he is looking for his place on postage stamps and coins at some future time.”
• “The agenda wasn’t stated. What are we to do, how are we going to achieve all of this in all parts of the world, how are we going to support for freedom elsewhere in the world. It is a wonderful statement, it is a salute to freedom, it will be quoted, but it will not be a major national document.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick (Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire, on PBS)

• “From my point of view I think the most fascinating thing about it is that it is embedded itself in history. The introduction in particular, it frames all the rest of the inaugural in history, and it shares with other wartime inaugurals the fact that the place of our current war is not mentioned, the war in Iraq was never uttered. The first time the word Vietnam was uttered was in 1981 by Reagan, There were four inaugurals during the Vietnam War, the specifics of the war are not dwelt upon, and this speech was similar.”
•”I think it is an extraordinarily ambitous statement of American commitment surrounding the world. It actually broadens the Truman Doctrine; it reiterates and broadens it in talking about defending democratic movements in every nation and in every culture. And the speech also in characterizing recent history, the last fifty years or so …says that until the fall of Communism and until
9-11 we simply defended freedom. Watched on distant borders. Where is the Vietnam War, where are the billions of dollars, where are the 58,000 lives in that characterization of recent history. It is extraordinary I think. We defended our freedom by standing watch; I think that’s a puzzling charactistic to me of the last fifty years.”
• “It is interesting that the ownership society that he is mentions, the three programs that he refers to the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the G.I. Bill are three expansive uses of Federal power, if you had to go through all of American history they would be among them.”

Richard Norton Smith (Director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, on PBS)

• “I don’t think it is a typical inaugural address, because I don’t think these are typical times, and I think we saw that reflected in this. This is the speech that Woodrow Wilson could have given. This notion of America, this was a lay sermon that actually attempted to define both our international mission and our national character, and was a bit of a contradiction in this speech, the President said in the end that we do not consider ourselves a chosen nation, maybe so but if you listen to overwhelmingly in the rest of the speech he certainly thinks we have a special mission, a mission from history indeed, perhaps a mission from God. One final quote when he says ‘we will persistently clarify the choice before every war and every nation,’ if I was … in Tehran I would be paying careful attention to that sentence.”
• “Don’t overlook the domestic speech that will be overlooked, perhaps understandably. ‘We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance.’ Guess what folks– that is a very ambitious domestic agenda of reform that is bound to be enormously controversial.”
•”Freedom abroad and freedom at home, freedom is our civic religion, we salute it like the flag on the Fourth of July, the problem is no two people define it the same.”
•”The question that does arise is whether this is in many ways a very articulate, powerful assertion of American exceptionalism – which is nothing new. It goes back to the first inaugural address. George Washington spoke of the sacred fire of liberty…. Now you have George W. Bush restating the notion of America as missionary to the world. John Kennedy talked about defending liberty whenever it was in danger. George Bush is talking about extending liberty to wherever it doesn’t exist…. I think at one point he said it was an odd time for doubt. He clearly doesn’t entertain doubts.”

Julian Zelizer (Professor of History at Boston University, on “Here and Now”)

• “I think it is a great speech in terms of placing himself in terms of a broader context which is what a second term inauguration speech should do. I think by embracing Wilsonian goals he will also inherit Wilsonian problems. President Wilson’s second term was very tough and it goes down in many ways in defeat. Also I think there is a fundamental tension in his talk, which is a tension the Republicans are wrestling with. On foreign policy he is calling for an aggressive government that will do things that have not been done before, and on domestic policy he is saying we need private character over public interest which is a turn away from government and the two don’t necessarily jive.”
• “I do think though on domestic policy this whole idea of an ownership society of individual choice is some kind of a framework to sell conservatism to the center to Democrats who are unhappy with their party, and to moderate Republicans who have not heard their voice in the administration, and I think there is something there that needs to be looked at seriously.”
• “Presidential references to God are nothing new, there is a danger of making too much of Bush. The difference is the Christian movement that has surrounded him in this inauguration is much more powerful than it has ever been historically.”
• “It is not that uncommon in war time speeches to hear some kind of sabre rattling. In the third inauguration speech of Franklin Roosevelt, I am sure some of the same tone was there. The difference is there is very little talk of sacrifice, and I think that is something different that this administration has not stressed much. Meaning how citizens need to sacrifice something in a period of war that was the central theme of Franklin Roosevelt, and Bush has been much more about tax cuts and giving people ownership rather than asking people to give of themselves.”

