Three addresses are important on inauguration day in Missouri.
The ceremony usually is held on the lawn of 201 West Capital Avenue. Afterwards, the new governor and his family become residents of 100 Madison Street.
Then there is the inaugural address of the new governor in which themes of the coming administration are usually laid out in general terms although there have been times when governors have been pretty specific. And as we look back at some of those remarks, we find some that could be spoken today.
The address of our first governor, Alexander McNair, was delivered September 19, 1820—in St. Louis. Congress gave Missouri permission in 1820 to elect a state governor and a legislature and to write a Constitution. Missouri did not become a state, however, until August 10, 1821 after some problems with the Constitution were worked out. McNair signed the bill on November 25, 1820 moving the seat of government from St. Louis to St. Charles until a permanent location could be picked. The legislators met there for the first time on June 4, 1821. McNair’s first address after becoming governor is notable for its brevity—only 443 words. He talked of the “happy change which has taken place in our political affairs,” meaning the transition from Territory to eventual statehood. And he told the lawmakers, “We shall adopt and put a new government into operation, to act with a degree of prudence and deliberation, comporting with the importance of the duties to be performed, as the future character and prosperity of our country in a very great degree depend upon the measures of the first General Assembly.”
McNair’s successor, Frederick Bates told the legislature on November 18, 1824, only about three weeks after his election that the confidence of the people was clear but, as he put it, “I must acquire the confidence of the general assembly before I can, with decent propriety, or with fair prospects of success, submit to them my views of the leading subjects of legislation.” He put forth a few principles, namely that “Justice should be accessible to all…and delays beyond the due forms and deliberations are denials.” And he warned against political manipulation of the judiciary, saying, “The officers of that department…should be placed, if possible, beyond the reach of those temporary excitements, so often discoverable in other classes of our fellow-citizens. An able and upright administration of the laws, is among the first and greatest of political blessings.”
Frederick Bates died before the seat of government was moved to Jefferson City. The first inaugural address in Jefferson City was delivered by John Miller, who finished Bates’ term and was elected to a full four-year term. Miller began the practice of combining his inaugural address with what we would today call the State of the State Address when he spoke in what was called “The Governor’s House,” on November 18, 1826. His speech was 5,537 words long. It was not unusual for future governors’ inaugural speeches for several decades to continue that trend of combining the two occasions. The continued population growth of the state led him to comment, with pride, that state government revenue was as much as $55,000 to $60,000 a year without any increases in taxes.
Another part of his speech jumps out of the long text because of the election these 190 years later. Miller said, “The propriety of proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, relating to the election of the President and Vice President, [is] a subject which imperiously demands the consideration of the legislature. That the will of the people shall control the choice of the…Chief Magistracy of the United States is a principle supported by the spirit of the Constitution and held sacred by a large majority of the citizens of the Union.” But, he said, “it must be admitted that the Constitution in in its letter, in this particular, defective.” He called on the legislature to urge Congress and legislatures in other states to amend the constitution to make a vote of the people elect the President and Vice-President, and “preventing in any event, an election being made by the House of Representatives.”
He was speaking in the wake of the 1824 election in which neither Andrew Jackson nor John Quincy Adams got a majority of the 261 electoral votes. Two other candidates combined to get 78. The election was decided by the House of Representatives in favor of Adams although he got 38,000 fewer votes than Jackson, 31 percent of the total to Jackson’s 41 percent. Missouri had given Adams only four percent of the vote; Jackson 34 percent, and Henry Clay 59.
The day of the terribly-long inaugural address/legislative address ended with James T. Blair on January 14, 1957. He announced several days ahead of the event that he would speak for only fifteen minutes and would make no recommendations to the legislature in an effort to hold the ceremony to forty-five minutes. He planned a legislative address a week later and supplemental addresses after that. The practice of separate State of the State and budget messages continued through several succeeding administrations. Today, the State of the State and the budget message are combined into one address.
With that historical foundation laid, let’s launch a long reflection on more recent and not-so-recent speeches.
Four years ago, Governor Nixon called for cooperation between his administration and the overwhelmingly-Republican legislature, recalling that in his first years in the state senate, there was a Republican governor when the legislature was Democratic and “it was possible to disagree while continuing to advance the common good.’ He hoped his second term would be one in which, “We will put our shared principles ahead of our small differences, and work together…” But the legislature became even more partisan and their disagreements grew even sharper. He leaves office as the governor with far more vetoes overridden than any governor in Missouri history.
Nixon’s speech in 2009 was called “A New Day for Missouri,” and was delivered as the country was headed toward the depths of the recession. He noted Missourians were “united by the common uncertainty of our future.” But he proclaimed his inauguration marked “a new day for Missouri. He committed his administration to improving the economy by “making Missouri a magnet for next-generation jobs,” and he promised the state would invest in new technology. He talked of implementing new policies although he did not get specific. His speech was filled with generalities, the wording intended to encourage an audience during discouraging times.
