Inauguration History

March 31, 2021
Inauguration History

The New Beginning

The U.S. Constitution has ONE requirement for the new president on Inauguration Day – the rest has become tradition.

What It Is. Why It Matters.


”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.”

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates this specific oath as a requirement for a new president to take office.

The First Inauguration Day

  • April 1789: Pres. George Washington traveled from his home in VA to the nation’s then-capital: New York City.
  • He took the oath of office on an outdoor balcony in front of a large crowd, his hand on a Bible – thus beginning the current tradition. His inaugural address was given in the Senate chamber to Congress.
  • Fireworks erupted across the city in the evening, concluding the festivities.

Why January 20?

  • Inauguration Day used to take place on March 4 due to how long it took to collect & count votes.
  • The 20th Amendment in 1933 changed Inauguration Day to Jan. 20.
  • The Constitution states one presidential term is ended and the new one begins at noon on the 20th, and has only one other specific requirement for the day: the new president must take an oath of office.

The Inaugural Ceremony

  • Besides D.C., past inaugurations have taken place in 4 states: NY, PA, VT & TX (on Air Force One after assassination of Pres. Kennedy).
  • Pres. Jefferson (1801): first inauguration at the U.S. Capitol (Senate’s chamber).
  • Pres. Monroe (1817): first inauguration held outside at the U.S. Capitol.
  • Ronald Reagan (1981): first inauguration held on the West Front of the Capitol, where it will be held yet again this year.

Why Outside The Capitol?

A disagreement between lawmakers back in 1817 may have helped inspire the tradition of an outside inauguration:

“…when a small feud ensued between the Senate and the House of Representatives over which chairs would be used in the House chamber, the venue changed to an outdoor platform in front of the building.”

The Parade

  • Inaugural parades began as an informal event escorting the president to the Capitol to be sworn in.
  • 1809: the inauguration of James Madison included the first formally-planned parade route, with participants from around the country.
  • Modern day: the parade and its thousands of attendees escort the President and VP from the Capitol to the White House.

Unique Moments:

1801: Pres. Thomas Jefferson remains the only president to walk to and from his inauguration ceremony.

1925: Inaugural address first broadcast on the radio (Pres. Coolidge). 1949: First televised inauguration (Pres. Truman’s second term).

1961: Army flame throwers melted the snow off Pennsylvania Ave. so the parade could go on.

The presidential oath is typically recited with one hand on a Bible, though it is not required. John Q. Adams took his oath in 1825 using a book of law. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt held up his hand. Pres. Obama used Pres. Lincoln's Bible for both inaugurations, and added Dr. MLK Jr's Bible for his second. Pres. Trump also used the Lincoln Bible in addition to his own.

A great source for information about the inauguration

by Jenna Lee,

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