Gil Troy (Professor of History, McGill University, author of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s)

•”It’s striking — you could shuffle the text of George W. Bush’s inaugural address in a pile of high-minded, interventionist speeches given by FDR and JFK Democrats, and, except for his elliptical reference to the rights of the ‘unwanted’ — deem Bush a classic, post World War II, Four Freedoms, Pay any Price, Bear any Burden liberal. Clinton Rossiter talked about the Great Intellectual Train Robbery of American History occurring in the nineteenth century, when corporate America hijacked Jeffersonian, small government liberalism, to oppose government interventionism. Now, George W. Bush may be completing the 2nd Great Intellectual Train Robbery of American history — the first in Foreign Policy — begun by Ronald Reagan. Bush was not only challenging the world and the Democrats — he was also challenging the isolationist wing of his own party, with its venerable history of opposing interventionism. If Bush continues with his interventionist and freedom-spreading strategy, and if Democrats continue to be so infuriated with him that they sour on traditional liberal interventionism just because he’s supporting it, we could be in for some clarity on foreign policy within the parties and a further red-blue polarization on foreign policy lines.”
•”Of course, we need to inject a historical note of precaution in that inaugural addresses often become memorable — or eminently forgettable — only with the passage of time. The relationship between Bush’s rhetoric and his record of success or failure, will determine the true resonance of this address. But in the meantime, Bush has made it clear that he doesn’t buy all the post-election spinning about morality and values issues as that central; he’s continuing to see — as he said after 9/11 — that his presidency will be judged on the question of how he and America responded to the war on terror.”

George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 2005)

• “For a half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical. And then there came a day of fire.”

• “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

• “The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.”

• “Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.”

•”The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.”

•”In America’s ideal of freedom, citizens find the dignity and security of economic independence, instead of laboring on the edge of subsistence. This is the broader definition of liberty that motivated the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act and the G.I. Bill of Rights. And now we will extend this vision by reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society. By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.”

• “From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?”

• “When our Founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty, when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner Freedom Now they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.”

• “When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, It rang as if it meant something. In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength, tested but not weary we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

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Q & A: How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 1-17-05

How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

Looking at earlier wartime inaugurations the trend was toward simple ceremonies such as James Madison’s in 1813, Abraham Lincoln’s in 1865, Woodrow Wilson’s in 1917, Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1945, and Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1953. The simplest of all was Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural in 1945 amidst World War II. However, the post World War II era saw inaugural ceremonies becoming increasingly more lavish affairs despite the fact that war or protest was ensuing. Lyndon Johnson’s in 1965, and Richard Nixon’s two inaugurations in 1969 and 1973 were large showcase affairs. The tradition continues this year with George W. Bush’s $40 million inaugural celebration.

James Madison

1813: The United States was at war with Great Britain when James Madison took the oath of office for the second time in 1813. The war was still confined to the sea and there were no physical reminders of war in Washington at the time of the inauguration. The theme of his inauguration was the nobility of the American people vs. the brutality of the British, and he called on the population to fight with dignity. Madison took the oath of office in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and it was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall. In the evening Madison attended an inaugural ball. (Dolley Madison had established the first inaugural ball in 1809.) The next year an invading British garrison burned the Capitol and executive mansion.

As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed.

The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed. How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy! — James Madison, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1813

Abraham Lincoln

1861: Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural occurred at the country’s most desperate moment when seven southern states had already seceded from the union forming the Confederate States of America, and civil war seemed imminent. Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the president of the Confederacy two weeks earlier. A somber mood prevailed at Lincoln’s inaugural. His safety was in danger, and he was guarded by General Winfield Scott’s soldiers, providing unprecedented protection for a president-elect. The United States Calvary that escorted Lincoln in the procession to the Capitol was heavily armed as he rode in an open carriage with President James Buchanan, and the military remained on alert throughout the ceremony. Judge Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln on the East Portico of the Capitol, then in the midst of renovation (the wooden dome was being replaced with an iron one).

In his inaugural address Lincoln claimed, “No government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.” The New York Times wrote that “from the fiery trial the loose federation emerged as a compact nation, which makes this the most significant inauguration after that of Washington.” President Lincoln then proceeded to the White House where he received the Diplomatic Corps and well wishers. The inaugural events concluded when Lincoln and the rest of the presidential party made their appearance at the inaugural ball that was held the same evening.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.– Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

1865: Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration came close to the end of the Civil War. Lincoln did not participate in the procession to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony since he had already gone there earlier in the morning to sign last-minute bills into law. For weeks preceding the inauguration Washington had been rainy, causing Pennsylvania Avenue to become a sea of mud and standing water. The spectators stood in deep mud to see the president’s swearing-in ceremony. On the East Portico of the Capitol Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office to Lincoln.

