White House

Obama will buck tradition with his farewell; here’s how other presidents said goodbye

When President Barack Obama delivers his goodbye speech to the nation on Tuesday night, he will be breaking with recent tradition.

Instead of a solemn, televised speech from the White House, his farewell address will be a public event in front of a packed crowd of supporters at McCormick Place in Chicago, the same spot where he celebrated his 2012 re-election with a massive rally.

“I chose Chicago not only because it’s my hometown – where I met my wife and we started a family – but also because it’s really where my career in public service began,” Obama said in his weekly address previewing the speech last week.

“The running thread through my career has been the notion that when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together in collective effort, things change for the better,” he said. “It’s easy to lose sight of that truth in the day-to-day back and forth of Washington.”

Obama will become the first U.S. president to deliver this speech outside the capital. Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton delivered their farewell addresses from the Oval Office. George W. Bush delivered his goodbye speech in 2009 from the East Room of the White House. Although George H.W. Bush’s address at West Point in January 1993 was a farewell speech of sorts, it wasn’t officially billed as such.

Here are some excerpts from previous presidential farewell speeches, which offer a window into what each president saw as his administration’s biggest challenges and achievements.

George W. Bush: Jan. 19, 2009

“Five days from now, the world will witness the vitality of American democracy. In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people. Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land. This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation.”

“As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did.”

“While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.”

Bill Clinton: Jan. 18, 2001

“Working together, America has done well. Our economy is breaking records with more than 22 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the highest homeownership ever, the longest expansion in history. Our families and communities are stronger. America has been a force for peace and prosperity in every corner of the globe. I’m very grateful to be able to turn over the reins of leadership to a new president with America in such a strong position to meet the challenges of the future.”

Ronald Reagan: Jan. 11, 1989

“And how stands the (shining city on a hill) on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

“We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Jan. 17, 1961

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. . . . Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

“Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

“So – in this my last good night to you as your president – I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace.”

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

Related stories from McClatchy DC