An inaugural look through history


“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

— Abraham Lincoln

March 4, 1865

“And so, my fellow Americans; ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world; ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

— John F. Kennedy

January 20, 1961

Lincoln’s quote, which leads this column, is from his second inaugural address, and was made on a muddy March day just five weeks before his assassination. Kennedy’s quote, 96 years later, was made on a crisp day in January following a heavy snowfall the night before.

The reason that new Presidents, and the new Congress, originally took office at the beginning of March was one of practical necessity in late 18th Century America. In order to allow time for all election disputes to be settled, news of the results to be transmitted to Washington and representatives to travel to the nation’s capital, several months had to be allotted. Hopping on a horse didn’t get you to Washington quite as quickly as hopping on a Boeing.

By the 20th Century, the four month delay was having exactly the opposite effect. News now traveled instantly across the wire and radio and the new medium of television was right around the corner. Likewise, the representatives had retired their horses to ranches and were traveling to Washington by car, train or airplane.

The time between election and inauguration simply left a lame duck Congress in office for months. As a result, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, moving inauguration date and the start of new Congressional sessions to January, effective in 1936.

The inauguration wasn’t always a major Washington affair. George Washington’s first inauguration took place in New York and his second inauguration and the ceremony for John Adams took place in Philadelphia. Washington’s second inaugural address was the shortest in history at just 135 words.

It was not so much a speech as an explanation to those assembled of what was about to occur. William Henry Harrison delivered the longest address (8,445 words in 40-degree weather) and died of pneumonia a month later.

Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 ceremony was the first in Washington. It was also the first to feature the U.S. Marine Band, which has played at every ceremony since then. The Marine Band is typically part of the parade and is stationed near the President for the oath, so that it can break into “Hail to the Chief” as soon as the oath is taken. James and Dolley Madison were treated to the first ever inaugural ball in 1809. Tickets cost $4 each.

Ronald Reagan’s second ceremony was the coldest at 7 degrees. William Howard Taft may have had the worst weather- a blizzard forced the ceremony inside in 1909 and it later took 6,000 men to clear nearly 60 tons of snow from Washington streets. The current forecast for Washington today is 49 degrees and light rain.

Four Presidents since Adams have taken the oath outside of Washington, all because of the assassination or death by natural causes of the sitting President.

Chester Arthur was administered the oath in New York by a state judge after the assassination of James Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt by a federal district judge in Buffalo after the shooting of William McKinley, LBJ on the tarmac at Love Field in Dallas (the only administered by a female judge) following the assassination of JFK, and Calvin Coolidge was administered the oath by his father, a justice of the peace, when he learned while visiting his parents that Warren Harding had died while in California.

The Coolidge and Johnson oaths are the only ones ever administered outside of the states of New York and Pennsylvania or the District of Columbia.

The public swearing-in ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. today and the inaugural parade begins at 3 p.m. Justice Clarence Thomas will administer the oath to Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath the President-elect Donald Trump. Three inaugural balls will follow the parade.

David Hejmanowski

Contributing Columnist

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. He took the oath of office as Judge two years ago, but the Marine Band was unavailable at that time.

No posts to display