The inaugural ceremonies featured four companies of African American troops; a lodge of African American Odd Fellows. African American Masons joined the procession to the Capitol, and then back to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony. This was the first time that African Americans participated in the inaugural processions, thereby demonstrating the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. There was constant music conducted by bands interspersed along the procession, which lasted an hour and was a mile long. Lincoln rode toward the White House in an open barouche and was escorted by the white and black troops for security purposes. In the evening following Lincoln’s swearing-in ceremony there was a public reception at the White House. The inaugural ball took place the night in the Patent Office; this was the first time a government building was used for the ball.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. — Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

Woodrow Wilson

1917: As Woodrow Wilson prepared to take his second oath of office the rest of the world was embroiled in a war that was entering its third year with no end in sight. Although the United States had not entered the World War–Wilson had said during the campaign that there was such a thing as a nation too proud to fight– there was still an uproar about the pomp of the inauguration ceremonies. The inaugural ball was cancelled, though this may not have been because of the war. Wilson disliked balls and nixed plans for a ball during his first inaugural. Certain officials suggested that the public ceremonies be cancelled completely because of the international situation. However, tradition won out and a bill was signed allotting $30,000 for the inaugural ceremonies. Robert N. Harper chairman of the local Inaugural Committee, issued a statement discussing the direction the ceremonies would take:”I am pleased to announce that the inauguration ceremonies will be held. While the greatest possible simplicity will be observed, it is intended to make this inauguration unusually impressive in order to afford an opportunity for a perfectly spontaneous exhibition of the patriotic feeling of the country.”

The thing I shall count upon, the thing without which neither counsel nor action will avail, is the unity of America: an America united in feeling, in purpose and in its vision of duty, of opportunity and of service.– Woodrow Wilson, Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1917

Franklin Roosevelt

1941: Franklin Roosevelt’s third inauguration was unprecedented in American history. The world was at war, but the United States still officially neutral.

Roosevelt was accompanied throughout inauguration day with an increasingly visible number of Secret Service guards. Roosevelt began the day by continuing the tradition he started in 1937 by attending church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, next to the White House prior to his swearing-in ceremony. Then the president went forth to the Capitol. Roosevelt’s inaugural address was shorter than usual, only twelve minutes long. Time magazine reported that “the speech was not in the President’s usual literary style. It was pseudo-poetic, full of little except generalities, as if it had been written for him by someone such as Playwright Robert E. Sherwood.”

The inaugural parade was designed to be shorter than usual. This corresponded with Roosevelt’s plan for simplicity. There was an air demonstration planned with Army, Navy and Marine Corps planes participating, which was a new addition to the inaugural parade. Roosevelt chose to watch the parade from an open stand. The parade at first featured the usual parade fare, but then the mood turned more solemn as a glimpse of what American involvement in the war would mean. For five minutes the parade route was dominated by armored cars, soldiers on motorcycles, tanks; light tanks, medium tanks, trucks carrying pontoon bridges, kitchen trucks, trucks drawing six-inch guns, eight truckloads of anti-aircraft guns–the machines of war. Roosevelt canceled the inaugural ball as he had in 1937 during the Depression. But an inaugural concert was staged at Constitution Hall; the performers included Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Massey and Ethel Barrymore.

If we lose that sacred fire–if we let it be smothered with doubt and fear–then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish. The preservation of the spirit and faith of the Nation does, and will, furnish the highest justification for every sacrifice that we may make in the cause of national defense. In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941

1944: Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration occurred at a time of world war, and the president’s increasingly failing health. Roosevelt decided upon a short and simple inaugural ceremony. The morning of his inauguration, instead of attending church services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Roosevelt arranged for a private service at the White House East Room with 250 members of his official family. Instead of taking the oath at the Capitol, he took it on the South Portico of the White House. Immediately below the portico were 7,806 invited guests; on the Ellipse there were another 3,000 in attendance.

