Five Facts on Inaugurations

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Here are five facts on inaugurations.

  1. A president assumes the presidency after taking the oath of office.

Enshrined in the Constitution, the oath reads, “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.” The oath has been taken 73 times and by 46 presidents, including Joe Biden. Although not mandated by the Constitution, since John Adams’ inauguration in 1797, most presidential oaths of office have been administered by the chief justice of the United States.

  1. Aside from the oath, other inauguration day activities have developed as customs and traditions, not mandated by the Constitution.

After taking the oath, the newly sworn in president then gives an inaugural address, outlining their goals and vision. George Washington was the first president to give a speech and each president since has followed this tradition. Since 1937 the ceremony has included at least one prayer and six ceremonies since 1961 have incorporated a reading by a poet. Once the ceremony is concluded, festivities continue, including the signing ceremony, the congressional luncheon, the inaugural parade, and the inaugural ball. Due to pandemic restrictions this year, Joe Biden’s inauguration was scaled down, with only around 2,000 people attending compared to the usual 200,000. Moreover, Biden’s inauguration did not include a ball, a tradition featured in most inaugurations since 1809.

  1. Since 1937, presidents have been inaugurated on January 20.

The first inauguration, which swore in George Washington, took place on April 30, 1789 in New York City’s Federal Hall. After Washington D.C. was chosen as the nation’s permeant capital, all regular inaugurations since 1801 have been held at the U.S. Capitol — in recent history the West Front of the Capitol. From 1793 to 1933 inauguration day was set on March 4, or if it fell on a Sunday, on March 5. However, in 1933 the 20th amendment was passed, changing the start date of the presidency to January 20.

  1. Nine vice-presidents have been inaugurated following the death or resignation of the president.

The nine presidents that assumed office intra-term were: John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford. Under such circumstances the president takes the oath immediately and without a typical inauguration ceremony. The venues for these unexpected inaugurations have ranged from hotels and private residences to the White House and to Air Force One.

  1. Only four presidents have intentionally missed the inauguration of their successor.

Donald Trump is not the first president to snub an inauguration. The first was John Adams in 1801, who after a long and contentious election, did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. His son, John Quincy Adams, also missed Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829; according to one historian the two men shared immense political differences and openly disliked each other. In 1869, in the wake of the Civil War, Andrew Johnson did not attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration. Johnson — who, like President Trump, was impeached — decided not to go only hours before the ceremony.


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