On Friday, January 20th, 2017, Donald J Trump will officially be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Whether you like Donald Trump or not, every presidential inauguration is a historic one. A central tenant of democracy is a peaceful transition of power, and that comes to fruition at the inauguration. In preparation for Trump’s inauguration, let’s look at the history of the inaugural process.
It’s important to note that the changes throughout history are legal. There are very few constitutional requirements for the inauguration. Essentially, the Constitution only provides the date of the inauguration and the oath the president takes.
As you might guess if you’ve ever taken a history class, George Washington was the first man in US history to have a presidential inauguration. It looked a little different than what you’ll be seeing when Donald Trump is sworn in. For one, it took place in New York City, though maybe Trump would prefer that too. At the time that Washington took office, back in 1789, New York City was still the capital of the United States. Historians have noted that his “Inauguration Day began with the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bell ringing across New York City.” Washington took the oath of office from Robert Livingston, the chancellor of New York. The rest is history. Washington was inaugurated on April 30th, but then March 4th took over as the date, before the Twentieth Amendment was ratified in 1933 and made January 20th the official day.
The inaugural oath is one of the few facets of the inauguration that is constitutionally provided before. That doesn’t always mean it goes as planned. Back in 2009, there was a mishap when Chief Justice Roberts was administering the oath to newly elected President Obama that resulted in an improper recitation of the oath, which was Robert’s, not Obama’s, fault. A redo the following day in a private ceremony at the White House.
The official oath can be found in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution and 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 is taken while the President has his hand on the Bible held by his wife, the First Lady, a tradition started by Lady Bird Johnson in 1965.
Many presidents have added the phrase “so help me God” to the end of the oath. While it is not written in the Constitution, it has been said by every single president since 1933. It was rumored to have been said by George Washington at his first inauguration, though there is no proof. In 1881, Chester Arthur used the phrase.
Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 swearing in ceremony was the first presidential inauguration to take place in Washington, D.C, which was made the capital of the United States in 1800. His second inauguration in 1805 is one of the earliest documented inaugural parades and featured the new president riding horseback from the capital to his residence.
The first official presidential inaugural ball was held for James Madison and his wife Dolley at Long’s Hotel in Washington, D.C, following the inauguration.
Of course, the inaugural addresses are well known. There is no doubt Donald Trump’s will be interesting. Thomas Jefferson famous declared, after a bitter election that 2016 was very reminiscent of, “We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists.” Abe Lincoln coined the phrase “With malice toward none, with charity for all” in his inaugural address, and FDR’s first inaugural address made famous the phrase “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
There has only ever been one woman to give the presidential oath. The oath has historically been given by Supreme Court Justices, the Chief one in particular. After the assassination of John F Kennedy in Texas in November of 1963, there was no Chief Justice around. Lyndon B Johnson had to be sworn in immediately, on Air Force One. Sarah Tilghman Hughes was the woman for the job. She was a lawyer and federal judge.