After taking the oath of office Roosevelt gave the shortest of his four inaugural addresses at 573 words. He did not once mention domestic affairs, but gave a passing remark about the war. The speech indicated the president’s mood and focused on the world after the end of the war. Afterwards, 2,000 invited guests streamed into the Red Room for the post-inaugural luncheon, which would be the last one of its kind. It was the largest affair held in the Roosevelt White House for years but it was also spare. The guests stood and the menu included; chicken salad, hard rolls without butter, unfrosted pound cake, and coffee. The First Lady hosted a tea for those who did not come to the luncheon. There was no parade or ball. The day’s events were capped off with a private dinner which included the Roosevelt family’s first rib roast in months.

In the days and the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace. . . . We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately–but we shall strive. . . . We have learned lessons–at a fearful cost–and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace. . . . We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. . . . We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fourth Inaugural Address, January 20, 1945

Dwight D. Eisenhower

1953: Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as president during the Korean War. Eisenhower broke precedent by beginning his inaugural address with a prayer. His address emphasized American leadership in the world, and focused on the challenge of establishing peace, freedom and unity in the free world. The swearing-in ceremony was followed by a ten division parade that was the longest and largest inaugural parade in history, lasting four hours and 39 minutes with 25,000 marchers, 73 bands, 59 floats, horses, elephants and civilian and military vehicles. As a tribute to those serving in Korea some of the servicemen fighting there were brought home to march in the parade. The salute to Eisenhower also included 1,000 military planes from jets to super bombers, which flew over the parade. The inaugural celebration was capped off with two inaugural balls at the National Armory and Georgetown University’s McDonough Hall. Approximately 75,000,000 people were able to watch the inaugural ceremonies on television.

No person, no home, no community can be beyond the reach of this call. We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh our every deed with care and with compassion. For this truth must be clear before us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America. The peace we seek, then, is nothing less than the practice and fulfillment of our whole faith among ourselves and in our dealings with others. This signifies more than the stilling of guns, easing the sorrow of war. More than escape from death, it is a way of life. More than a haven for the weary, it is a hope for the brave. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953

Lyndon B. Johnson

1965: Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration came at the beginning of America’s active military involvement in Vietnam. Johnson insisted that America’s involvement would be minimal, and the inauguration was planned as if it was not occurring at a time of war. Gone were the military pageantries that characterized earlier inaugurations, Johnson did not believe that the day should be used to glorify the military. The four-day celebration was extravagant, costing $1.5 million, and was an attempt to be “bigger and better” than any of the previous inaugurations. According to an account in the New York Times, Johnson wanted to “surmount tradition and make the hoopla of the inauguration a dramatic display of the highest aims and accomplishments of the entire nation.”

The first event was the Distinguished Ladies Reception held at the National Gallery of Art, which featured 5,000 guests. Throughout the inaugural’s first day of festivities there were receptions in honor of the president all around Washington. On the evening of the first day of events, the Inaugural Gala; a variety show was held at the National Guard Armory. The gala was sponsored by the National Democratic Committee for the party faithful and was a free event that included 8,000 guests. The four banquet dinners that preceded that gala were also free to Democrats who had contributed a minimum of $1,000 to the campaign. The gala included some of the most pre-eminent entertainers of the day; including Alfred Hitchcock as the master of ceremonies and Carol Channing as the mistress of ceremonies.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s procession to the Capitol in 1965 was marked by stringent security measures, including a bullet-proof limousine. The swearing-in ceremonies were described by the New York Times as both “a sermon and a circus; a prayer and a parade; the bible and the ballyhoo.” Lady Bird joined her husband as he took the oath of office, the first wife of a president to do so. Capping the festivities were four inaugural balls at the National Guard Armory, the Mayflower, Sheraton-Park Shoreham and the Statler Hilton.

The hour and the day and the time are here to achieve progress without strife, to achieve change without hatred: not without difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions which scar the Union for generations. — Lyndon B. Johnson, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1965

Richard Nixon

1969: Richard Nixon’s first inauguration took place amidst the height of the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, racial tension and urban disintegration at home. The inauguration festivities were far more restrained than Johnson’s, yet still quite elaborate. The inauguration included four days of festivities, including an All-American Gala in the District of Columbia Armory produced by the “Tonight Show’s” Ed McMahon. With tickets reaching $100 the guest list included a variety of Hollywood entertainers. The night before the Inauguration there was a lavish concert for the Nixons and his vice president at Constitution Hall performed by Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir, among others. The concert’s tickets ranged in price from $5 to $500.

