Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:
“In a humble Inaugural Address, Van Buren praises the great Presidents before him and gives a positive assessment of the first half century of American statehood. President Van Buren addresses two points of concern: the rising incidence of mob action and abolitionist agitation, which he vowed to vote down.”
Thoughts on Transcript:
Van Buren’s speech covers themes from the past and the future. Shades of John Quincy Adams (henceforth: JQA) appear as recognition of the speaker being part of a later age who has received an inheritance he is taking care of. Shades of John F Kennedy (who already is JFK) in a contemporary version of “ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Slavery, the issue that will come to a head in under 30 years, occupies a large chunk of the speech. A note to the growing violence between abolitionists and slavers. A call to the character and strength of presidents past. A look to the future as he recognizes the scalability of Government to the present size and acknowledgements of the sturdiness of its structure. A recognition of the foreign policy of the US through the first half of its existence: neutrality and isolationism. And, finally, a question that has been debated, answered, accepted, debated, and will likely forever form the crux of disagreement within our nation: The balance of power between Federal and State governments.
Van Buren’s speech is academic. It looks to history. It acknowledges issues and wishes to solve them. It does not partake in flowery or descriptive language (as JQA and others do) nor is it a shorter speech (as Jackson and several of the other early Presidents had). It is what it is, and it attempts to address the central question which, until it is decided in a flurry of steel and blood, threatens to rip the nation asunder.