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'I Was Summoned by My Country'

What will Barack Obama say during his inaugural address to the nation?

Nobody knows, yet, but maybe there's a clue in the inaugural addresses of the past. The headline of this post comes from George Washington's first:

Among the vicissitudes incident to life no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month.

On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years -- a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.

On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.

(Yes, those are some seriously long sentences.)

You can read every inaugural address ever made at a web site set up by Yale Law School.

By Washington Post Editors  |  November 19, 2008; 3:09 PM ET  | Category:  Inaugural History
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