Inauguration: Facts that You Probably Didn’t Know
The Inauguration Ceremony is a tradition as old as the Constitution, but all the founding document has to say about the matter is a short clause at the end of Article Two, Section Three:
“Before he enters the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation—‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”
A simple oath, thirty-seven words, is all the Constitution contributed to the Inauguration Ceremonies. Everything else, the parade, the luncheon, Beyoncé performing “The Star Spangled Banner,” even the Chief Justice swearing in the President, all of it has come out of two hundred and twenty-seven years of new history being built and traditions being formed. George Washington’s first inauguration was on a balcony in New York City. The Bible was opened hastily to a random verse that made no sense out of context. There was no inaugural parade, no inaugural ball. Compared to the present day’s presidential bonanza, Washington’s first inauguration was a downright bore.
On January 20th, 2017, our forty-fifth president (and at the time of writing, 3 hours before Super Tuesday results start rolling in, who that will be is anyone’s guess) will take the oath in front of his or her family, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the American people. It will be the culmination of 237 years of layering of tradition on tradition, piece by piece until the whole thing is a mosaic of presidential history. Over the course of the next year, this intrepid inaugural investigator will be looking at this rich history and the many interwoven parts that make up the whole of Inauguration Day. To kick us off, we begin with this collection of fun facts from Inauguration Days past:
- Every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt has attended some sort of spiritual reflection service the morning of his Inauguration. Except for Richard Nixon, who couldn’t find a church service the day of his second inauguration and went the Monday afterwards.
- Since 1837, almost every first term President-elect has ridden to their Inauguration with the person they’re replacing. On the surface this seems like a poignant symbolic passing of the torch, but can you imagine how awkward some of those rides must have been? Picture a smug Ronald Reagan sitting in a car with Jimmy Carter. And Jimmy’s just got to sit there and take it after being nearly universally rejected by America (out of 538 possible electoral votes, he won 49, a tenth of what Reagan won). That’s cold.
- The Vice President is also sworn into office on Inauguration Day. Originally, this was an entirely separate ceremony; a complicated rigidly timed political action in the Senate chamber. It has been combined with the presidential swearing-in since the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.
- A total of nine presidents have been sworn in without any Inauguration Day fanfare because it would be inappropriate to have a parade and multiple balls across the city immediately following the death of the previous president (or in one case, resignation, good old Tricky Dick).
- The longest Inaugural Address is William Henry Harrison’s 8,445-word diatribe against power being consolidated in one branch of government. The shortest is George Washington’s second brief acknowledgement of thanks at 135 words. I’ll let you guess which historians remember more fondly.
- Since 1977, the newly inaugurated President has escorted the outgoing President and First Lady through a military guideline to a waiting helicopter to fly off into the midday sun, while the new President goes back in to the capitol to have a luncheon with Congress. Like Frodo and Gandalf going to the Undying Lands, while Samwise Gamgee goes back to his fourteen children to have dinner.
- At President Obama’s Inauguration Luncheon there were three courses: Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce; Hickory Grilled Bison with Red Potato Horseradish Cake and Wild Huckleberry Reduction; Hudson Valley Apple Pie with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese and Honey. Which frankly all sounds delicious and the best part is the recipes for this and three previous Inaugural luncheonsan be found on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website (inaugural.senate.com/luncheon)
- The largest parade, with 73 bands, 59 floats, horses, elephants, and civilian and military vehicles, and lasting four hours and 32 minutes, occurred in 1953 at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first Inauguration. I’ll bet everyone who lived in D.C. at the time was humming John Phillip Sousa marches for weeks.
- William Henry Harrison, a president most remembered for a massive droning Inaugural Address and dying a month into his term was apparently quite the party-boy. He attended not one, not two, but three Inaugural Balls in his honor. Accounting for inflation, I think that equals Bill Clinton’s record setting fourteen-ball second inauguration, and we all know Clinton can party. We’ve all seen the video of him on Arsenio Hall.