Matt Blunt’s speech in 2005 focused on change. “Change begins today, at this hour, in this place,” he said. Blunt and fellow Republicans had attacked Bob Holden for withholding money from public education during his term to balance the budget in tight economic times. Blunt had promised he would never balance the budget as Holden had done, proclaiming government was “morally bound” to serve Missouri’s children and their families. He promised to push for an entrepreneurial climate where good family supporting jobs could be created. He told the audience the work was beginning to improve the lives of all Missourians, that government had to do a better job of serving the people while remaining frugal and wise. A few days later he announced in his state of the state speech that he was changing the Medicaid program in ways that cut tens of thousands of people out of it.
In his speech in 2001, Governor Holden called on Missourians to “reach new heights” during the first administration of the 21st century. His “one Missouri” theme pushed for finding the character to improve health, education, respect for others, job training, better transportation and an improved environment. But he noted “the greatest barrier we have to building one Missouri is ourselves.” He noted the state could no longer think of itself as divided by geography (the urban-rural split), by race, by partisan politics—“It’s time Kansas City and St. Louis realize they live in the same state,” he said. He went on, “The goal of my administration is to unite all Missourians in forging a bright future that holds maximum opportunities for each of us.”
In 1997, Governor Carnahan recalled that in his first term, the state had started reforming its education system, cutting the crime rate and moving people from welfare rolls to payrolls–as he put it. In addition the state was recovering from its worst flood in recorded history. “Let there be no doubt,” he said that day, “this administration will vigorously promote education, not just with words, but through plans and hard work that translate into achievement.” He set a goal of making every youngster computer literate by age 12, and a goal of making sure no company would leave Missouri because of a lack of trained employees. He urged a new partnership between government, business and communities to improve education and education opportunities.
Four years earlier, in 1993, Carnahan said the measure of his time in office would be, as he put it, “How far did he take us toward the next century? And how well did he help us prepare for the challenges that lie ahead?”
“I want to leave behind tangible achievements–things we can touch and measure–things that will endure–things that will make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. His focus would be on education. He said he would make it the real test of his governorship. Carnahan said it would take a revolution with tougher standards for children, teachers, and others. And he said money must be provided to make it all happen. Later that year, the legislature passed the Excellence in Education Act, which raised taxes for education. He wanted a high school graduation rate of 90 percent by 2000, which proved to be unattainable.
He said his second mission would be economic development and promised the state’s first comprehensive economic development plan. He said it was time to get serious, and smart, about economic development. “I am convinced that we have the heart and the will to make great progress and do great things,” he said…”Together, if we try, we can claim the future. Let’s take the risk of trying.”
In 1989, John Ashcroft titled his speech, “Independence and Responsibility, Declarations for the 21st Century.” He called on Missourians to declare independence from ignorance, declare ourselves free from dependence on government, declare independence from a contaminated environment, and declare independence from degrading drugs and pornography.
In 1985, Ashcroft called for a partnership between state government and the people of Missouri to attract new industry, improve education, solve problems of prison and rehabilitation, and fight child abuse. He pledged the state to improve teacher salaries but called on teachers to improve the standards of our schools. He said government cannot solve all problems by itself, but government can lead people to work together to solve problems and meet the challenges of the future.
In 1981, Christopher Bond was returning to office saying the nation had seen government that offered many solutions that raised people’s hopes and expectations had grown. But promises had been broken; confidence in government was weakened. He called for renewed pioneering efforts in education, crime-fighting, help for the elderly and poor. It was a short speech, just over three double-spaced, large-type, typewritten pages.
In 1977, Joseph Teasdale promised breaks with tradition, bemoaned lack of public confidence in government and pledged that elected leaders would be servants, not masters. He told the audience it was the will of God that he be elected Governor. His speech was also relatively short, although longer than Bond’s 1981 speech. He said in his inaugural he had a comprehensive legislative program he would announce later. He did, in a speech in the House chamber that lasted one-hour-17-minutes and 46 seconds, the longest State of the State message on the recent record. I timed it.
In 1973, Christopher Bond’s first inaugural speech was longer than Teasdale’s speech. He recalled his campaign had been based on an issue of trust, rather an explicit promises for explicit policies. He spoke of trust, integrity, pride, compassion and confidence. His speech in 1981, though much shorter, was considerably more specific—in general areas.
Warren Hearnes said in 1969, although not directly, that Missourians would probably face a tax increase during his second administration. He had made good on a promise of no tax increase in his first four years. But he could not make a similar promise for his second term. “To do and be better,” he said “is a goal few achieve. To do it we are required to make sacrifices. Sacrifice in the sense of the giving of a part of those material things which we enjoy in abundance.” 1969 became the year of his battle with Senator Earl Blackwell. At the end of that fight, Hearnes tasted political defeat on a major issue for his first time. He noted then that inauguration day might have been the only day in the whole year that the sun shone on Warren Hearnes.
In 1961, John Dalton promised to gear his administration to strict law enforcement and high ethical standards. He promised a strong study of Missouri’s tax structure, frankly saying, “We will require additional income if we are to make necessary expansions in our services and I strongly feel that these increases should be levied on non-essentials and not on the necessities of life.” He promised to formulate legislation for increased industrialization of our state, and stronger laws on traffic safety.
