Inauguration of President Washington - History

Inauguration of President Washington - History


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Washington became the first President of the United States, after being unanimously elected by the members of the Electoral College. The newly-elected President took part in what became a triumphal procession from Mt. Vernon to New York, the temporary capital of the United States. On April 30th, on a crowded balcony overlooking Wall Street, President Washington took his oath of office.

The outgoing Congress of the Confederation set the first Wednesday in January for choosing presidential electors. Despite his reluctance to serve as President, Washington was the overwhelming choice of the electors. On April 16th, Washington left Mt Vernon, Virginia, for a triumphal journey toNew York City to assume the Presidency. He was given a civic dinner in Alexandria, Virginia. After he crossed the Potomac, he was given the honors of the city of Baltimore. In Wilmington, Delaware, he was again honored. He was met at the Pennsylvania line and escorted into Philadelphia by the state's governor.

Two triumphal arches had been prepared at the southern entrance of the city, and a parade was held in Washington's honor.

It was then on to Trenton, New Jersey, for another celebration. On April 23, Washington reached Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where a barge awaited him with thirteen master pilots in white uniforms. New York Harbor was filled with decorated boats honoring the general. The shore was packed with people; and as Washington's barge arrived at Murray's Wharf, the city celebrated as volleys of cannon fire were released and the bands struck up music.

On April 30th, Washington took the oath of office on a balcony of the Federal Hall. The oath was given by Chancellor Robert Livingston, Chief Justice of New York. Washington then returned inside to read his inaugural address to Congress.


First inauguration of George Washington

The first inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States was held on Thursday, April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, New York. The inauguration was held nearly two months after the beginning of the first four-year term of George Washington as President. Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston administered the presidential oath of office. With this inauguration, the executive branch of the United States government officially began operations under the new frame of government established by the 1787 Constitution. The inauguration of John Adams as Vice President was on April 21, 1789, when he assumed his duties as presiding officer of the United States Senate.

First presidential inauguration of George Washington
DateApril 30, 1789 232 years ago ( 1789-04-30 )
LocationFederal Hall,
New York City
ParticipantsGeorge Washington
1st President of the United States
— Assuming office
Robert Livingston
Chancellor of New York
— Administering oath
John Adams
1st Vice President of the United States
— Assuming office John Langdon
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
— Administering oath
1793 →


The First Presidential Inauguration: How George Washington Rose to the Office

After leading the American colonists to victory in the Revolutionary War, George Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army and vowed never again to reenter politics. “I feel myself eased of a load of public care,” he wrote upon returning to his Virginia plantation in December 1783. “I hope to spend the remainder of my days in cultivating the affections of good men and in the practice of the domestic virtues.” 

Yet Washington soon began to despair over the weak state of the government under the Articles of Confederation, privately pronouncing that “something must be done, or the fabric must fall, for it is certainly tottering.” 

In 1787, following months of indecision, he was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Unanimously chosen to lead the convention, he almost never voiced his opinion during the deliberations, instead serving as a kind of neutral arbiter. When the Constitution was finished, however, Washington lobbied for its passage, particularly in his home state of Virginia, where it was narrowly ratified in June 1788.

Once more, Washington’s thoughts turned to his plantation, even as common and prominent citizens alike entreated him to become the nation’s first president. “You alone can make this political machine operate successfully,” said the Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who had served as a general in the Continental Army. 

Despite expressing reservations about everything from his advanced age to his supposed lack of qualifications, Washington eventually acquiesced. Reluctant to the end, he wrote that his “movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.”

The 1789 presidential election was much different from anything in modern times. For one thing, three of the original 13 states did not participate. Rhode Island and North Carolina were left out because they had not yet ratified the Constitution, and New York proved too politically divided to select delegates to the Electoral College. 

Of the remaining 10 states, a few chose their delegates with a popular vote—open only to white men with property. In the others, either the legislature picked the delegates or a combination of methods was used. Although Washington did no campaigning of any sort, all 69 delegates voted for him. To this day, he remains the only president to win the Electoral College unanimously, a feat he repeated in 1792.

Upon learning of his victory in mid-April 1789, Washington journeyed from his Virginia plantation to New York City. He hoped to move quickly but found himself being treated like a monarch nearly everywhere. In Philadelphia, for example, a child placed a laurel crown on his head, after which he led a parade atop a white horse. Then, in Trenton, New Jersey, townspeople constructed a floral arch thanking him for the Revolutionary War battle he had won there. Flower girls tossed petals at his feet, and a chorus of women dressed in white sang him a welcoming ode. More festivities occurred in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, from where he took a presidential barge symbolically steered by 13 oarsmen across Upper New York Bay to Manhattan.

