What did the President say?

Presidents Bush, Obama, GW Bush, Clinton, and Carter

With today’s Presidential Inauguration, I have been giving some thought to the speech every president gives on the historic day. Today, with the ability to live broadcast on TV and now also the internet, one is able to hear firsthand what a president says in real time. That is true. But what if you cannot catch the speech live? I strongly encourage you to go to the primary source and read a full transcript of the speech, rather than relying only on commentary online and in the news.

Newspapers and TV stations have made available either by printing in the newspaper or putting on websites the entire unedited version. I have found reading the speech after I have heard it to be very useful to pick up additional important points. I have done this for both a presidential inauguration speech and State of the Union speeches.

Although some news outlets may post the entire unedited version of a Presidential speech online, this is what libraries are best at. I decided to do an internet search to see what was available. Two libraries in particular, Scripps and the Library of Congress, offer a wealth of information covering every president all the way back to George Washington.

The Presidential Speech Archive from the Scripps Library at the University of Virginia Miller Center collects transcripts of the most important presidential speeches. The more recent are available in audio and video. You can also compare word clouds of the most frequently used terms in each speech. The Miller Center also provides essential information and resources for each president.

Presidential information from the Miller Center
Presidential information from the Miller Center

The Library of Congress is another essential resource for government and presidential scholarship. It was begun by Thomas Jefferson and is the library of record for the United States of America.

The Library of Congress website has information on United States government and the people who run the government. With digitization technology, we now have access to historical documents and photographs online.

President Lincoln's first Inauguration in 1861 (via LoC)
President Lincoln’s first Inauguration in 1861 (via LoC)

The LoC section for U.S. Presidential Inaugurations offers photographs and other archival materials for each president, as well as points of note. For example, in his second term President Franklin Roosevelt was the first to have his inauguration held on the January 20th date, after the passage of the 20th Amendment, which among other things shortened the “lame duck” period for the presidency. President Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be broadcast live over the internet. Pretty impressive for 1997!

A larger selection of archival materials is organized under the Library of Congress Presidential Primary Resources, currently covering Presidents Washington to Ford so far. Additionally, the White House website offers a biography and highlights for each president if you’re looking for a little more background.

By the way, you can keep up with what your current elected officials are doing at the Congress.gov website, which covers the congressional record, how legislation is progressing, and committee activities.

Watch important speeches and other events, including the Inauguration, live on at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

This post was contributed by: Joan Wagner, Chief Librarian, Bay Shore

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