On Friday, January 20, 2017, the president-elect becomes the president, as Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the 45th commander in chief of the United States of America. Inauguration Day is typically a day of pomp and circumstance, carefully planned out to reflect tradition and the orderly transfer of power. However, through the years there have been some moments that stand out as atypical of the normal routine. Here are some interesting facts and history from Inauguration Days past.
A Change in Date
The new president of the United States was sworn in on March 4 for well over a century. This extended lame duck session led to numerous problems for incoming presidents, so it was moved with the 29th amendment. Now, power officially changes hands at noon on January 20.
A Change in Location
The first president who took the oath of office in the nation’s current capital of Washington D.C. was Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Previously, George Washington took his first oath in New York. His second oath, along with John Adams’ one and only, were administered in Philadelphia.
Coverage of the Inauguration
In 1845, James Polk’s inaugural was the first covered by telegraph. The first inauguration to be photographed was in 1857 when James Buchanan took the oath. William McKinley was the first president to have his inauguration filmed by a motion picture camera, and Harry Truman was the first to be televised. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be live streamed on the internet.
Every four years, much is made of the parties and inaugural balls. Fashion experts critique the outfits, gossip columnists cover the attendees, and pundits analyze the cost. This year, President Trump is expected to attend three separate balls, with dozens of unofficial galas taking place in the Washington area. President Obama attended ten different balls to celebrate his first term in 2009, but only two to kick off his second term in 2013. The first inaugural ball celebrated the beginning of James Madison’s in 1809 and was surely not like the affairs taking place in 2017. Tickets were just $4.
The Inaugural Speech
The first inaugural speech was also the shortest (just 135 words). The longest speech is surrounded in intrigue as many believe it led to a tragic event. William Henry Harrison’s almost two hour, 8500 word speech took place on a cold, wet day. President Harrison chose to forgo a coat and hat, and rode on horseback instead of a covered carriage. Many have attributed Harrison’s death just thirty days later from pneumonia brought on by these poor choices, but modern historians dispute this theory. They instead point to poor the handling of sewage in the area around the White House water supply that would have had devastating effects on Harrison’s gastrointestinal system.
Death as a result of Inauguration Day
There is, however, one death that is properly attributed to poor Inauguration Day weather. That sad designation belongs to Abigail Fillmore, wife of President Millard Fillmore, who remained at her husband’s side throughout his predecessor’s inauguration despite brutal wintry conditions. She developed pneumonia and died shortly after.
The Oath of Office
There have been numerous occasions when the oath of office had to be re-administered. The most recent and infamous example was in 2009. The oath was incorrectly read by Chief Justice John Roberts and repeated President Barack Obama in 2009. Because the oath was not read and repeated exactly as stated in the Constitution, Obama and Roberts had a do over “out of an abundance of caution”. The oath has been repeated six other times in history due to a variety of issues. Four presidents – Rutherford Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan – restated their oaths publicly because Inauguration Day took place on a Sunday, meaning only private ceremonies were held. Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge both took the oath privately following the sudden death of the sitting president.
Inauguration Day has a long list of traditional and customary practices that presidents and their staffs have followed for years. But nothing about this campaign and election season has been traditional. It will be interesting to see what odd occurrences and anecdotes can be added to this list after President Trump takes his place in the White House.