Having arrived at his destination, Washington holed up for a week while Congress ironed out the remaining details of his inauguration. Finally, around midday on April 30, he took a carriage through lower Manhattan surrounded by a contingent of troops, legislators, city officials, foreign dignitaries and local citizens. After traversing the last couple hundred yards to Federal Hall on foot, Washington bowed to both houses of Congress and then went up to the Senate Chamber’s outdoor balcony, where New York’s highest-ranking judge administered the oath of office. “Long live George Washington, president of the United States,” the judge cried out as thousands of spectators exploded into cheers.

Though not mandated by the Constitution, Washington next gave an inaugural address throughout which he reportedly fidgeted nervously. “This great man was agitated and embarrassed,” a senator said, “more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket.” 

In the speech, Washington admitted to feeling anxious about his new job and even listed his deficiencies, such as being unpracticed “in the duties of civil administration.” Nevertheless, he declared himself honored to be summoned by his country, “whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.” 

He spoke in generalities rather than delving into specific points of policy. And in a plea for unity among the states, he promised to be guided by “no local prejudices, or attachments no separate views, nor party animosities.” The republican model of government, he continued, is an 𠇎xperiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

The inauguration now over, Washington led a procession to a church prayer service prior to witnessing a fireworks display illuminate the night sky. Transparent images of him hung in many windows, lit up by candles and lamps, and so many people thronged into the streets to glimpse him that he had difficulty returning to the presidential home. Even at that moment of celebration, the so-called �ther of His Country” purportedly believed he would soon retire. But he ended up bowing to public pressure and serving two full terms, finally stepping aside in 1797.


Inauguration Day

U.S. presidential inaugurations are celebrated in many ways, with some standard traditions.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

With these words, American presidents are sworn into office every four years. Every president must take the oath at the beginning of their term of office. If a president is re-elected, they must take the oath at the beginning of each term.

A presidential inauguration is much more than the oath of office. Although there are few other formal requirements, there are many traditions associated with presidential inaugurations, including the date and location of the inauguration ceremony.

Since 1937, when President Franklin Roosevelt took his second oath, inaugurations have happened on January 20 of the year following the November general election. (Before that time, inaugurations were celebrated on March 4.) If January 20 falls on a Sunday, celebrations are held January 21. For instance, in 2013, President Barack Obama celebrated his second inauguration on Monday January 21.

Inaugural ceremonies usually take place where Congress meets. President Thomas Jefferson was the first president inaugurated at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1801. (Before that time, Congress met in New York and Philadelphia, where Presidents George Washington and John Adams were inaugurated.) Since Adams, all regular inaugurations have taken place at the Capitol. One exception is the fourth inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. (That year, President Roosevelt was inaugurated at the White House. Exceptional inaugurations, which usually take place because of the death or incapacitation of a sitting president, have taken place in different locations and various dates since the first such case, when John Tyler was inaugurated at a hotel in Washington, D.C. following the death of president William Henry Harrison.)

Inauguration day festivities are primarily organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). The JCCIC is a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives.

However, members of the JCCIC are not the only organizers. The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTR-NTR) has always participated in presidential inaugurations, to recognize the president&rsquos role as the military commander-in-chief. The Presidential Inaugural Committee, determined by the incoming president&rsquos staff, organizes and provides funding for inaugural balls and other festivities. Here is a chronological overview of what traditions and ceremonies a typical inauguration day entails:

Worship Service: Almost all U.S. presidents have been Christian, or raised in that faith, and many have chosen to attend a public or private Christian worship service on Inauguration Day. The tradition of attending a worship service on the morning of inauguration day was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who attended services on the morning of his first swearing-in in 1933.

Procession to the Capitol: After the worship service, the president-elect, vice president-elect and their spouses are accompanied to the White House by members of the JCCIC. The elected officials then take a car or limousine to the Capitol. President Jefferson (1801) and President Andrew Jackson (1829) walked to the Capitol.

Oaths of Office: The vice-president-elect is sworn in first. Vice-President John Garner was sworn in outside the Capitol for his second term with President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937. Prior to that, vice-presidents were sworn in during a separate ceremony in the Senate chamber, recognizing the vice-president&rsquos position as president of the Senate.

The presidential oath of office is traditionally administered by the chief justice of the United States.

With some exception, most presidents have taken the oath of office with their hand on a Bible. Some presidents use a family Bible, such as President Bill Clinton, who used the Bible given to him by his grandmother. Other presidents choose historic Bibles. For both of his inaugurations, President Obama used the so-called Lincoln Bible, which President Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861.

