Inauguration Day 2017 – A History of Traditions

With the President-Elect Trump’s inauguration coming in just a few days, everyone is a buzz about exactly how the 2017 transition will operate. Donald Trump will be our 45th President and this is the 58th Inauguration Day in United States history. What most media outlets are reporting is who is going and more importantly, who is not going. Regardless of who may or may not attend this is a chance to learn more about our Country’s peaceful transition of power and the traditions behind the Inauguration.

President’s inauguration is driven more by tradition than constitutional mandate. The only significant constitutional guideline for inauguration is the date and the text of the oath. The text of the oath is derived from Section II Article I of the United States Constitution and states, “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.” Interestingly, if January 20th falls on a Sunday, the President takes his oath privately on Sunday followed by the public ceremony on Monday. From 1793-1933 the inauguration took place in March 4, which was the day the federal government began operations in 1789. This is a transition that has taken place many times in our Country’s history, but this year this tradition is of great interest to all.

As a bit of a background to Presidential inauguration, we must begin with our first President. President George Washington was sworn into office on April 30, 1789, in our Nation’s first capital of New York City. He was sworn in at noon on the balcony of Federal Hall. George Washington and his wife danced in celebration after his inauguration. This dance has transformed into many formal celebrations balls. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first President sworn into office in Washington D.C. The location chosen for our Capitol as it stands today. Jefferson’s first inauguration was the first peaceful transfer of power under our current governmental system. After Jefferson’s second inauguration, he rode his horse from the Capitol to the President’s home. Many Navy shipmen and musicians gathered to watch, and thus began the tradition of the processional parade. In 1885 Grover Cleveland’s parade lasted two hours and dawned 25,000 marching in the processional. The President customarily chooses who marches in the parade and in 1865 Abraham Lincoln included, for the first time, African Americans to march along-side him. The only President to skip the tradition of the parade is Reagan in 1985 who chose to cancel the parade due to dangerously freezing temperatures and winds. By 1829, Andrew Jackson had 20,000 in attendance at his reception and ended up sneaking out of a White House window. The first televised Inauguration was Harry S. Truman in 1949.

Attendees to the inaugurations have been usually members of Congress, high-ranking members of armed forces, judiciary, and former Presidents. To date, there have only been five former Presidents that did not attend the inauguration of an incoming president. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both very upset over their losses to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively, and choose not to attend. Andrew Jackson did not attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant and neither did Woodrow Wilson (although he did ride with Warren G. Harding to the Capitol). And of course, the most famous to date, Richard Nixon did not attend the inaurguation of Gerald Ford….for obvious reasons. So, will this year’s list of former Presidents “trump” the other attendees? We shall see…..

Whatever your political views, this is a time to reflect on our Country’s history, traditions and the chance to see, first hand, the peaceful transition of power that has gone on for over 200 years.