New president is not known for short...

THE NATION'S

January 20, 1993

THE NATION'S new president is not known for short speeches. But no president is likely to repeat the most notorious inaugural speech ever -- the one-hour-forty-minute ramble of the luckless William Henry Harrison, who took office March 4, 1841. Nominated as a figurehead by a cynical Whig party, Mr. Harrison fell for the heroic campaign rhetoric the party put out about him -- and it killed him. On a raw and windy day, he insisted on making a two-hour trip to the Capitol on a white horse, bareheaded and without an overcoat. The huge inaugural crowd was shivering and sneezing long before the speech ended. President Harrison himself served only a month -- felled by pneumonia, brought on by cold and exposure.

According to Davis Newton Lott's book on inaugural addresses, the incoming secretary of state, Daniel Webster, spent several hours before the ceremony attempting to polish the manuscript. It was an impossible task. When his landlady asked Mr. Webster why he looked so weary, he replied: "In the last 12 hours I have killed 17 Roman proconsuls . . . dead as smelts, every one."

How bad was it? Here is an excerpt:

". . . It was the remark of a Roman consul in an early period of that celebrated Republic that a most striking contrast was observable in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust before and after obtaining them, they seldom carrying out in the latter case the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the world may have improved in many respects in the lapse of upward of two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of some of the modern elective governments would develop similar instances of violated confidence. . . . "

Anybody awake?

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