Some presidents have not taken the oath of office on Inauguration Day, usually because of a national tragedy. For example, President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah T. Hughes on Air Force One following the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963. Likewise, President Gerald Ford was sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger in the East Room of the White House following the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Inaugural Address: Every president has delivered an inaugural address&mdasha speech outlining his vision for the country. President Washington&rsquos second address is the shortest (135 words). President William Harrison&rsquos address is the longest (8,445 words).

Inaugural addresses have given rise to many well-known phreases that we continue to quote today, such as President Kennedy&rsquos &ldquoask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country&rdquo (1961) and President Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos &ldquowe have nothing to fear but fear itself&rdquo (1933). President Lincoln&rsquos entire second inaugural address (1865), most notable for the phrase &ldquowith malice toward none, with charity for all,&rdquo is engraved on the Lincoln Memorial.

Inaugural Luncheon: After the oath of office has been taken, the JCCIC plays host to the new president and vice-president at a luncheon at the Capitol. This has been a tradition since President Dwight Eisenhower&rsquos first inauguration in 1953.

Inaugural Parade: The most festive part of Inauguration Day is probably the inaugural parade, in which the president, vice-president, and their families walk or ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. At the White House, the president views the parade from the Presidential Reviewing Stand.

The parade is organized by the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, with participants chosen by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Participants almost always include military regiments (including many ROTC groups), veterans&rsquo organizations, marching bands, dance companies, and floats sponsored by citizen groups.

Inaugural Balls: Supporters of the new president and vice-president have organized an exclusive party on Inauguration Day ever since President Washington&rsquos first inauguration in 1789. In 1953, President Eisenhower&rsquos supporters added a second ball to the evening&rsquos festivities.

Although this order of inauguration festivities is a time-honored American tradition, with some elements dating back to George Washington, in extraordinary times, traditions can shift. In 2021, the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris diverged significantly from the norm, as large portions of the public festivities were altered due to health concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic as well as safety concerns due to threats of political insurrection from supporters of the outgoing administration. However, while the celebratory trappings of the 2021 inauguration may have differed from past inaugurations, the oaths of office remained the same, and America&rsquos democratic process of the peaceful transition of power marked its 244 th year and 59 th inauguration in 2021.

Inaugural addresses sometimes have themes. In 2013, President Obama&rsquos theme will be "Faith in America&rsquos Future." What political issues do you think President Obama will talk about in this inaugural address?

Answers will vary! One area of focus in President Obama&rsquos inaugural address may be domestic issues, such as the economy, the relationship between Republicans and Democrats in government, crime, tax reform, education, and job creation.

Another possible area of focus in President Obama&rsquos inaugural address may concern foreign policy, including the war in Iraq, conflict in the Middle East, and economic competition from Chinese manufacturers.

Many issues, such as immigration and concerns about the environment, are considered both domestic and foreign-policy issues.

One of the most anticipated parts of recent inaugurations has been the choice of musical guests. "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin memorably performed at President Obama&rsquos inauguration in 2009. If you were part of President Obama&rsquos Presidential Inaugural Committee, what musicians would you choose to perform at the 2013 ceremony? Why?

Answers will vary! Performers should probably be American, and as relevant, impressive, and inoffensive to as many voters as possible.

In 2009, there were more than 120 inaugural balls. Each state has its own ball, and many citizen groups hold their own. The Entrepreneur Inaugural Ball, for example, is held by leaders of the business community. The Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball is hosted by hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and focuses on entertainment interests. The Green Inaugural Ball is sponsored by leaders in the conservation and clean-energy movements. If you were part of President Obama&rsquos Presidential Inaugural Committee, what sort of inaugural balls would you want the president to attend in 2013? Why?

Answers will vary! Official balls (those attended by the president) may reflect his loyalty to a geographic region (such as the state he is from) or his interest in a specific issue or constituency. Sometimes, they are also simply places where he feels relaxed and comfortable&mdashthese are parties for him, after all!


Taking the Oath

Finally, Adams informed the president-elect that both houses were ready to attend him to take the oath of office. Washington was escorted to the outer balcony in front of the Senate chamber, overlooking Broad Street. The balcony was bedecked with a canopy and curtains of red and white.

Robert Livingston, Chancellor of New York, administered the oath. Samuel Otis, Secretary of the Senate, held the ceremonial Bible, which was a Masonic Bible acquired at the last minute from St. John's Lodge.

Washington took the oath with his hand on the Bible, and kissed the Bible after taking the oath. From the portico overlooking Wall and Broad Streets, Livingston turned to the teeming streets below and shouted, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!"

The new president bowed to the crowd, and then retired to the Senate chamber where he would deliver his inaugural address.


Presidential Inaugurations

The first presidential inauguration took place at Federal Hall, New York.

