What are some inauguration traditions?
In 1789, George Washington was sworn in, gave an inaugural address and that was it. The first official inaugural ball wasn’t held until 1809 with James Madison. The procession of the old and the new began in 1837 with Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. The inaugural parade was sort of an evolution, starting with spontaneous parades for Thomas Jefferson. Women used to have no role at all. Now the first lady holds the bible, a tradition that only began in 1965 with Lady Bird Johnson.
Another tradition has been the use of the words, “So help me God,” at the end of the presidential oath. There’s a myth that George Washington added those words to the end of his oath in 1789. No one back in 1789 ever suggested that, but we do know that by many accounts that Chester Arthur in 1881 added those four words and that those words were not added in 1929 by Herbert Hoover. Beginning with FDR in 1933, every president has added those four words.
What are some of your favorite inauguration stories?
Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration is what inspired me to write my book. Coolidge became president after the death of Warren Harding in 1923. And at the time of Harding’s death, Coolidge was visiting his father at a cottage in Vermont without running water, electricity or a telephone. In the middle of the night, a courier arrived saying that Harding had passed away. Shortly after that another courier arrived and said the new president must be sworn in as soon as possible. So his father John Coolidge, a notary public, administered the oath of office by the light of an old kerosene lantern at 2:47 in the morning in the family parlor.
A great piece of trivia involves Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had four inaugurations, and Barack Obama. We are about to see President Obama tie FDR’s record of four inaugurations. Obama already had two when, four years ago, the first oath was botched by Chief Justice Roberts and redone the next day. This year, because January 20 falls on a Sunday, a private inauguration will be held and then a public one on Monday, January 21. That’s technically four inaugurations. He ties FDR.