Comparing JFK and Lincolns Inagural Speeches

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Throughout the history of the United States of America, there have been many leaders. President Abraham Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy are arguably two of the greatest presidents that this country has had. Whether it was 1865, during the bloodiest war in the history of the US, or 1961, during the most tense international power struggle that we have ever faced, these men were able to do what was needed to get the job done. The one ideal that they shared that made them great leaders was an aspiration to make this country the best in the world.

Some differences between these men were their specific goals as leaders. While Lincoln was very occupied with his domestic affairs, because of the ongoing civil war of his time, Kennedy was much more concerned with foreign policy. He was focused a lot more on the global position of the U. S, while Lincoln had to focus his attention on fixing the inner workings of the country first. These concentrations by the presidents are presented in Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and in John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, in which the presidents addressed the nation.

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Although Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both great leaders, their goals for the nation were quite different. President Lincoln’s goal for his presidency, which he states quite clearly in his second inaugural address to the nation, is to finish out the ongoing Civil War. For example, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. ”(Lincoln, 235) Here, President Lincoln expresses his discontent toward the war, and his understanding and desire that it ends as soon as possible. He also tells, in his speech, of how the war began.

Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came. ”(Lincoln) It is here in President Lincoln’s speech, where he clearly states that, although neither the North nor the South wanted to be in a Civil War, the South started it and would have destroyed the country. In a way, Lincoln is defending the fact that he is still fighting, because he knows that if the North didn’t fight, then the Union would be no more. This part of his Inaugural Address, being the main idea, shows how Lincoln is mostly speaking in the past.

He is telling the country very specifically what has happened in the past few years, and why we are fighting that war. President John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, focused his speech more toward the future. He is also much more general about his goals, where Lincoln is much more specific, in only speaking about the war. In his speech, President Kennedy states, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. (Kennedy, 240) It is here where JFK states his main goal for the nation, and that is to protect liberty at home and around the globe. This is a much more general idea than President Lincoln, but both along the same lines. Lincoln was striving to give freedom and rights – liberty – to many people in this country that have been oppressed for many years. President Kennedy wants the same idea to spread, but on a much broader scale. JFK wants to support worldwide human rights and peace, and support allied nations.

He is much more focused on the country’s international policy, where Lincoln concentrates much more on domestic issues. This clear difference in their speeches is due to the differences in the current events of the times. It makes sense that Lincoln is more focused on domestic issues, due to the fact that he is president during a Civil War. It also makes a lot of sense that Kennedy is more focused on international issues, because he is president during the Cold War. Kennedy does not mention the Cold War in his speech specifically, but he does mention some of the issues related to it and hints towards it.

At one point in his speech, Kennedy says, “But neither can two great groups of nations take comfort from our present course – both side overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war… Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms – and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations. ”(Kennedy)

It is here where President Kennedy states the problems of he Cold War, and the threat that it has become, not only to the United States, but to the entire world. He mentions the “spread of the deadly atom,” referring to the recent discovery, and use of the atomic bomb. JFK implies that he is very willing, and wanting to have a peaceful world, and not have to use this deadly method of war, but as long as there is a threat about, we must be prepared to do what must be done. Another similarity that these speeches have in common is that both men state their belief in God. Although both speeches mention God, President Lincoln goes much more in depth on the subject than President Kennedy does.

JFK mentions the subject at the very beginning and very end of his speech, while Lincoln has much more of his speech devoted to God. Lincoln makes God more of an active part of the current events of his time. One of many examples from Lincolns speech would be, “Yet, if God wills that it [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sward, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. ”(Lincoln, 235) It may be that Lincoln was much more of a religious man than Kennedy, or it may just be that Kennedy just had a lot more to talk about in his speech, with all of the ongoing issues in the world at the time. Either way, mentioning God in a Presidential Inaugural Address is a great example of ethos and pathos. It is an example of ethos, because it reflects the speaker’s character as being a good, religious man. It is also an example of pathos because it helps listeners relate to the speaker, which can be difficult to do when the speaker is the president of one of the largest nations in the world.

These men chose the components to put into their inaugural for very specific reasons. Both men chose to address their nation by speaking of the most pressing issues of their time. This is shown by the fact that Lincoln spoke mostly about the Civil War and JFK spoke mostly about the Cold War. Unlike Lincoln, Kennedy also spoke about a variety of topics concerning foreign policy; including human rights, freedom, and world peace. Also, their grammatical choices were used to connect with audiences in very specific ways. The use of ethos is a great way for a leader to help build support for his party and for his ideas.

The use of pathos helps in this, by relating the speaker to the audience. This was done by both presidents, specifically on the subject of God. It is also done when speaking about the importance of the issues discussed. While these speeches had very different topics, they were both very important and influential speeches to a nation, in need of a good leader, in a time of war.

Work Cited:

Lincoln, A. (1865). Second Inaugural Address. In A. Worthington (Ed. ), Freshman Composition Course Manual (p. 235). Kennedy, J. (1961). Second Inaugural Address. In A. Worthington (Ed. ), Freshman Composition Course Manual (p. 240-241).

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