Today is the presidential inauguration. Not only is it a time when there is a peaceful transition of power, but it is also one of the few times when Americans can enjoy a little bit of pomp and ceremony.
Even at the beginning, there was excitement and large crowds. George Washington took office in 1789 in New York City to the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bells ringing. He made his way through the large crowds to Federal Hall to take the oath of office.
Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in as president in Washington, D.C. By the time of his second inauguration, Jefferson rode on horseback from the Capitol to the president’s house. The procession that followed him eventually grew into the inaugural parade we will see today.
Some inaugurations were quite rowdy. Andrew Jackson opened the White House to the crowd and soon had to deal with a mob scene that almost destroyed the president’s house. Jackson had seen many battles but decided he better flee the house (through a back door or through a window, it is reported). The huge crowd drank heavily, destroyed furniture and china, and even ground cheese with their boots on the White House carpet.
Who the president selects to join him in an inaugural parade can make a statement about his views and beliefs. Abraham Lincoln, for example, invited African Americans to march with him during his second inauguration.
The format for the oath of office can be found in Article II of the U.S. Constitution. It is reported that at the end of the oath, George Washington added the words “so help me God.” That tradition continues to this day.
James Monroe was the first president to give an inaugural address to a crowd. Since that time, presidents have used the occasion to speak directly to the American people.
Today is inauguration day: a day where there will be speeches and celebrations. Let’s enjoy this peaceful transition of power.