Inauguration of James Buchanan, President of the United States, at the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on March 4, 1857.

President Ulysses S. Grant delivering his inaugural address on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1873.

President Chester Arthur accompanies President-elect Grover Cleveland from the White House to the inauguration, March Cover of Harper's Weekly, March 15 1885.

White House Historical Association

More than 200,000 spectators witnessed the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt in March 1905.

The Inauguration of President William Howard Taft on March 4, 1909 was hindered by a severe blizzard.

President Calvin Coolidge rides in a convertible automobile escorted by a mounted honor guard and cavalry escort adding to the pageantry of his Inaugural Parade, March 4, 1925.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unprecedented third inauguration on January 20, 1941.

President Harry S. Truman's inauguration on January 20, 1949, was the first televised inauguration in the United States.

Architect of the Capitol, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren administering the oath of office to Richard M. Nixon on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1969.

Architect of the Capitol photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the inaugural stand has been set up on the West Front of the Capitol instead of the East Front.

Architect of the Capitol photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist administering the oath of office to William J. Clinton on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1993.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum/Library of Congress

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk in front of the Presidential limousine on Pennsylvania Avenue at 15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., during the Inaugural Parade on January 20, 2009.

President Donald Trump being sworn in on January 20, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. He holds his left hand on two versions of the Bible, one childhood Bible given to him by his mother, along with Abraham Lincoln's Bible.

Courtesy of the White House

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office in New York City. Later he said of this new presidential role, "I walk on untrodden ground." Inauguration Day began with the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bells ringing across New York City, our nation's first capital. At noon Washington made his way through large crowds to Federal Hall where both houses of Congress were assembled. On the second-floor balcony facing the street he was administered the oath of office by Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, and officially became the first president of the United States.

Constitutional guidelines for inaugurations are sparse, offering only the date and the words of the oath. All else is driven by tradition. After the oath is administered the president gives an address, usually one stressing national unity.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson was the first to be sworn in as president in Washington, D.C., the location chosen for the permanent capital. After his second inauguration in 1805 Jefferson rode on horseback from the Capitol to the President's House amid music and a spontaneous gathering of mechanics from the nearby Navy Yard – a procession that grew into today's inaugural parade.

Inaugural events, including parades, have become more elaborate over the years and have evolved into spectacular entertainments. Selection of parade participants is a traditional way for a president to make a statement about his beliefs, as Abraham Lincoln did in 1865 by inviting African Americans to march for the first time.

Presidents have celebrated in many ways since George Washington danced the minuet after his inauguration. James Madison and his wife Dolley were the guests of honor at the first official inaugural ball, held at Long's Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since that time, such activities have been broadened to include a cross-section of the American population. Receptions, balls, and other public events reflect the president’s need to include many diverse groups in the transition of power, even, at times, officially sanctioned protesters. More than a celebration of one person’s rise to power, modern inaugurations validate the republic’s democratic processes. Modern inaugural festivities reflect not only the president they honor, but also the desire of many Americans to celebrate our nation's rich history and the transfer of presidential power.


The Origins of the March 4 Inauguration

Today, Inauguration Day falls on an exact day and time—January 20 at noon. Every four years, either the president or the president-elect takes the Oath of Office. Since 1981, presidents have typically taken the Oath on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building. 1 This public ritual demonstrates America’s commitment to democracy and signifies a peaceful transfer of power to citizens and people around the world. However, prior to ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, most Inaugurations took place on March 4 at noon. Contrary to popular belief, this language does not appear in the original text of the United States Constitution, which begs the question—how did the March 4 Inauguration date come to be?

To answer this question, one can look to the last Congress convened under the Articles of Confederation. On September 12, 1788, this legislative body voted to approve the following resolution: “… the first Wednesday in March next be the time and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution.” 2

The first Wednesday in March 1789 just happened to be March 4. This resolution established that this date would mark the start of the new federal government under the ratified Constitution. Despite this resolution, President George Washington’s Inauguration did not take place until April 30, 1789. Although government operations were set to start on March 4, logistical delays made this impossible. On that date, the House of Representatives and the Senate attempted to convene for the first time. However, both legislative bodies failed to reach a quorum, the minimum number of members required to conduct official business. The first few months of 1789 were particularly cold and snowy, delaying many members of Congress traveling to New York City, the temporary seat of government. 3

President George Washington delivers his Inaugural Address on April 30, 1789 in the Federal Hall Senate Chamber in New York City.

