This Date In History: Inauguration Firsts


Lincoln Inauguration 1861 with Unfinished Capitol Dome...PerhapsThe Nation is Now Closer to Completion

Lincoln Inauguration 1861 with Unfinished Capitol Dome...PerhapsThe Nation is Now Closer to Completion

This Date in History: This is truly a date in history. One hundred and forty-four years ago on this date, this nation was embroiled in a horrible Civil War that cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans. On this date in 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation had freed hundreds of thousands of slaves in the rebellious South, but slavery was still the law of the land in the four “border” states.

About 9 months ago, I got into an argument with people at work about the prospects of Senator Obama. I was shouted down…told that he could never be elected President. I was told that America was too “racist.” I was told that people would tell pollsters that they would vote for him but in the privacy of the voting booth, would not. I argued that my generation and younger were not raised that way. I argued that, in their hearts, Americans in general are a patriotic people and will vote for whomever they think is best for the nation and its future.  I was right and so on this date in history, 2009 President Barack Obama was the 44th American sworn in as the 44th as President of the United States. For years I’ve told kids in schools that, if you try, that you never know what will happen and perhaps our nation is finally evolving to reach closer to the lofty ideals set forth by the founding fathers. But this is not the only “first” on inauguration day. There have been many “firsts and unusual circumstance” set forth when the president is sworn in.

John Adams First President?

John Adams First President?

 First off, the 1788 Confederation Congress set the first presidential inauguration to be the first Wednesday in March. Transportation and communications weren’t too good so it was four months after the election so that the electors would have plenty of time to gather and cast their votes.  But, in 1789, the weather was horrendus and no one could get to New York, the capitol at the time.  So, a quorum of the House and Senate could not be established, hence, no official business could be done.  It wasn’t until April 6, 1789 that enough members showed up that the votes could be counted, with all 69 going to Washington, the only man to be unanimously elected President of the United States. 

Here’s an interesting tidbit…John Adams was sworn in as Vice-President on April 21, 1789 so he could take up his duties as President of the Senate.  But, Washington didn’t get to town until over a week later.  So, since there was no President…doesn’t the Vice President take over the duties as President? Doesn’t this mean that John Adams was really the first President of the United States?  Something to ponder as you read further….

Washington Inaugural 1789 (note the sword)

Washington Inaugural 1789 (note the sword)

George Washington wore a sword at his first inaugural, which was held on April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York.  Like many things, Washington set a national precedent since the Constitution is not specific about the ceremony of the inauguration, just the oath of office.  The act of delivering an inaugural address was started by Washington.  George Washington also ad-libbed “so help me God” at the end of the oath and kissed the bible.  It is not part of the official oath but the phrase has been added by every following president.  Presidents kissed the bible until Dwight Eisenhower broke the tradition.

The second inaugural of George Washington took place in the Senate Chamber of Constitution Hall in Philadelphia.  His speech was only 133 words; the shortest of all time.  That is a precedent that was not followed.

Jimmy Took A Stroll

Jimmy Took A Stroll

Thomas Jefferson was the first president inaugurated in Washington DC in 1801, the first time it was the United States Capitol at the time of the inauguration.  Jefferson was the first to participate in the inaugural parade.  Ronald Reagan is the only president not to participate in the parade at his second inaugural because of extreme cold and wind.  Jimmy Carter became the first president to walk the parade route, setting a new precdent, though subsequent Commander’s in Chief have only walked a portion of the route for security purposes.

A Congressional Feud resulted in a first for James Madison’s inauguration.  It was supposed to be held in the House Chamber but Senators and Representatives argued over which chairs would be used.  So, in a Solomon-like move, the inauguration was held outdoors.  It was the first inauguration held outside and Madison was the first to deliver his inauguration address to the public.

James Monroe’s second inaugural was held on March 5, 1821.  Monroe set a precedent when he moved it to the first Monday after inaugural day since he decided not to have it on Sunday. It’s a precedent that has been followed since, though it is not in the Constitution to do so.  I think most of the time, the presidents have been sworn in privately on the prescribed day with the public ceremony being held on the following day.  Dwight Eisenhower did this in 1957.

