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January 16, 2021

Trivia regarding inaugurations of American presidents


January 16, 2021

LAHORE: When Joe Biden takes oath as the president of the United States on January 20 amidst all the political chaos and fears of violence, this would be the 59th presidential inauguration of its kind since 1789, when Americans had elected their first-ever head of state.

The first US president George Washington is famously known to have spent his entire campaign budget on alcohol, supplying voters with 160 gallons of liquor to win favours.

The moment of happiness greeted him on April 30, 1789, but his wife, Martha Washington, could not reach New York in time for the oath-taking ceremony. The BBC News had said: "President Washington opened a major whiskey distillery at his estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia, in 1797. By the time of his death in 1799, his distillery was one of the largest in the country."

The US News had written: "Washington built a major rye whiskey distillery after leaving the White House, turning out nearly 11,000 gallons a year by the time of his death in 1799 with the help of six black slaves." General Washington, who took the oath of office while wearing a special set of teeth made from ivory, brass and gold and designed for him by his dentist, John Greenwood, had urged the US Congress in his inaugural address to add a bill of rights to the Constitution that would express a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony.

(Reference: The Library of Congress and the History Channel) With the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump, the oath has been taken 72 different times by 45 people. An American media house states: "This numerical discrepancy results chiefly from two factors: a president must take the oath at the beginning of each term of office, and, because the day of inauguration has sometimes fallen on a Sunday. Four Presidents – Hayes [1877], Wilson [1917], Eisenhower [1957], and Reagan [1985]) – have taken the oath privately before the public inaugural ceremonies. In addition, President Arthur took the oath privately following the death of President Garfield and again two days later in the Capitol. Grover Cleveland is considered the 22nd and 24th presidents, having served two non-consecutive terms (1885-1889 and 1893-1897)."

While George Washington took oath for his first term at the Federal Hall of New York, the nation's capital at that time, he was sworn in for his second term in 1793 at Congress Hall in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), as the American capital had moved from New York to Philadelphia. In 1797, John Adams had been inaugurated at Philadelphia too.

The location for James Monroe's 1817 swearing in was moved to the Old Brick Capitol in Washington due to ongoing restoration work at the Capitol building, following the war of 1812. Three other inaugurations – Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fourth (1945), Harry S. Truman's first (1945), and Gerald Ford's (1974) – were held at the White House. Since 1789, the oath to American presidents has been administered by 15 chief justices, one associate justice, and one New York state judge.

Though it is not a constitutional requirement, the chief justice typically administers the presidential oath. George Washington was sworn in by Robert Livingston, chancellor of New York State.

Four years later, the oath was administered by Supreme Court associate justice, William Cushing.

Since the 1797 inauguration of John Adams, it has become customary for the new president to be sworn in to the office by the Supreme Court's chief justice. The only mandatory constitutional requirement of this ceremony is the recitation of the presidential oath. The United States constitution (in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8) makes it compulsory.

Since 1937, the presidential inauguration date is January 20, following ratification of the 20th amendment to the constitution. January 20 is thus the first day of the new term, some 72 to 78 days after the presidential election.

However, if January 20 fell on a Sunday during the last 84 years, the presidential oath of office was administered on that day privately, and then again in a public ceremony the next day, or on Monday (January 21). This happened in 1957, 1985, and 2013.

Prior to this, all subsequent inaugurations between 1793 and 1933, were held on March 4, the day of the year on which the federal government began operations under the US Constitution of 1789.

The exception to the pattern was those years in which March 4 fell on a Sunday. When it did, the public inauguration ceremony would take place on Monday, March 5.

This happened on four occasions, in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917. The ninth American president, William Henry Harrison, became the first to die in office in 1841, having served the shortest (32-day long) tenure in the US presidential history. He is known to have delivered a historically long address in a howling snowstorm. The president, who opted not to wear a hat or coat, caught cold on inauguration day that later developed into pneumonia, which resulted in his death. His 8,000-plus word long speech was an edited version of the original draft. While historians said the cold temperature on inauguration day did not directly cause Harrison's death, it did not help either. Harrison's actions did not deter other presidents from taking similar decisions.

For example, on January 20, 1961, John F Kennedy removed his coat before delivering his inaugural address, ignoring the freezing cold.

Since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the ceremony has always been held at the west front of the United States Capitol facing the National Mall with its iconic Washington Monument and distant Lincoln Memorial.

From 1829 through 1977, most swearing-in ceremonies had taken place on a platform over the steps at the Capitol's east wing.

They have also been held inside the Old Senate Chamber, the chamber of the House of Representatives, and the Capitol Rotunda, below the building's dome.

In 1909, William Taft's inauguration was moved to the Senate Chamber due to a blizzard. Then, in 1985, the public second inauguration of Ronald Reagan was held indoors in the Capitol Rotunda because of harsh weather.

Irregular presidential inaugurations have occurred on nine occasions, after the death or resignation of a sitting president.

For example, William Cranch, chief judge of the US Circuit Court, had administered the oath of office to Vice President John Tyler in 1841 when he succeeded to the presidency upon President William Henry Harrison's death.

William Cranch had also sworn in Vice President Millard Fillmore in 1850 after President Zachary Taylor's demise.

Andrew Johnson became president in 1865 upon the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

Chester Arthur became president in 1881 upon death of President James Garfield.

In 1923, when President Warren Harding's died after being allegedly poisoned by his wife and full-time Secretary, Florence Kling Harding, his vice president, Calvin Coolidge, was visiting his family home. Upon hearing the news, Coolidge was sworn in as president by his father, John Calvin Coolidge Senior, an incumbent notary public.

In 1963, federal judge Sarah Hughes had administered the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson aboard the Air Force One after John Kennedy's assassination.

Gerald Ford became president in 1974 upon resignation of President Richard Nixon.

(References: The Library of Congress, the CNN, the United States Senate records, US Department of Commerce, the US National Archives and Records Administration, the record of Joint US Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the Washington Post, the Encyclopaedia of the American Presidency, the National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Forbes magazine, Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, the Independent, the United States Marine Corps, the Los Angeles Times and the Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum etc.)

The 1857 inauguration of President James Buchanan was the first inauguration known to have been photographed in American history.

The 1897 inauguration of William McKinley was the first inauguration to be recorded on film.

During the second inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, telephones were installed on the Capitol Hill grounds for the first time.

The second inauguration of Calvin Coolidge in 1925 was the first-ever function of its kind to be broadcast nationally by radio.

The 1929 inauguration of Herbert Hoover was first-ever ceremony to be recorded by a talking newsreel.

In 1949, the second inauguration of Harry Truman was the first-ever to be televised.

The 1961 inauguration of John Kennedy was the first-ever to be televised in colour.

During the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, the first-ever broadcast of its kind had gone live for the deaf.

In 1997, the second inauguration of Bill Clinton was first such ceremony to be broadcast live on the Internet.

The longest inaugural address in US history to date was delivered by President William Henry Harrison in 1841. His speech, which he wrote himself, constituted of 8,460 words. It took him one hour and 45 minutes to deliver.

The shortest inaugural address is known to have been delivered by George Washington at the start of his second term (1793-97).

His 135-word long speech had lasted less than two minutes only.

John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur and Gerald Ford did not address the public at their respective inaugurations.