Please join us here in the James E. Walker Library on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 10:30 a.m. to view this historic inauguration. We will have a large TV set up on the second floor balcony.
U.S. presidents are elected in early November, but their terms in office do not officially begin until January 20, or Inauguration Day. Inauguration ceremonies are deeply rooted in tradition, but presidents throughout history have added their own unique customs.
George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789, in New York City. Washington's first inauguration took place at Federal Hall, where the first Congress was assembled. Washington, D.C., did not officially become the U.S. capital until 1801.
Inauguration Day was originally held on March 4 to give electors from each state nearly four months after Election Day to cast their ballots for president and to allow for travel in an era of slow transportation. However, in 1933, Congress ratified the 20th Amendment, which changed Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20. This also changed the starting day for each congressional session from March 4 to January 3. The 20th Amendment is often referred to as the "Lame Duck Amendment," because it shortens the time when officials who are not re-elected (known as "lame ducks") remain in office.
Since 1937, almost every president has been inaugurated in a public ceremony on January 20. One exception to this rule occurs when January 20 falls on a Sunday. In this case, a brief private inauguration is conducted that day and a public ceremony is held the following day. The other exception occurs when a vice president is sworn in with a smaller ceremony immediately after the death, resignation or removal of a president. The inauguration of the president of the United States has come to be recognized by several time-honored traditions.
The Oath of Office
The focus of the inauguration ceremony, and the only part required by law, is the oath of office. Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution provides a 35-word oath of office for the president-elect's official swearing in. Every president in United States history has spoken the words prescribed by the Constitution: "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." The U.S. Senate Web site says George Washington added the words "So help me God" to the end of the oath, as have all presidents since.
While tradition holds that the chief justice of the United States administers the presidential oath, it is not required by law. Upon the death of Warren Harding, his successor, Calvin Coolidge, took the oath of office from his father in 1923, who was a notary public and justice of the peace. Lyndon Baines Johnson, who took his oath of office following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the first and only woman to have administered the oath of office to a president.
Since George Washington's first inauguration in 1789, every president has delivered an inauguration speech, although it is not a legal requirement. Washington's second inaugural address is the shortest on record, at 135 words. The longest inauguration speech was delivered by William Henry Harrison. It was 8,445 words long! Harrison gave this speech outdoors in the bitter cold on March 4, 1841. One month later, he died of pneumonia, which was believed to have been brought on by his exposure to the severe cold.
The president's inaugural message has been made available to Americans and the world via different modes of communication over time. Warren G. Harding was the first president to deliver his speech through loudspeakers. Calvin Coolidge's speech was the first delivered nationally on the radio and Harry S. Truman's the first broadcast on television. Bill Clinton's second inaugural address was the first one broadcast on the Internet.
When George Washington left his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, to attend his inauguration in New York City in 1789, militias along the way joined the procession. When he finally arrived in New York, local officials, dignitaries, soldiers of the Continental Army and congressmen accompanied him to Federal Hall for the swearing-in ceremony. Over time, this evolved into the Inauguration Day parade. Today, inaugural parades include military and marching bands and floats representing all aspects of American life.
Although George Washington did have an informal ball after his inauguration, the first official Inaugural Ball was held in honor of James Madison in 1809. As more people wanted to share in the festivities, later inaugurals included multiple public balls throughout the capital and some in other cities. Bill Clinton's second inauguration set the present record with 14 official inaugural balls.
George Washington's first inauguration was held outside, but holding the inaugural ceremony outdoors wasn't established as a tradition until 1829, when Andrew Jackson was inaugurated at an outdoor ceremony at the East Front of the U.S. Capitol (facing the Supreme Court). Since then, the ceremony has been held outdoors except in cases of extreme weather. In 1981, Ronald Reagan moved the inaugural ceremony from the Capitol's East Front to the West Front. The next presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were inaugurated at the West Front as well, which has more room to allow hundreds of thousands of spectators to witness the event from the National Mall. On those occasions when a president has died in office or resigned, the oath of office has typically been administered in more subdued settings. For example, upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman took his oath of office in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Lyndon Johnson's oath of office was administered on the presidential airplane, Air Force One, following the death of John F. Kennedy. The Constitution does not specify where the oath of office must take place.
For Americans, Inauguration Day and its rich and storied traditions symbolize both the continuity and the renewal of the American political system.
Sources: The Library of Congress, The Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and CNN Student News