Ten Fun Facts About US Presidential Inaugurations

 

CURRIER & IVES | THE INAUGURATION OF WASHINGTON | METROPOLITAN MUSEUM

In the final chapter of Promise Me, Dad Joe Biden talks about his decision NOT to run for President in 2016. In 2017 Donald Trump, who won the 2016 election, was inaugurated and became the 45th President. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t discuss inauguration in her book My Own Words, but she did administer the oath of office to Al Gore for his second term as Vice President. 

Here then, inspired by my recent reading of these two books, are 10 Fun Facts About US Presidential Inaugurations:

  1. Hot and Cold - William Henry Harrison is most famous for his short term in office - he died one month after his 1841 inauguration. Many attribute his death to his refusal to wear a coat to guard against the cold temperature while giving his 100 minute long inaugural address (still the record for length). It’s unclear if his death was due to pneumonia or typhoid so we can’t really be sure, but it’s a good story, isn’t it? And speaking of inauguration temperatures, Ronald Reagan has the distinction of having both the warmest and the coldest inaugurations. It was 55° F at his first inauguration in 1980, and just 7° F at his second in 1984.  
  2. Who Has Sworn the Most? - The Constitution doesn’t state who should administer the oath of office, but ever since John Adams was sworn in as second president it’s been traditionally done by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. (George Washington was sworn in by Robert Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, at New York’s Federal Hall in 1789 and by Associate Justice William Cushing in the Senate Chamber at Congress Hall, Philadelphia in 1793.) The Chief Justice who has sworn in the most Presidents is John Marshall, who delivered the oath at nine inaugurations.
  3. Wait for it, wait for it - While America votes for President on the first Tuesday in November, the Constitution originally called for Inauguration Day to be March 4th. People and things moved at a slower pace 240-odd years ago, and the four months was needed to get all the votes tallied and recorded, and the new President relocated to the seat of government. In 1933, passage of the 20th amendment moved Inauguration Day up to January 20th, and set the time of Inauguration at noon. This meant that Franklin Roosevelt was the last President inaugurated on March 4th, and the first inaugurated on January 20th. At the speed things move in the 21st century, some feel the lapse between November 4th and January 20th may now be too long.
  4. Don’t Drink and Get Inaugurated -  In 1865 incoming vice president Andrew Johnson made a mess of things. Some say he was suffering from typhoid fever, though others dispute that. On the morning of his swearing in, supposedly to keep his typhoid symptoms at bay, he decided to down some whiskey and unfortunately proceeded to get drunk. At the Inauguration, he gave a rambling, incoherent speech which didn’t end until someone grabbed his coattails. Afterwards, Johnson attempted to complete his task of swearing in Senators, but was inebriated enough that he had to be relieved of that duty. 
  5. Quote of the Day - Many incoming Presidents and their speechwriters try to capture motivational sentiments and insert inspiring lines or catch phrases into their inaugural addresses. Examples range from Lincoln’s “With malice toward none, with charity for all...”; FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”; JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; Bill Clinton’s “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”; to George Bush Sr’s “thousand points of light”. A famous presidential phrase that is the exception - President Reagan’s comparison of America to a “shining city on the hill” was referenced by him many times during his presidency, and is contained in his Farewell Address, but not in either of his Inaugural Addresses.
  6. Oops - The wording of the oath a President takes is provided in the Constitution, but occasionally in administering or taking the oath a “gaffe” occurs. Richard Nixon inserted an “and” at one point in taking the oath. Three times the Chief Justice delivering the oath has made a mistake, perhaps most famously in 2009 at Barack Obama’s first swearing in. Chief Justice Roberts omitted the word “faithfully” from the phrase “that I will faithfully execute the office of the President...”, and Obama, after hesitating, repeated the phrase with Roberts’ omission. Although constitutional experts said it wasn’t really necessary, Roberts re-administered the oath the following day at the White House.
  7. Never on a Sunday - Sunday, March 4th, 1821 should have been the second Inauguration Day for James Monroe, America’s fifth president, and the first to be held on a Sunday. But not wanting to disturb the Sabbath, Monroe consulted with the Supreme Court justices and opted for Monday March 5th instead. The 12th US President, Zachary Taylor, followed Monroe’s lead by holding his first inauguration on March 5th, 1849. Since then when Inauguration Day has fallen on a Sunday, Presidents have taken the oath of office in private before holding a public Inauguration ceremony on Monday. 
    • Rutherford Hayes privately on Saturday March 3rd and publicly on Monday March 5th, 1877
    • Woodrow Wilson privately on Sunday March 4th and publicly on Monday March 5th 1917
    • Dwight Eisenhower privately on Sunday January 20th and publicly on Monday January 21st 1957
    • Ronald Reagan on Sunday January 20th and publicly on Monday January 21st 1985
    • Barack Obama privately on Sunday January 20th and publicly on Monday January 21st 2013
  8. Two Terms, Four Oaths - President Obama served two terms but took the oath of office four times - twice for his first term because he repeated the oath due to the Chief Justice’s omission on Inauguration Day (#6), and twice for his second term because his Inauguration fell on a Sunday (#7).
  9. Have a Ball - Balls, the “old-fashioned” term for dance parties, are a tradition on Inauguration Day. A group of friends who got together in 1809 to throw a party for the 4th President James Madison, held what is now considered the first Inaugural Ball. Andrew Jackson’s Ball at the White House in 1829 famously went wrong when his invited supporters got drunk and stampeded through the house, breaking furniture and shocking other guests. Woodrow Wilson did not approve of dancing and had no Ball. Balls have fallen in and out of favor over time. There is no Inaugural Ball scheduled for 2021 due to the pandemic.
  10. All Around the Town - Presidents have been sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol since Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. Most planned inaugurations have been held somewhere at the Capitol, indoors or out, ever since the Capitol was completed in 1800, and most of them outdoors, the exceptions being  William Taft’s inauguration in 1909, held in the Senate chambers due to a blizzard, and Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration held in the Capitol Rotunda because of the cold weather (#1). Three Presidents have been sworn in at the White House (FDR’s 4th, Harry Truman’s 1st on the death of FDR, and Gerald Ford’s on the resignation of Richard Nixon). The only President to have been sworn in aboard a plane was Lyndon Johnson after the assassination of John Kennedy.

So there are my 10 fun facts about Presidential Inaugurations. Do you have an inauguration story to share? Leave a comment below.


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