According to the Constitution: “The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted”. 4 This meant that until a quorum could be established to count the electoral votes, the winner of the presidency and vice presidency could not be determined or certified. Eventually, on April 6, 1789, enough members of Congress gathered to constitute a quorum. Once the electoral votes were counted, George Washington won the presidency unanimously with sixty-nine electoral votes. Word of his victory reached Washington, and he made the journey to New York City from his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. Along the way, Washington was greeted with celebrations, dinners, and parades. He recorded his reception in New York City in his diary on April 23:

“The display of boats which attended and joined us on this occasion, some with instrumental music on board the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and loud acclamations of the people which rend the skies, as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful (considering the reverse of this scene, which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as they are pleasing.” 5

President Washington was finally inaugurated on April 30, 1789. 6 Washington arrived at the Federal Hall Senate Chamber at 1:00 pm. At 2:00 pm, Washington was escorted to a balcony outside the chamber decorated with red and white curtains to take the Oath of Office as a crowd gathered below. Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston administered the Oath while Secretary of the Senate Samuel Otis held the ceremonial bible. Following the Oath, Washington returned to the Senate Chamber where he delivered his Inaugural Address. 7 Many elements of Washington’s first Inauguration still persist today, including taking the Oath before a public audience, swearing on a ceremonial bible, and delivering an Inaugural Address.

After Washington’s first Inauguration, Congress then set the official Inauguration Day. On March 1, 1792, Congress passed legislation that established Inauguration on March 4: “And be it further enacted, That the term of four years for President and Vice President shall be elected shall in all cases commence on the fourth day of March next succeeding the day on which the votes of the electors shall be given.” 8 This legislation did not specify the time of the Inauguration. However, notes from George Washington’s Cabinet meeting on February 28, 1793, include the following about his upcoming second Inauguration: “Monday, 12 o’clock, is presumed to be the best time. But as the mode will be considered by the public, as originating with the President, it is submitted to him for his decision.” 9

President Woodrow Wilson delivers the Inaugural Address at his second Inauguration on March 5, 1917. Wilson previously took the Oath of Office on Sunday, March 4, 1817 and repeated it the following day for the public ceremony.

From this point forward, Inaugurations were typically held on March 4 at noon. On March 2, 1801, Thomas Jefferson confirmed this precedent with a letter sent to the Senate president pro tempore James Hillhouse: “I beg leave through you to inform the honorable the Senate of the US. That I propose to take the oath which the Constitution prescribes to the President of the US. before he enters on the execution of his office, on Wednesday the 4th. inst. At twelve aclock in the Senate Chamber.” 10 The March 4 Inauguration date was further codified with the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment on June 15, 1804. The Twelfth Amendment modified the way in which the Electoral College chooses the president and vice president, allowing these positions to be elected together. Previously, the candidate that won the most electoral votes became president while the runner up became vice president meaning that they were from different political parties. It also mentioned March 4:

“And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, the Vice President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.” 11

This amendment became the only direct mention of March 4 in the Constitution and the majority of presidents prior to 1933 were inaugurated on this date. There were exceptions in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917, as March 4 fell on a Sunday during those years. These ceremonies were held the following day, Monday, March 5. Some presidents were sworn in privately at the traditional time of noon on March 4. However, this was not always the case. In 1821, President James Monroe was inaugurated publicly on March 5, without taking the Oath of Office on March 4 at noon. In this instance, Monroe was already president and there was no transfer of power between leaders. This was also the case in 1917, as Woodrow Wilson was already president—however President Wilson decided to take the Oath of Office on Sunday at the Capitol and again on March 5 for the public Inauguration. 12

In 1849, President Zachary Taylor also did not take the Oath of Office before the Inauguration celebrations on Monday, March 5. In this case, there were questions about who served as president during Sunday, March 4. According to his diary, President James K. Polk concluded his last piece of business as president at 6:30 am on March 4, 1849 and had vacated the White House to stay at the Irving Hotel the evening before. 13 However, a Missouri plaque for a statue of Congressman David Rice Atchison includes the phrase “President of the United States One Day.” In this popular retelling, Atchinson was appointed Senate president pro tempore after Vice President George M. Dallas took leave of the Senate on March 2, 1849. This created a scenario where according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the Senate president pro tempore followed the Vice President in the line of succession, making Atchinson acting president when Taylor did not take the Oath of Office on March 4. Despite the confusion, Atchinson did not consider himself president that day. Because his term in Congress and as president pro tempore ended on March 4 at noon, he was no longer in a position to ascend to the presidency, even if by accident. Additionally, because Polk’s term ended at noon, this indicated that Taylor was “for all intents and purposes” president since he could have taken the oath at any time after noon. 14

The question arose once again in 1877. Following a highly contentious and controversial election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, Congress created an electoral commission to determine the winner. Hayes was declared the victor on March 2, 1877, just two days before Inauguration Day. President Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish urged Hayes to take the Oath of Office early, so on the evening of March 3 Supreme Court Justice Morrison Waite administered the Oath in the Red Room of the White House. Law and precedent for a March 4 Inauguration at noon suggests that Grant’s term would have officially ended four years from the time when he took the Oath of Office in 1873. Newspapers indicate that Grant was inaugurated for the second time on March 4, 1873 at noon, meaning that his term of office ended four years later on March 4, 1877 at noon. This meant Hayes was considered president at noon on March 4, although newspapers did not report on his March 3 swearing in until the morning of March 5. 15 Click here to learn more about the Election of 1876.

