« Dewey Closed for Two Weeks | Main | When Do I use a DOI? »

Inauguration Festivities and Foibles

President Elect Barack Obama officially takes office on January 20, 2009. There is much discussion about the inaugural preparations: the parade, the balls, the pomp and circumstance. Many presidents have put their own personal stamp on the inaugural ceremonies, and no doubt Obama will have his own distinct celebratory events. Here are some fun facts about past inaugurations:

Much of the inaugural activities are prescribed by tradition: the only stipulation for the ceremonies in the United States Constitution is that the president must take the Oath of Office. Traditionally this has been done by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Justice John Marshall administered the oath more than any other chief justice, for a total of nine times in his career.

The inaugural date was originally March 5, but was changed in the 1930s to January 20th. This was because Roosevelt thought that November through March was too long of a “lame duck��? period for the outgoing president. This change was done by constitutional amendment – the 20th amendment. When George Washington was to be inaugurated, the House of Representatives did not have enough members to call a quorum for counting the electoral votes, making the first inauguration six weeks late.

Since it is in January, the weather has sometimes played a role in inaugural celebrations: Ronald Reagan cancelled the parade on his second term for the first time in history due to the cold weather. In 1873, the champagne froze at Ulysses S. Grant’s inaugural reception. At John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, large crowds turned out despite the 22-degree temperature, 19 mph winds and 8 inches of snow. President William Henry Harrison died a month after his inauguration, and this was attributed to his not wearing an overcoat or hat during a rainy inauguration ceremony (and also due to giving the longest inaugural speech in history – one hour and forty minutes).

The crowds have sometimes gotten out of hand at inaugurations: Andrew Jackson had a party at the White House which anyone could attend, and people came in droves, destroying furniture and breaking windows. At Abraham Lincoln’s party, the crowd stole food, silverware, and parts of the draperies from the White House. Contrast this with the security at George W. Bush’s second inaugural ceremonies: the 9/11 attacks had just occurred, so the government brought in 6,000 police officers from both within and outside of Washington DC.

There are many balls and parties after the inauguration and the president traditionally attends all of the official parties. Despite attending all of the inaugural balls, Bush was home by 10:00pm the night of his second inauguration. Clinton was criticized for the 12 balls that were held in his honor – it was felt this was too many. The cost of both George W. Bush’s inaugural ceremonies was about $40 million, whereas Bill Clinton’s cost $25 million in 1993 and $42 million in 1997.

There are many other interesting facts about past inaugural ceremonies as well as the presidency in general. Check out these and other books in the Dewey Library Reference Collection:

Kalba, Deborah, et.al., eds. State of the Union: Presidential Rhetoric from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush. Washington DC: CQ Press (2007). University Library Reference: J 81.4 S73 2007

Levy, Leonard and Louis Fisher, eds. Encyclopedia of the American Presidency. Vols. 1 & 2. New York: Simon and Schuster (1994). Dewey Reference JK 511 E53 1994.

Nelson, Michael, ed. The Presidency A to Z 2nd ed. Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc. (1998). Dewey Reference: JK 511 P775 1998

Nelson, Michael, ed. Guide to the Presidency, 4th ed. Vols. 1 & 2. Washington, DC: CQ Press (2008). Dewey Reference JK 516 G83 2008

United States, President. Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George Washington to Bill Clinton. Champagne Ill.: Project Gutenberg, Boolder Colorado: Netlibrary (199-?). ONLINE through NetLibrary.

For assistance in researching the presidency, stop by the reference desk or make an appointment with Richard Irving (ririving@uamail.albany.edu).