Governor Phil Donnelly called for the state to look forward to the obligations and opportunities of a post-war world when he was sworn in for his first term in 1945. Donnelly, who had been in the legislature for twenty-two years before becoming governor, also knew the state faced challenges when the war ended in an American victory. He knew it would take “hardheaded resistance” by the governor and the legislature from pressure groups wanting the state to spend an eighteen-million dollar surplus generated by a wartime economy. He said it was a “moral obligation” to set the money aside to take care of “some of the damage this war will inflict on Missouri.” He knew the state’s unemployment compensation fund would be stressed when war industries closed and laid off thousands of Missourians. He also knew the war had given “immense impetus to the development of peacetime aviation and called for actions to insure development of airports.
Missouri and the nation were well into the Great Depression when former Congressman Henry Caulfield urged the legislature on January 3, 1929, to practice a “rigid economy,” saying, “It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to conduct the state government properly within present revenue, yet it is our duty not to permit our expenditures to exceed the expectant income. The practice of over-appropriating the estimated revenue on the theory that the Governor will withhold portions of the sums appropriated is not to be commended. I urge you to limit strictly your appropriations in the aggregate to the amount of the estimated revenue. If, not withstanding the amount of the estimated revenue is not sufficient to meet the stat needs, then I respectfully suggest that you should make provisions for an increase in revenue.”
The 1921 inaugural address of Governor Arthur M. Hyde is notable for the history it observed and for a message that might resonate these ninety-six years later. Hyde was the first governor inaugurated in the rotunda of the new capitol. The first line of his speech noted a historic chance in Missouri: “The men and women of Missouri have spoken.” Hyde was the first governor elected after women got the right to vote.
He continued: “Their voice was no uncertain one. The pluralities given to the Republican party were the largest ever given to any party in the history of the State. To the party has come complete control of the Legislature. Every elective official is a Republican.” But he cautioned against self-congratulation or exultation because of the promises made during the campaign. He said, “We have duties to perform, pledges to redeem, work to do. The largeness of our pluralities measures only the greatness of our opportunities and the solemnity of our duty.”
Joseph W. Folk, inaugurated in 1905 after a populist campaign against corruption, was preceded in the inaugural ceremonies by William Jennings Bryan, who was brought to Jefferson City from his Nebraska home to praise Folk’s victory. Folk, in his address, urged the legislature to pass a number of reform bills. One would allow witness immunity in bribery cases (the state had just been through a legislative bribery scandal in 1903), and an extension of the statute of limitations in bribery cases. He said the state should vigorously prosecute the issuance of railroad passes to political figures (the railroads, as the dominant means of transportation, used the passes to exercise considerable influence on lawmakers). He favored creation of statewide primary elections to end control of the process by bosses and their machine, and direct election of U. S. Senators instead of the then-present system of legislative elections of them. And he shook up the “business as usual” concept in the capitol by proposing lobbying be made a crime unless the lobbyists registered with the state and did not stay in the capitol for more than thirty hours.
And Folk, a Democrat with a Republican legislature, reminded lawmakers, “Partisanship is a good thing, sometimes, but Patriotism is a better thing all the time…Some of you are Democrats, some are Republicans; all are Missourians. In the discharge of official duties let us be Missourians before we are anything else. Do not forget that you will be aiding the party you may belong to most by giving the public the highest service. You cannot help your party by injuring the public.”
We find an interesting set of circumstances when we go all the way back to January 5, 1857 when Governor Trusten Polk told the audience in the House chamber of the old capitol, “it will be a never-failing source of gratification to me if I shall be able to contribute in any degree towards inspiring a more sacred reverence for the Constitution of Government under which the several peoples of all the states are united as one people…Fellow citizens: I may often go wrong, even while doing the best I can. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground.”
A few weeks later Trusten Polk resigned as governor to become a United States Senator. In 1861, this governor who promoted reverence for the Constitution was expelled from the U. S. Senate for disloyalty. He spent the Civil War on the Confederate side.
Eight years later, Governor Fletcher knew the war would be ending in a few months. In his speech January 2, 1865, he proclaimed, “Henceforth Missouri shall be an asylum for all nationalities and races and peoples; the repository of wealth, and a theater for the development of the labor and enterprise of the hand and spirit of Industry; and the home of free thought, free speech and a free press, where the prejudices of caste and class have no legal embodiment or political encouragement. She shall be a central mart for the interchange of the products of the North and the South, the East and the West, through the rivers of her great basin and the system of railways centering in her metropolis. She shall be a highway for the commerce of the two oceans, borne by the inland transit lines that carry the freights between Europe and Asia. She shall proffer a secure and guarded repose to all consciences and all religious beliefs, un-tied by any secular control, yet upheld and encircled by a public sentiment upon which faith in God has taken a new hold from the experiences of an unparalleled national preservation.”
Some inaugural speeches resonate through the decades. Some become just speeches.