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A Few Memorable Words

June 17, 2015

William Henry Harrison gave the longest inaugural address of any U.S. President, but no one remembers what he said. When he died after serving only one month, John Tyler became President. Hardly anyone remembers anything he did or said. Likewise, no one quotes Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, or Andrew Johnson.

James Garfield was one of the greatest political orators of his day, but no one ever cites him in casual conversation. President Arthur honored Garfield’s memory by signing the Pendleton Act, but not enough people know that story or see that connection.

President Harding coined a new word, “normalcy,” but few remember why. President Ford’s words were transformed into humor by comedians on late night TV, but even these jokes have been mostly forgotten.

All nine Presidents mentioned above served less than one term, and that fact has contributed to their relative obscurity. Is there any President who served less than one term and yet distinguished himself by articulating great sentiments that still inspire? Yes, there is just one. At the start of his Administration he exhorted the American people to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Not all his statements were so ponderous. He once dryly remarked that Washington D.C. was a city of “Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” He knew how to be serious, how to be humorous, and when each was appropriate. That’s just how John Kennedy was.

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