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The inaugural address of U.S. president William Henry Harrison was 8,425 words long. To put that in context, the four combined inaugural addresses of George W. Bush and Barack Obama total 8,154 words. All four speeches. Combined. Harrison's was the longest inaugural address in American history and was long even for the time, before inaugural addresses needed to be shorter and snappier so as to not bore an international live TV audience to tears.

The next-longest inaugural address was that of William Howard Taft; it clocked in at just over 5,400 words. (The shortest was George Washington's second inaugural address, which was 135 words long.)

The legend goes that Harrison's insistence on delivering the entire speech outdoors on a cold, rainy inauguration day led him to develop a chill that worsened into the pneumonia that killed him. Many sources note that he did not start exhibiting symptoms for another few weeks, but the fact remains that he did shuffle off this mortal coil a mere month after his inauguration. He was the first president to die in office.

He took nearly two hours to deliver the address; this handy words-to-time calculator estimates that he took between one and two seconds per word. (It also estimates that delivering the entire speech at an average (today) pace of three words per second would have had the whole thing wrapped up in about 45 minutes.)

At the outset of the speech, Harrison made it plain that he was going to lay out his entire plan for his presidency. He did much more than this, however, and discussed in great detail his thoughts on the Constitution and the rights of the American citizen vis à vis the rights of the bygone citizens of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. He then gets into the issues surrounding amending the Constitution and the president's veto power.

He then spends some time discussing the roles of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, as well as states' rights:

"Our Confederacy, fellow-citizens, can only be preserved by the same forbearance. Our citizens must be content with the exercise of the powers with which the Constitution clothes them. The attempt of those of one State to control the domestic institutions of another can only result in feelings of distrust and jealousy, the certain harbingers of disunion, violence, and civil war, and the ultimate destruction of our free institutions."


He spends a lot of time on the president's role within the American governmental system. He then gets into his plan to continue to foster good relationships with foreign countries.

Before concluding, he notes that some historical figures who usurped their governments — Caesar, Cromwell and Bolivar — originally presented themselves as defenders of democracy. He then makes some remarkable observations about party politics:

"If parties in a republic are necessary to secure a degree of vigilance sufficient to keep the public functionaries within the bounds of law and duty, at that point their usefulness ends. Beyond that they become destructive of public virtue, the parent of a spirit antagonist to that of liberty, and eventually its inevitable conqueror."


(What would he say about the state of the U.S. political system today?)

Finally, he vouches for his devotion to the Christian faith and promises to dispatch his responsibilities while remaining true to the Constitution and always trusting the American people. He doesn't say "thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America," but the sentiment was there.

You can read the entire address at the Presidency Project website. (Be prepared to take breaks, as this one speech is 1.5 per cent the total length of Les Misérables. That might not sound impressive, but remember that Les Misérables is an epic novel and this is one speech.)


William Henry Harrison: "Inaugural Address," March 4, 1841. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
Words to time calculator
Cleaves, Freeman. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time


Nodeshell rescue.

My understanding is that Americans capitalize "Constitution." If I'm wrong about this, let me know and I'll change it everywhere except for the quotations from the speech.

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