Since 1937, the inauguration ceremony for a new United States President occurs every four years on January 20, marking the commencement of a new presidential term. Inauguration Day takes place for each term of a president, even if he continues in office for a second term. The term of a president starts at noon (Eastern Time) on January 20 at which time the Chief Justice of the United States administers the oath of office. On only part of the inauguration ceremony mandated by the U.S. Constitution is that the president make an oath or affirmation before that person can “enter on the Execution” of the office of presidency. However, over the years, various traditions have arisen that have expanded the program from a simple oath-taking to a day-long event, including parades, speeches, and formal dances.
The first inauguration, that of George Washington, took place on April 30, 1789. All subsequent (regular) inaugurations from 1793 until 1933, were held on March 4, the day of the year on which the federal government began operations under the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Inauguration Day moved to January 20 in 1937, following ratification of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, where it has remained ever since. Most inaugural ceremonies have been held at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. George Washington gave his first address at Federal Hall in New York City and his second address in Congress Hall in Philadelphia. James Monroe’s 1817 inauguration ceremonies took place outside the Old Brick Capitol which stood on the current site of the Supreme Court building and served as the temporary capitol from 1815-1819. Due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declining health, his fourth inauguration on January 20, 1945, was held on the White House lawn.
Outdoor ceremonies were traditionally held at the eastern front of the U.S. Capitol. In June 1980, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies decided to move the ceremony to the west side of the Capitol, to save money and provide more space for spectators. Ronald Reagan was the first president inaugurated on the west front in January 1981, and an “urban legend” later developed that he had personally requested the move, to face toward his home state of California. All outdoor inaugurations since have taken place on the Capitol’s western front.
In addition to the public, the attendees at the ceremony generally include Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, high-ranking military officers, former presidents, living Medal of Honor recipients, and other dignitaries. The outgoing president customarily attends the president-elect’s inauguration. Only five have chosen not to do so. John Adams, still smarting over the outcome of the election of 1800, did not remain in Washington to witness the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, his successor. In 1829, John Quincy Adams also left town, unwilling to be present to see Andrew Jackson’s accession to the White House. In 1869, Andrew Johnson was angrily conducting a cabinet meeting even as his successor, Ulysses S. Grant, was being inaugurated. More recently, Woodrow Wilson did not attend Warren G. Harding’s 1921 inauguration (though he rode to the Capitol with him), nor did Richard Nixon attend Gerald Ford’s 1974 inauguration (having left Washington, D.C., prior to his resignation taking effect).
Inauguration procedure is governed by tradition rather than the Constitution, the only constitutionally required procedure being the presidential oath of office (which may be taken anywhere, with anyone in attendance who can legally witness an oath, and at any time prior to the actual beginning of the new president’s term). Traditionally, the president-elect arrives at the White House and proceeds to the inaugural grounds at the United States Capitol with the incumbent president. Around or after 12 noon, the president takes the oath of office, usually administered by the Chief Justice of the United States, and then delivers the inaugural address.
The vice president-elect is sworn into office at the same ceremony as the president-elect; a practice begun in 1937. Before then, the vice presidential oath was administered in the Senate Chamber (in keeping with the vice president’s position as President of the Senate). The vice-president-elect recites the oath first. Immediately afterwards, the United States Marine Band will perform four ruffles and flourishes, followed by Hail, Columbia. At noon, the new presidential and vice presidential terms begin. At about that time, the president-elect takes the oath of office, traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the United States, using the form mandated in Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution:
“ I, <full name>, 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. ”
According to Washington Irving’s biography of George Washington, in the first inauguration, President Washington added the words “so help me God” after accepting the oath. There is no requirement that any book, or in particular a book of sacred text, be used to administer the oath, and none is mentioned in the Constitution. With the use of the Bible being customary for oaths, at least in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a Bible was generally used. Several presidents were sworn in on the George Washington Inaugural Bible. John Quincy Adams was sworn in on a book of laws. At his 1963 swearing aboard Air Force One, Lyndon Johnson was sworn on a Catholic missal that belonged to his predecessor. In addition, Franklin Pierce is definitely known to have affirmed rather than sworn by using a law book. There are conflicting reports concerning Herbert Hoover, but the use of a Bible is recorded and suggests that he swore in the usual fashion. Barack Obama used the Lincoln Bible for his oaths in 2009 and 2013. In 2013 Obama also used a Bible that belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr..
Immediately after the presidential oath, the United States Marine Band will perform four ruffles and flourishes, followed by Hail to the Chief, while simultaneously, a 21-gun salute is fired using artillery pieces from the Presidential Guns Salute Battery, Third United States Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard” located in Taft Park, north of the Capitol. The actual gun salute begins with the first ruffle and flourish, and ‘run long’ (i.e. the salute concludes after Hail to the Chief has ended).
Newly sworn-in presidents usually give a speech referred to as an inaugural address. Until William McKinley’s first inaugural address in 1897, the president elect traditionally gave the address before taking the oath; McKinley requested the change so that he could reiterate the words of the oath at the close of his address. John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Chester A. Arthur gave no address, but addressed Congress four months later. In each of these cases, the incoming president was succeeding a president who had died in office, and was not elected as president in the next election. Gerald Ford addressed the nation via broadcast after taking the oath, but he characterized his speech as “Not an inaugural address, not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech — just a little straight talk among friends.” Fifty-four addresses have been given by thirty-seven presidents. George Washington’s second address was the shortest (135 words), and William Henry Harrison delivered the longest (8,495 words).
