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This Day in History: "History is a Journey"

On this day in history, thirteen United States Presidents have been inaugurated—and we will inaugurate yet another today. Obviously, this presidential election year has been a bit more tumultuous than normal.


What will future history books say about the events that we’ve just lived through? How can Americans unite again after the combined challenges of a pandemic and a hotly contested election year?

Ronald Reagan takes his second oath of office in 1985.

Perhaps we can take heart in something that our second First Lady, Abigail Adams, wrote to her son many years ago. Interestingly, her letter to John Quincy Adams was written during this week in history, on January 19, 1780.


Americans were then in the midst of their Revolution, and it surely seemed as if the dark times would never come to an end. As for John Quincy, he was overseas, helping his father with diplomatic affairs.


The young boy had then been separated from his mother for more than a year—but Abigail saw an upside.


“These are times in which a Genious would wish to live,” Abigail wrote John Quincy. “It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. . . . The Habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the Heart, then those qualities which would otherways lay dormant, wake into Life, and form the Character of the Hero and the Statesman.”


Americans have been through challenges and dark times before, but we’ve always managed to pull through. As President Bill Clinton said in his inauguration speech twenty-eight years ago today, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”


Or perhaps you prefer this quote from President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inaugural speech:


“History is a ribbon, always unfurling. History is a journey. And as we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us. . . . [W]e see and hear again the echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air. It is the American sound. It is hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That’s our heritage, that’s our song. We sing it still.”


Here’s to America. God bless this great country of ours!