President Obama's overarching themes in his second inaugural were expanding liberty, and reconciling liberty and security. James Fallows, a former presidential speechwriter, highlights two powerful allusions in President Obama's Second Inaugural Address - the "lash and sword" and "Seneca, Selma, and Stonewall" which develop the theme of expanding liberty. Fallows focuses on the power of Obama's evocation of the history of slavery and the civil war. The war re-founded the country, unifying it by force - compelling the south to accept the revolutionized terms of union - forbidding slavery, demanding equal protection for all, and embedding the right to vote. For 100 years after the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments we nonetheless tolerated legal racial discrimination and the suppression of African-Americans right to vote. It is a defect in the prevailing dialog about the Constitution that "originalism" - the dominant exegesis - considers the "founders" to be those of the 18th century. In my view Abraham Lincoln, the "Radical Republicans", and Ulysses Grant belong in the pantheon.
The opening section is my favorite, drawing as it does on Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.For more than two hundred years, we have.Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.