The swearing in ceremony was on a gloomy cold day, and along the parade route toward the White House 1,000 anti-war protesters gathered and shouted obscenities such as “Four more years of death!” In hopes of uniting a much divided country over the Vietnam War the inauguration’s theme was “bring us together again.” Nixon took the oath of office on two bibles; both family heirlooms. The inaugural parade was one of the shortest running just two hours but was filmed with color cameras and broadcast live on television. There were six inaugural balls, one of them at the Smithsonian Institution. They were formal white tie affairs; tickets were priced at $70 a couple. A box seat for eight cost $1,000. Approximately 30,000 attended the balls. The Nixons made appearances at all six of them.

The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes “with healing in its wings”; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny. — Richard M. Nixon, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969

1973: Richard Nixon’s second inauguration occurred as negotiations to end the war in Vietnam were being renewed. The three day inauguration cost $4,000,000, and was such an extravaganza that Bob Hope, a Nixon supporter, joked that it commemorated “the time when Richard I becomes Richard II.” The inaugural ceremonies opened Thursday afternoon at the Smithsonian Museum with a reception honoring Vice President Agnew and his wife. The first glamour event of the inaugural was a “Salute to the States,” at the Kennedy Center which was held in honor of the nation’s governors; 40 of them attended the event along with 5,000 guests with Pat Nixon, daughter Julie, and Mamie Eisenhower. The two-hour show ran simultaneously in two separate halls to accomodate the large number of guests. Emcees Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope shuttled between the two rooms. The second day of the inaugural ceremonies included three concerts for the president at the Kennedy Center.

Throughout the inaugural festivities there were peaceful anti-war protests around Washington. In addition there was a counter-inaugural concert held at Washington Cathedral the same night as the Kennedy Center concerts for the president. The day of the inauguration 75,000 antiwar demonstrators gathered quietly at the Lincoln Memorial for a “March Against Death and for Peace.” There were a total of five balls on inaugural night “to celebrate the Inauguration of President Nixon in a festive, traditional manner,” as stated in the official press information kit. The inaugural balls were held at the Museum of National History, the Kennedy Center, the Pension Building, Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, and Sheraton Park Hotel, scene of a ball expressly reserved for young people. The inaugural festivities finished on Sunday January 21, with an ecumenical worship service at the White House conducted by Billy Graham and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Let us be proud that by our bold, new initiatives, and by our steadfastness for peace with honor, we have made a break-through toward creating in the world what the world has not known before–a structure of peace that can last, not merely for our time, but for generations to come. – Richard M. Nixon, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1973

George W. Bush

2005: This is the first inauguration since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and is being held as the Iraq war enters its third year. This year’s inauguration will be by far the most ostentatious wartime inauguration. The $40 million event is funded with the donations of lobbyists and corporations. The inaugural events will include nine balls, three candlelight dinners, a presidential gala on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony, a brunch for dignitaries, and a youth rock concert hosted by the Bush twins. 250,000 spectators are expected to watch Bush get sworn in. He will be perched on a new, higher speaker’s podium. After his inaugural address Bush will stand as 400 service members from all branches pass in review and become his escorts for the parade. 11,000 people will take part in the 1.7-mile-long parade that includes 45 marching bands, and 5,000 men and women in uniform. The price for good seats at the events are expensive. Seats for the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue are $125, ball tickets are $150 and a chair at the swearing-in on the Capitol’s east front is approximately $250.

Some have criticized the scope of the festivities. Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., recently wrote in a letter to his colleagues that “Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted — if not canceled — in wartime, and stated that $40 million would buy armor for 690 Humvees or provide a $290 bonus for each service member stationed in Iraq.” Even a Bush supporter, Texas billionaire Mark Cuban, publicly suggested that the inaugural balls be canceled and the money donated to tsunami victims of South Asia. To counter the attacks President Bush and his supporters are presenting the quadrennial pageant as an opportunity to salute American troops — “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service” is the theme of this year’s inaugural ceremony. The events include the first Commander-In-Chief Ball for men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

We are a nation at war, and it is fitting that the inaugural events reflect not only the great sacrifices made by our troops everyday to protect our freedom, but also the cherished ideals that make our nation so unique. — Jeanne Johnson Phillips, Presidential Inaugural Committee Chairman, January 2005

The inauguration is a great festival of democracy, people are going to come from all over the country who are celebrating democracy and celebrating my victory, and I’m glad to celebrate with them. — George W. Bush responding to criticism about his inaugural festivities, January 2005

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