Contemporary inaugural celebrations typically span ten days, from five days before the inauguration to five days after. On some occasions however, either due to the preferences of the new president or to other constraining circumstances, they have been scaled back. Such was the case in 1945, due to austerity measures in effect during World War II. More recently, in 1973, the celebrations marking Richard Nixon’s second inauguration were altered due the death of former President Lyndon B. Johnson two days after the ceremony. All pending events were canceled in order that preparations for Johnson’s state funeral could begin. Because of the construction work on the center steps of the East Front, Johnson’s casket was taken up the Senate wing steps of the Capitol when taken into the rotunda to lie in state. When it was brought out, it came out through the House wing steps of the Capitol.
Since 1953, the president and vice president have been guests of honor at a luncheon held by the leadership of the United States Congress immediately following the inaugural ceremony. The luncheon is held in Statuary Hall and is organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and attended by the leadership of both houses of Congress as well as guests of the president and vice president. By tradition, the outgoing president and vice president do not attend.
Since Thomas Jefferson’s second inaugural on March 4, 1805, it has become a tradition for the president to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. The only president not to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue was Ronald Reagan in his second inauguration in 1985, due to freezing cold temperatures made dangerous by high winds. Reagan paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue during his first inauguration, in 1981, amid the celebrations that broke out across the country because of news just minutes into his term that the 52 American hostages held in Iran for the previous 444 days had been released. In 1977, Jimmy Carter walked from the Capitol to the White House, although for security reasons, subsequent presidents have walked only a part of the way.
Following the arrival of the presidential entourage to the White House, it is customary for the president, vice-president, their respective families and leading members of the government and military to review an Inaugural Parade from an enclosed stand at the edge of the North Lawn. The parade, which proceeds along the 1.5 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the stand and the Front Lawn in view of the presidential party, features both military and civilian participants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia; this parade largely evolved from the post-inaugural procession to the White House, and occurred as far back as the second Jefferson inauguration, when shipmen from the Washington Navy Yard and musicians accompanied Jefferson on foot as he rode on horseback from the Capitol to the White House. This was expanded in 1837 with horse-drawn displays akin to parade floats being paraded with the president, and the 1847 inaugural ceremonies, including the procession, parade and festivities, were the first to be organized by an official organizing committee. However, the 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson saw serious overcrowding of the White House by well-wishers during the “Open House” held following the inauguration.
The 1885 inauguration of Grover Cleveland saw the post-inaugural Open House evolve into a presidential review of the troops from a grandstand in front of the White House. Since 1885, the presidential review has included both military and civilian contingencies. The 1953 Parade was the largest and most elaborate ever staged. The presidential review has also made milestones, with the 1865 parade being the first to include African-Americans, the 1917 parade being the first to include female participants, and the 2009 parade being the first to include openly lesbian and gay participants.
A tradition of a national prayer service, usually the day after the inauguration, dates back to George Washington and since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the prayer service has been held at the Washington National Cathedral.
Beginning with George Washington, there has been a traditional association with Inauguration festivities and the production of a presidential medal. With the District of Columbia attracting thousands of attendees for inauguration, presidential medals were an inexpensive souvenir for the tourists to remember the occasion. However, the once-simple trinket turned into an official presidential election memento.
In 1901, the first Inauguration Committee on Medals and Badges was established as part of the official Inauguration Committee for the re-election of President McKinley. The Committee saw official medals as a way to raise funding for the festivities. Gold medals were to be produced as gifts for the president, vice president, and committee chair; silver medals were to be created and distributed among Inauguration Committee members; and bronze medals would be for sale for public consumption. McKinley’s medal was simple with his portrait on one side and writing on the other side.
Unlike his predecessor, when Theodore Roosevelt took his oath of office in 1905, he found the previous presidential medal unacceptable. As an art lover and admirer of the ancient Greek high-relief coins, Roosevelt wanted more than a simple medal — he wanted a work of art. To achieve this goal, the president hired Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a famous American sculptor, to design and create his inauguration medal. Saint-Gaudens’s obsession with perfection resulted in a forestalled release and the medals were distributed after the actual inauguration. However, President Roosevelt was very pleased with the result.
Saint-Gaudens’ practice of creating a portrait sculpture of the newly elected president is still used today in presidential medal creation. After the president sits for the sculptor, the resulting clay sketch is turned into a life mask and plaster model. Finishing touches are added and the epoxy cast that is created is used to produce the die cuts. The die cuts are then used to strike the president’s portrait on each medal. The Smithsonian Institution and The George Washington University hold the two most complete collections of presidential medals in the United States.
United States presidential inaugural balls are large social gatherings, both white tie and black tie, held to celebrate the commencement of a new term of the President of the United States. Planned and sanctioned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the official inaugural balls occur throughout the evening of Inauguration Day in the Washington D.C. area and are invitation-only, attended by guests who are issued pre-paid tickets. The President, First Lady, Vice-President and Second Lady, all make personal appearances at each of the inaugural balls held in their honor. Catered food, beverages, and live entertainment performed by national and globally acclaimed musicians are provided at the inaugural balls.
Other inaugural balls, unofficial and often less formal that occur before and on Inauguration Day, are given by state societies, businesses, and private organizations.
Scott #854 was issued on April 30, 1939, in New York City, coinciding with the opening date of the World’s Fair. The 3-cent bright red violet stamp commemorates the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States. Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, on the balcony of the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall on Wall Street. Robert Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, administered the oath of office. New York City would serve as the nation’s capital for a year, before moving to Philadelphia. The only President to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College, Washington served two terms as President with John Adams (the second President of the United States) as his Vice President for both terms. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed 72,764,550 copies of this stamp using the flat plate method, perforated 11.