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Ten historical facts about presidential inaugurations

January 19, 2017

Friday marks the official inauguration ceremony for the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump. The inauguration process has a colorful history as long as the nation itself.

Dr. Scout Blum, a professor in Troy University’s Department of History and Philosophy, recently compiled 10 facts you may not know about presidential inaugurations, from landmark dates to surprisingly elaborate ceremonies:

10 Fun Historical Facts About The Inauguration

  1. Presidents haven’t always been sworn in on the same date. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933, moved the date of the inauguration from early March to January 20th.  If that date falls on a Sunday, the swearing in is held privately, with a public ceremony the next day.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt, sworn in after the death of President McKinley in 1901, was the youngest president at 42.  Donald Trump will be the oldest president, as he turned 70 on June 14, 2016.
  3. The transition of power has occasionally lacked good feelings between political rivals.  Most outgoing presidents accompany their successor to the inauguration, a tradition formally begun by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in 1837.  However, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, and Richard Nixon didn’t attend their successor’s swearing in.

    The 1857 inauguration or President James Buchanan was the first to be photographed.

    The 1857 inauguration or President James Buchanan was the first to be photographed.

  4. Changing technology has played a role in how Americans get news of the inauguration.  James Buchanan’s (1857) was the first to be photographed; William McKinley’s (1897) the first to be recorded by a movie camera; Calvin Coolidge’s (1925) the first to be broadcast by radio; Herbert Hoover’s (1929) the first to be on a talking newsreel; Harry Truman’s (1949) the first to be televised; Jimmy Carter’s (1977) the first to feature solar panel heating; and Bill Clinton’s (1997) the first to be live streamed over the internet.
  5. There are no specific rules about who swears in the President, although by custom that duty falls to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Coolidge, for example, was sworn in by his father John, a notary public, after the death of Warren Harding in 1923.  The only woman to administer the oath was Sarah Hughes, a U.S. District Judge, who swore in Lyndon Johnson aboard a plane in Dallas after the assassination of John Kennedy.
  6. Presidents are not required to swear the oath on a Bible, although that has been a custom since George Washington’s inauguration.   Both John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce placed their hands on a constitutional law book during their swearing in.  Donald Trump will use the same Bible used by Lincoln on his first inauguration, as did Barack Obama.  He will also have a Bible presented to him by his mother.
  7. In fact, presidents are not required to “swear” the oath at all.  Both Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover “affirmed” the oath rather than “swearing” it.
  8. Only one president has been sworn in who has not gone through the presidential election process – Gerald Ford in 1974, after the resignation of Richard Nixon.

    U.S. Marines marching during the inauguration parade for President Obama.

    U.S. Marines marching during the inauguration parade for President Obama.

  9. The inauguration generally includes a parade after the ceremony.  Abraham Lincoln’s parade in 1865 was the first to include African Americans.  Woodrow Wilson’s was the first to include women in 1917.  Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1953 is usually considered the most elaborate.  Almost 30,000 people marched in the parade, which included 50 floats, 65 bands, dogs, horses, and elephants, along with an atomic cannon.
  10. Inauguration festivities usually continue well in to the night with balls and parties.  After his inauguration, Andrew Jackson opened the White House to all Americans, in keeping with his image of a “man of the people.”  A crowd of about 20,000 people swarmed through the official residence, breaking and stealing things and leaving mud on furniture.  After his second inauguration, Bill Clinton attended 14 inaugural balls, the most of any president.