As we prepare for the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America, I realized that though I have seen several different inaugurations in my lifetime, I did not know that much about the history of the day. The inauguration date of January 20th is relatively new, with the first inauguration on that specific day occurring in the year 1937. Before 1937, the inauguration took place on the fourth of March. Here are some other interesting facts about the history of Inauguration Day in the US:
- Theodore Roosevelt was the only US President to not use a Bible when swearing in to the office at his inauguration in 1901. After six months of serving as the vice president, William McKinley was assassinated earlier in the year. However, there is no consistency regarding the use of the Bible in other inaugurations–some presidents flip open to a random page, others pick out specific verses or passages to place their hand on, and some prefer to keep the Bible closed completely.
- Though it is relatively well known that William Henry Harrison’s inauguration speech was the longest ever delivered (which ultimately led to his death at the hands of pneumonia when he refused to wear a hat or coat in the snowstorm that occurred during his swearing-in), the shortest inauguration speech was given by George Washington before he began his second term in 1793. The speech was only 135 words long and only took a few minutes to deliver.
- After Jimmy Carter’s inauguration ceremony in 1977, he walked from the Capitol Building to the White House with his wife and daughter in a parade. The only other president to have done so is Thomas Jefferson. Carter did so to appear as though he was more connected to the people than recent presidents preceding him. The mile and a half walk in took forty minutes total, and Carter later called it “the perfect day.”
- The Inaugural Ball was open to the public for the first time during Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. The tickets were originally priced at $60, but were scalped online for $12,500 in some cases. In contrast, tickets to the celebration only cost $4 at James Madison’s inauguration in 1809.
- The official Presidential oath can be found in the United States constitution. During George Washington’s first inauguration he recited the oath perfectly, and adding “So help me God” at the end of the last sentence. Though this phrase has never been officially added to the oath, it has become a tradition for newly sworn-in presidents to follow in the footsteps of George Washington, including Barack Obama during both of his inaugurations. One of the only presidents to break from this tradition was Theodore Roosevelt, who instead concluded the oath with the phrase, “And thus I swear.”
It will be interesting to see what sort of traditions and memorable moments emerge from today’s inauguration!