President Barack Obama takes his Oath of Office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, privately with his family on January 20, 2013 in the Blue Room of the White House.

This issue was finally resolved with the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment—however there have been times when January 20 fell on a Sunday. Inauguration Day in 1957, 1985, and 2013 all fell on Sunday, but in every instance the incumbent stayed in office (Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama). All three took the Oath of Office in various places inside the White House—Eisenhower in the East Room, Reagan in the Entrance Hall, and Obama in the Blue Room. All three took their oaths on Sunday, and then took the Oath of Office again publicly on Monday, January 21. 16

The Twentieth Amendment, also known as the “lame duck” amendment, was proposed and authored by progressive Nebraska Senator George Norris in 1922. While communications and travel during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were more difficult, necessitating a nearly four-month gap between winning election and taking the Oath of Office, by the twentieth century much had improved in terms of travel and technology, allowing for an earlier Inauguration date. Norris also sought to tackle a larger problem. Previously, a president that lost reelection could govern during the lengthy lame duck session without having to be responsible to voters. Shortening this lame duck period was meant to strengthen democracy and avoid a future Constitutional crisis. 17 After introducing this legislation five times, Norris was finally successful on his sixth try in March 1932. The Amendment passed Congress and was ratified by the States in January 1933. Today, presidents serve a four-year term, beginning on January 20 at noon, and ending four years from that date and time exactly. 18

Thank you to Dr. Thomas J. Balcerski, Associate Professor of History at Eastern Connecticut State University, for his contributions to this article.


Preparations for the Inauguration

After delays in counting votes and certifying the election, Washington was officially informed that he had been elected on April 14, 1789. The secretary of Congress traveled to Mount Vernon to deliver the news. In an oddly formal meeting, Charles Thomson, the official messenger, and Washington read prepared statements to each other. Washington agreed to serve.

He left for New York City two days later. The trip was long, and even with Washington's carriage (a luxury vehicle of the time), it was arduous. Washington was met by crowds at every stop. On many nights he felt obligated to attend dinners hosted by local dignitaries, during which he was toasted effusively.

After a large crowd welcomed him in Philadelphia, Washington was hoping to arrive in New York City (the location of the inauguration as D.C. had not yet become the nation's capital) quietly. He didn't get his wish.

On April 23, 1789, Washington was ferried to Manhattan from Elizabeth, New Jersey, aboard an elaborately decorated barge. His arrival in New York was a massive public event. A letter describing the festivities that appeared in newspapers mentioned a cannon salute was fired as Washington's barge passed the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan.

A parade formed consisting of a cavalry troop formed when he landed and also included an artillery unit, "military officers," and "the President's Guard composed of Grenadiers of the First Regiment." Washington, along with city and state officials and followed by hundreds of citizens, marched to the mansion rented as the President's House.

The letter from New York published in the Boston Independent Chronicle on April 30, 1789, mentioned that flags and banners were displayed from buildings, and "bells were rung." Women waved from windows.

During the following week, Washington was kept busy holding meetings and organizing his new household on Cherry Street. His wife, Martha Washington, arrived in New York a few days later accompanied by servants which included enslaved people brought from Washington's Virginia estate at Mount Vernon.


PHOTOS: Inauguration Day from past to present

WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - From crowd size to circumstances changing the ceremony, the swearing in of each president has looked different on Inauguration Day throughout history.

Take a look back with the photos below. 