Harrison's Inauguration Could Have Been His Funeral

Harrison's Talked Himself To Death

William Henry Harrison was a victim of his own decisions.  March 4, 1841 was exceedingly cold.  He gave the longest speech on record at a whopping 8,445 words.  The audience may have fallen asleep but he did not, insisting on participating in the parade.  Harrison fell to “Tecumseh’s Curse” and died a month later from pneumonia…traced to his long exposure to the elements at his inaugural.  He would have been wise to follow Washington’s precedent of a short speech.

Much has been made of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  While it only was 698 words, the words are etched in history on the Lincoln Memorial.  But…did you know that African-Americans first marched in the inaugural parade on March 4, 1865?

US Grant’s second inaugural in 1873 was the coldest March 4 inaugural.  Cadets and Midshipmen from the military academies stood at attention for about 90 minutes…that is until several collapsed as they were without overcoats.  The luncheon afterward was cut short when the food froze.

On March 4, 1925 “Silent” Cal Coolidge was ironically the first president to have his inaugural address broadcast.  His was also the first to have the oath administered by a former president, William Howard Taft, who at that time was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to have his inauguration on January 20 in 1937 after the passage of the 20th Amendment.  It was also the first time that the Vice-President was inaugurated outdoors on the same stage.  His 1945 fourth inaugural was held at the South Portico of the White House.  There was no big ceremony due to the circumstance of World War II.  There was no parade due to gas and lumber rationing.  His speech was only 557 words.

January 20, 1949 found President Truman on the tube.  The first televised presidential inaugural.

Dwight D. Eisenhower broke a tradition of George Washington when he did not kiss the bible following the oath on January 20, 1953.

George H. W Bush...1000 Points of Light...But No Firsts

George H. W Bush...1000 Points of Light...But No Firsts

Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural broke tradition and held the event on the West Front of the Capitol instead of the East Portico since it could accomodate more people.  Reagan’s first inaugural was the warmest on record.  His second was the coldest.

On January 20, 1997 William Jefferson Clinton became the first president to have his inaugural broadcast on the internet.  No doubt, Al Gore was proud.

January 20, 2009 will not only be the first inauguration of an African-American as President of the United States…it will also be the most expensive inaugural of all time.  Estimates are that it will be four times more expensive than the next most costly.  This inaugural might need a bailout.

Weather Bottom Line:  I liked listening to the silence of the snow on Sunday night.  Snow White and I did not go out and walk in it though because we figured we would never be able to warm up from the cold.  No…I still don’t have heat.  I should have it on Tuesday.  Just in time for the temperatures to move up to the mid to upper 30’s on Wednesday and then the mid to upper 40’s for the rest of the week.  Then the weekend we get cold again in the upper 20’s and low 30’s.  But, this is my beware moment….next Monday into Tuesday could be a real mess.  Perhaps going from snow…to ice and or rain…then back to snow.  It’s still a week out so there is lots of time for the computers to change their minds…but we need to keep an eye on that, particularly if someone you know is traveling.

6 Responses

  1. Great post! Really enjoyable! I really love the rest of your Blog too. Thanks!

  2. A very good and detailed history of inaugurations, Mr. Symon. John Adams as the first president? Interesting. I guess you know about the claims that the heads of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation were actually the first presidents. Then it would have been Peyton Randolph or John Hanson depending on whom you believe. Here’s a few links:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A4350610

    http://python.net/crew/manus/Presidents/faq/conf.html

    I hope that you have heat now, Mr. Symon. I can still give you the name of my furnace guy. When this blows over send me an e-mail and I’ll give you his contact information. I’m pretty sure my guy wouldn’t have kept you in the cold this long. This is starting to approach ridiculous, buddy! I’m betting that Snow White’s patience is wearing pretty thin by now.

  3. We have heat now. Thanx all the same Eric. We weren’t the only rodeo in town and had to wait our turn, though they did kick us up toward the front. It was pretty much an all day job. I think I had in another post Hanson as the man. Other sources will claim John Hancock. Trouble is, there was no United States of America until the Constitution came about

  4. Thanx. Feel free to chime in any time.

  5. i hate g. bush

  6. Thank you for that well spoken insight. We are all the better for your having shared that with us. Carry On.

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