20 Jan

Traditions begin somewhere. Always. Some traditions begin after success with something that was done. Other traditions begin by committee with paper and pencil in hand. Even more traditions begin with simplicity of a real start replaced in time with pomp and circumstance.

Presidential inaugurations are no different. Technological advances put us all there at that moment history is being lived. It wasn’t always that way. 

Presidential Inaugurations didn’t always take place January 20th. Presidential Inaugurations took place March 4th until after Franklin Roosevelt’s second term long after the March 4th Election date. The March 4th date was made official in 1845. The Inauguration date was moved to January 20th in 1937. Electoral votes were counted between November and December. Those were the days of walking and riding. News of who won the election traveled at the speed of man. By the time news arrived at Mount Vernon where he lived and by the time George Washington was able to travel to New York  for his swearing in by Grover Cleveland, you get the picture… time flies but enacting history takes longer. Washington was sworn in April 20th.

The phrase President of the United States was created by Congressmen gathered in New York. John Adams had conferred upon himself the title His Most Benign Highness. The Congressmen felt President was better suited as a title for the leader of the Free World. Thomas Jefferson welcomed guests back to the White House after his inauguration hence the White House reception was born. Andrew Jackson ran in to a tad of trouble with his White House reception. His supporters got a bit too rowdy in the White House. Jackson fled leaving his guests behind breaking china and furniture. Lincoln take time to shake the hands of his 20,000 guests who came through the White House reception congratulating him on his win. Soon after, Lincoln attended performance at the Ford Theatre. He died across the street in a  bed too short for a man taller than life as history bodes out. 

The more formal Inauguration grew so did the people wanting to be part of this moment in history. Grover Clevelands guest list swelled so much his inauguration was held outside of the White House. Inaugural grandstands became part of this tradition.

The White House was a good place for a president to live. It just wasn’t large enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to celebrate their political man winning hence began the tradition of Inaugural balls. Dolly Madison was inaugurated Inaugural Balls. James Buchanans Inauguration was the first inauguration to be photographed. William Mckinleys inauguration was the first inauguration captured on film. Calvin Coolidges swearing in was the first broadcast over radio to the American people. Harry Truman was the first president sworn in on National television. Bill Clintons inauguration was carried live on the Internet. Barack Obama the first president to dominate social networking is reported to have had the largest attendance in Inauguration history. Over 1.8 million people stood in hours in the cold and wet to witness Obamas historical swearing in as the first African American president.

Times have changed. President Kennedy wore a top hat to his inauguration. President Obama walks the avenue bareheaded. The world has become that much less formal.

Promises are made by new Presidents at their inaugurations. Some phrases are remembered defining those moments in history. Other phrases come back to bite the leader as he discovers promises are easy to make; changes are another reality. Franklin Roosevelt told people they had NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF. President Lincoln offered his people MALICE TOWARD NONE. John Fitzgerald Kennedy urged his constituency ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY.

The words that have become template to Presidential swearing ins are the 224 year old old taken by George Washington his pledge to Americans being “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… so help me God.”


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