Donald J. Trump - 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: A view of the crowd at the U.S. Capitol ahead of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump on January 20, 2017. (Photo by Bill O'Leary /The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: President Donald Trump waves to the crowd on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Pho

US President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during his swearing-in ceremony on January 20, 2017 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Barack Obama - 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after his speech at the ceremonial swearing-in during the 57th Presidential Inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Barack Obam

U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the crowd Monday, January 21, 2013 during the inauguration parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Barack Obama - 2009

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: INAUGURATION 2009 Crowds gather on the National Mall in Washington for the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Barack Obama. The view is from behind the inaugural podium on the West Front of the Capitol early Tuesday

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk down Pennsylvania Avenue as they wave to the crowd on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ted Richardson/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

George W. Bush - 2005

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20: (L to R) U.S. President George W. Bush takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist while first lady Laura Bush, Jenna Bush and Barbara Bush look onduring the inaugural ceremony January 20, 2005

George W. Bush - 2001

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: President George W. Bush makes his acceptance speech during the 43rd Inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)

(FILES): This January 20, 2001 file photo shows US President George W. Bush (L) taking the oath of office from US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (robe) during inaugural ceremonies at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. At noon on January

William J. Clinton - 1997

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: SWEARING IN--President Bill Clinton delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in for his second term. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

US President Bill Clinton (L), First Lady Hillary, and daughter Chelsea (R), wave to the crowd as they walk the inaugural parade route 20 January in Washington, DC. Earlier, Clinton was sworn in on Capitol Hill for his second term as US president. AF

William J. Clinton - 1993

Inauguration of President of United States, President William Jefferson Clinton,42nd President,52nd Presidency Washington, DC, 1/20/93 (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Bill Clinton, 42nd President, waves to the crowd on Inauguration Day January 20, 1993 in Washington, DC (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

George Bush - 1989

(Original Caption) Vice President-elect George Bush takes the oath of office on Inauguration day in Washington, DC. His wife, Barbara, holds the Bible while Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart administers the oath of office.

Ronald Reagan - 1985

Washington, DC. Jan. 17 1985 Fireworks illuminate the frozen skies over the White House in celebration of President Ronald Reagan's second inauguration. At the time of these photos the temperature was hovering around 5 degrees below zero. This was on

US President Ronald Reagan (C) is sworn in as 40th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger (R) beside his wife Nancy Reagan (C) during inaugural ceremony, on January 21, 1985 in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC. (Photo by -

Ronald Reagan - 1981

(Original Caption) President-elect Ronald Reagan takes the oath of office during inauguration ceremonies in Washington, DC. His wife, Nancy, is holding the Bible and Chief Justice Warren Burger is administering the oath.

Washington DC. 1-20-1981 Newly sworn in as the 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy depart the United States Capitol on route to their inaugural parade. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty

Jimmy Carter - 1977

WASHINGTON, DC -- JANUARY 20: President Jimmy Carters speaks at his inauguration ceremony on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, January 20, 1977, in Washington, DC. Preceding President Gerald Ford is seated to his right. (Photo by David Hume Kenne

Richard M. Nixon - 1969

Chief Justice Warren Burger administers the oath of office for President Nixon during the 1969 inaugural ceremonies in Washington D.C. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

MORE COVERAGE: Inauguration Day 2021

Lyndon B. Johnson - 1983

Lyndon B. Johnson&aposs inauguration took place mere hours after JFK was shot. The widely known photograph of his swearing-in captures Johnson taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy at his side.

Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office as President of the United States, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy November 22, 1963. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

John F. Kennedy - 1961

American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963) stands on a platform for his inauguration as 35th President on the east front of the US Capitol, January 20, 1961. (L-R) His parents, Rose and Joseph Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (192

High-angle view of US President John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963) and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 - 1994), as they ride in the lead limosine in their inaugural parade, Washington DC, January 20, 1961. (Photo by Abbie Rowe/PhotoQuest/Get


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Jackson’s parade was historic, but what happened after it became notorious. A mob of his salt-of-the-earth supporters descended on the White House, horrifying Washington socialites in their silks and furs. They shoved waiters and climbed on upholstered furniture in work boots. Eventually, a clever steward lured them outside with tubs of whiskey punch, but not before they broke china and dirtied the carpets.

President-elect Donald Trump has been compared to Jackson many times. Of all the people who could have moved into the White House on Jan. 20, it is Trump—stager of fervid rallies, star of reality TV, builder of resorts and casinos—who seems most likely to arrive with a circus in tow.

In fact, Trump’s inauguration will be on the skimpy side compared to others, given that organizers have struggled to attract performers. The chief of Trump’s inaugural committee promised that what it lacks in A-listers it will make up for with “a soft sensuality”—a weirdly NC-17 phrase reminiscent of the discarded Trump-Pence campaign logo that had a capital T, er, entering a P. Maybe it means the design of the parade and inaugural balls will reflect Trump’s rococo taste, or maybe the surrogate was just clumsily trying to manage expectations.

Like Andrew Jackson, Trump has inspired thousands of ordinary citizens to come to Washington to watch him ascend to the presidency. The difference is that many of them are coming to protest him from the sidelines, while his formal parade will feature the Mid America Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team, the Boy Scouts, the U.S. Border Patrol Pipes and Drums, and school marching bands from distant parts of the country (D.C. bands declined the invitation). About 8,000 people will be involved in the one-hour event, a big drop from the 15,000 who took part in Barack Obama’s first parade in 2009.

