19 January 2009

My fellow Americans...

From an article on US presidential inauguration speeches:

'It’s clear that verbosity, far from being a sin, was a positive virtue for the people who assembled every four years to hear these elaborate performances. John Quincy Adams’s first sentence, while unreadable today, must have thrilled a certain kind of listener: “In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me in the station to which I have been called.” What writing class could ever teach that? Of course, they also liked laudanum and enemas in the nineteenth century'

- Ted Widmer, ‘So Help Me God’, The American Scholar, Winter 2005

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