Second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln,
in front of the Capitol, Washington, March 4, 1865.
The first presidential inauguration occurred in 1789 with the election of George Washington. The inauguration features the swearing in ceremony for the president and vice president as well as the president’s inaugural address.
- The inauguration has occurred on the 20th of January since 1937, as mandated by the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution.
- Prior to 1937, presidential inaugurations were held on the 4th of March.
A Lengthy Transition
Australians are accustomed to a new prime minister taking office within weeks of an election. In the US the new president does not take office for nearly three months.
The historical reason for the long period between the election and the inauguration is that the new Congress, also elected in November, must convene to appoint the president. If the Electoral College does not produce a winner, the new Congress must choose the president. The House has selected the president twice, in 1800 and 1824. The Senate selected the vice president once in 1836.
Today, the period between election and inauguration gives the incoming president the opportunity to be fully briefed and to select his cabinet and other top officials.
- The first inauguration held in Washington DC was in 1801 when Thomas Jefferson was sworn into office.
- The first inauguration performed outdoors (rather than in the Senate or House Chamber) was that of James Monroe in 1817.
- In 1829 Andrew Jackson invited all citizens to visit the White House on Inauguration Day. Thousands of people poured through the doors and the bill for the damage was the first expense of the Jackson presidency.
- The first and only president to make an affirmation on Inauguration Day, rather than swearing an oath on a Bible was Franklin Pierce in 1853. His son had been killed the week before the inauguration.
- President Harry S. Truman's inauguration in 1949 was the first to be broadcast on television.
- The 1997 inauguration of President Bill Clinton was the first to be seen live on the internet.
- Senator Dianne Feinstein was the Master of Ceremonies for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. She was the first woman to perform this role, in what was the most highly attended event in Washington DC history.
Barack Obama is sworn in as President of the United States
- Inaugural addresses are not mandated by the Constitution, but every president since George Washington has given a speech after taking the constitutionally prescribed Oath of Office.
- Every inaugural address has mentioned God or a spiritual creator and guide.
- Paid speechwriters may belong to the twentieth century, but every president apart from Ulysses S. Grant has admitted to having received help with writing their speech.
- The longest inaugural address was given by the President who served the shortest ever term. William Henry Harrison's 1841 speech was over 8000 words long and lasted for three hours. He refused to wear a coat while delivering the speech. He died a month later of pneumonia.
- The shortest inaugural address was just 135 words and was delivered by George Washington at the beginning of his second term in 1893.
- The second shortest address was Lincoln's famous second inaugural, given in the dying days of the Civil War.
- The only president to deliver more than two inaugural addresses was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was elected four times, so he gave four speeches.
- In 1981 Ronald Reagan was the first President to deliver his inaugural address on the West Front of the Capitol building, where current President Barack Obama spoke on 20 January 2009. Prior to that it had been commonly held on the East Front or the East Portico.
- Ronald Reagan delivered his second inaugural address in the Capitol Rotunda. The ceremony was moved inside because of freezing conditions outside. He had to correct a line which referred to the Capitol steps mid speech.
"On each national day of inauguration since 1789, the people have renewed their sense of dedication to the United States. In Washington's day the task of the people was to create and weld together a nation. In Lincoln's day the task of the people was to preserve that nation from disruption from within. In this day the task of the people is to save that nation and its institutions from disruption from without...there has come a time...to recall what our place in history has been, and to rediscover what we are and what we may be." Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors...We are not enemies, but friends... The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." Abraham Lincoln, 1861
"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, 1961
"In this blessed land, there is always a better tomorrow... Let history say of us, "These were golden years - when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best... Well, with heart and hand, let us stand as one today: determined that our future shall be worthy of our past." Ronald Reagan, 1985