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More than a speech and parade

Inaugurations throughout U.S. history
'reminder of a peaceful transition of power'

story.geo.washington.jpg
The swearing in of the first president, George Washington, was on the balcony of New York's Federal Hall in 1789  

January 21, 2001
Web posted at: 2:44 PM EST (1944 GMT)


In this story:

Plans can go awry

Chaos, revelry and more

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WASHINGTON (CNNfyi) -- It's an enduring ritual of democracy, the swearing in of a new president. From George Washington's inaugural address on the Federal Hall balcony in New York to George W. Bush's speech Saturday in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, a new presidency has always meant a new ceremony -- and usually, a new party as well. While the pomp and circumstance surrounding the oath of office have always been great, the ceremony's size and scope have grown over the years.

When the first president of the United States, Washington, took the oath of office in 1789, he didn't even have an executive mansion in which to begin his work. The city of Washington, D.C., didn't become the national capital until 1800.

Parades came about following the Civil War, but in the beginning, they paled in comparison to this weekend's 2 1/2-hour extravaganza. The first inaugural parades featured the U.S. military marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, displays designed to show the nation's solidarity and strength.

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The earliest inaugural balls were simple affairs, according to historian William Seale.

"The early balls were just dances, evening dances that the president would attend," Seale said. "They are huge celebratory parties now."

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Former President Ronald Reagan takes the oath of office as first lady Nancy Reagan looks on in 1985  

Presidents usually attend balls to thank partygoers and political supporters. President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan danced the night away at some of their official inaugural night parties in 1981, while President Bill Clinton played the saxophone at one of his balls 12 years later. This year, Bush visited each of the eight official inaugural balls, if not all the unofficial parties around the Washington area tied to the inauguration.

Plans can go awry

Not all inaugurations go as planned. President William Harrison was sworn in on a very cold March 4, 1841. He died one month later -- the result of pneumonia he caught during the inauguration -- and President John Tyler was inaugurated April 6 of that year.

President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

It rained all day on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inauguration in 1933. It snowed on Kennedy's. "It snowed all night and was so cold and windy the next day," recalled Fran Lewine, who covered the 1960 White House administration for The Associated Press. "Robert Frost couldn't read the poem he had written for the event and had to recite one from memory!"

Reagan, the 40th U.S. president, experienced two weather extremes at the beginning of his two terms in office. January 20, 1981, was the warmest inauguration on record -- a balmy 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The day of his second swearing in, four years later, was the coldest on record at 7 degrees. In fact, it was so cold the inaugural committee moved the swearing-in ceremony inside for the first time, to the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Chaos, revelry and more

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Former President George Bush and wife Barbara take a celebratory walk down Pennsylvania Avenue following his 1989 swearing-in ceremony  

President Andrew Jackson's 1829 inaugural was probably the most chaotic in U.S. history. Following the swearing in, Jackson walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House -- and the crowds followed. In fact they followed him right through the White House gates and into the White House.

"Jackson was pinned against a wall, and his aides had to come lift him up and over the crowd and through a back window of the White House," Seale said. "The crowds were later drawn outside after chefs and stewards filled bathtubs full of whiskey and placed them out on the lawn."

Although inaugurations have become similar to well-timed Broadway productions in many ways -- with carefully choreographed speeches, parades and events -- Seale said they are still a show of promise and reassurance.

"They are a constant reminder of a peaceful transition of power, administration to administration," the historian said.



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RELATED SITES:
White House
White House Historical Association
Michigan Electronic Library: U.S. presidential history

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