The Best Inaugural Addresses Ever

When he delivers his historic inaugural address on Jan. 20, President-elect and noted public speaker Barack Obama will be continuing a 220-year-old oratorical tradition begun by George Washington.

A set of spoken words hasn’ t been so hotly anticipated by so many people since perhaps Obama’s victory speech on election night.

Though not required by the Constitution, George Washington gave the first inaugural address as the new president in 1789, and every other incoming commander-in-chief has kept up the practice. Since then, incoming leaders have delivered best presidential inauguration speeches ranging from the prosaic to the powerful and much in between, reflecting the challenges of the era.

Obama’s speech-writer is just 27 years old … a lot of pressure for someone whose text could either rally a nation or merely be slipped quietly into the archives of history. For insurance, he might take a cue from a few of the better inaugural addresses of the past — the ones we remember, that we quote, that we see pop up on “Jeopardy” from time to time.

We’ ve compiled the five inaugural addresses that most historians consider tops: