How history will view Obama's presidency will be determined in part by the content of his first comments as the newly elected leader of a country in need of leadership.
The inauguration has been a part of presidential elections since George Washington's initial selection as the country's top executive. It is a constitutional requirement.
But rarely have the stakes been higher than they are this year.
Barack Obama's election was historic. He broke the color barrier only one generation after the Civil Rights Movement began.
His inaugural address will be given 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, and one day after the holiday honoring the civil-rights advocate.
Obama paved his road to the White House with resplendent speeches before huge throngs of supporters. His discourses on race relations in America during the primary, accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention and in Grant Park after the election results were tallied have shown that he has the skills to motivate the nation.
America needs revitalization now more than ever.
Comparisons to others elected to the office are as plentiful as they are futile.
Many look to Abraham Lincoln for comparison because of the racial component to each election. But the country is not on the verge of civil war.
The union is strong, but we are struggling together.
The economy is in turmoil. The dollar is weak, unemployment is up and the stock market is down.
Our armed forces are spread thin and bogged down on two fronts. Many objectives have been met in Afghanistan and Iraq, but forces are still in harm's way.
John F. Kennedy faced a similar set of circumstances at home and abroad when he took office.
Communism was on the rise overseas and in South America. Race relations across the country were at a boiling point. He assumed control of an economy that had been tightly controlled for years and brought a plan to loosen the purse strings in an effort to accelerate market forces.
Both JFK and Obama inherited a "to-do list" longer than anyone could tackle in a career, even less a four-year term in office.
As Kennedy said in his 1961 address, "All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
Obama has already been laying the groundwork that many of his forward-thinking campaign promises are on the cutting-room floor thanks to economic conditions beyond his control. He is preparing Americans for the possibility that sacrifices will be necessary for the ship of state to be righted.
"We are inheriting over a trillion-dollar deficit," Obama said recently. "Not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped."
You can hear the ghost of JFK in those words. His inaugural address contained the immortalized appeal, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
Obama is likely to implore Americans to make a similar contribution to the greater good.
As the first black president, Obama's inaugural address will be studied by history students immediately and into the future.
How history will view his presidency will be determined in part by the content of his first comments as the newly elected leader of a country in need of leadership.