Parades were more extravagant a century ago. At Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905, 50,000 flags decorated Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Apache chief Geronimo and the Rough Riders drew huge crowds. Roosevelt watched his parade from a neoclassical reviewing stand in a “Court of Honor” that stretched between 15th and 17th Streets NW, in imitation of the World’s Fair of 1893 (Chicago’s famous “White City”). At that time, Pennsylvania Avenue merchants set up general viewing stands in front of their stores and sold tickets to the public.

Dwight Eisenhower’s parade in 1953 was a blowout. “A lot of folks believe that 1953 was the biggest,” says Jim Bendat, the author of Democracy’s Big Day, a history of inaugurations. It had 73 bands, 59 floats, three elephants, an Alaskan dog team, and a turtle waving an American flag with its front legs. It lasted four-and-a-half hours.

James Garfield put on a grand spectacle despite winning by the thinnest of margins: less than 10,000 votes out of 9 million. Perhaps more than any other president, he grasped the architectural possibilities of the occasion, building 39 large wooden arches at intersections between the Capitol and the White House. The main arch was 70 feet high and painted bronze, straddling 15th Street north of Pennsylvania. Garfield, inaugurated in 1881, was also the first president to build a formal reviewing stand, not a makeshift platform of wood and canvas.

From Garfield’s day until the late 20th century, considerable thought went into the design of the president’s stand. For a time, the American Institute of Architects even helped the inaugural committee choose the designer in a competition.

The master of the reviewing stand was Waddy Wood, the architect of many D.C. landmarks, including the U.S. Department of the Interior and what is now the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Wood designed a stand for Woodrow Wilson in 1913 and two for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1933 and 1937. The first of FDR’s was designed to resemble Federal Hall, where George Washington was inaugurated. The second was an elaborate replica of the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home.

Presidential stands took a Modernist turn with Harry Truman’s inauguration, and the design for John F. Kennedy’s in 1961 by local architect Robert Paul Brockett—a simple pavilion with a slightly upturned roof and rows of supporting piers—remains the default today. Of course, the pavilion is now fitted with a carapace of bulletproof glass and other security measures. Safety and comfort, not visual symbolism, have become the overriding concerns.

Trump’s stand looks a lot like those used by Obama and George W. Bush. But he has broken with tradition another way—by firing Charlie Brotman, the announcer for every parade since 1957. That makes inauguration historian Bendat indignant. “I think it’s the most petty thing I’ve ever heard,” he says. (Brotman has been hired as an announcer for NBC.) Another unexpected move by Team Trump was dismissing the commander of the D.C. National Guard, effective the minute Trump takes office, 12 p.m. on Inauguration Day. The motivation is unclear, but there will be an abrupt change of command as the city churns with Trump supporters, protesters, and tens of thousands of law enforcement and troops.

There were protests at George W. Bush’s inaugurations and at Richard Nixon’s in 1969, when opponents of the Vietnam War camped on the Mall and threw rocks and tomatoes at the presidential motorcade. But the Women’s March and other demonstrations planned for this inauguration weekend could dwarf those. Two hundred bus groups have applied to park at RFK Stadium on Jan. 20 and 1,200 on the day after, when the Women’s March on Washington is being held. Protesters may end up outnumbering supporters, which would be a first.

“The protest that takes place on the Saturday will be probably the largest protest for an inauguration weekend we’ve ever seen,” Bendat says.

On Inauguration Day itself, thousands of protesters as well as supporters are expected to line the parade route. (D.C. anticipates 800,000 people in total.) Riding past his ethically compromised hotel in the Old Post Office, with gold letters spelling out his name on the facade, will the new president get out of the limo and pose for photos? The ANSWER Coalition, an activist group, has received a permit to demonstrate in the west end of Freedom Plaza, probably within earshot of the hotel.

Despite riding in armored limos for their protection, most first couples choose to walk part of the mile-and-a-half-long route. (The one couple that walked the whole way was, unsurprisingly, the Carters.)

Will the Trumps walk any part of the route? The president-elect thrives on adulation but loathes criticism, and is rumored to wear a bulletproof vest out of fear for his safety.

The best thing he could do to restore confidence at such a fraught time is put duty over nerves and ego. Trump could get out of the car near the National Archives where the nation’s founding documents are kept to signal deference to their principles. He could walk hand in hand with Melania down the avenue, accepting the jeers of protesters as well as the applause. He could show that he is humbled by the massive responsibility that now rests on his shoulders.


Watch the video: The very first inauguration


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