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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 14 Weekend article incorrectly said that William Henry Harrison defeated Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison defeated Tecumseh at the Battle of Thames.

The Real Political Parties

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page WE27

Inauguration buzz hasn't changed much over the years, nor have the questions: Who wore what (and who designed it)? How big was the party? How fancy was the food? How were the fireworks? Not only that, but for one night in Washington, the rules are relaxed: It's perfectly polite to talk both politics and weather, because weather has definitely been a player. So here are some intriguing moments from past inaugurations:

Although most Americans today automatically associate the inauguration with the capital, if not the Capitol, the city's namesake, George Washington, never took the oath of office in his own town: He was sworn in first in New York and then in Philadelphia. Nor were they January affairs: Not until 1933, between the first and second inaugurations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the Constitution amended to specify that the president take office on Jan. 20. Until then, following the tradition of Washington's second inauguration, presidents took their oath on March 4. (In 1877, March 4 fell on Sunday, so Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath privately on March 3 and the public ceremonies were moved to March 5.)


President Bush and Mrs. Bush wave to the crowd at a concert celebrating his 2001 inauguration. He will be sworn in again Thursday at noon. (Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)

Even after the government took up residence in the District of Columbia, most swearings-in took place in either the Senate or House chambers until Andrew Jackson's in 1829; the "people's president" stood outside on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol, where his fans could see him take the oath. Unfortunately, his beloved wife, Rachel, was not there to see it: She died in December, just a month after his election -- which she'd dreaded.

James Madison, or rather first lady Dolley Madison, threw the first inaugural ball: It was held at Long's Hotel on Capitol Hill, and guests were charged $4 apiece for a sit-down dinner and dancing. The tradition of balls continued with only one break (in 1853, when Franklin Pierce, whose son had recently died, requested the party be canceled) through 1909. Both Woodrow Wilson (1913) and Warren G. Harding (1921) thought the cost unnecessary -- Harding even canceled the parade -- but Washington society was determined to dance on, so the private ball became the fashion until after World War II. Once Harry S. Truman reinstated the official inaugural party, the balls snowballed: two for Eisenhower, five for JFK, 11 for George H.W. Bush and 14 for Bill Clinton.

When it comes to party food styles, they've ranged from simple under Carter ("peanuts and pretzels" balls with tickets costing no more than $25) to the hearty spread laid out for Buchanan's ball in 1857: 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1,200 quarts of ice cream, 60 saddles of mutton, 8 rounds of beef, 75 hams and 125 tongues, plus $3,000 worth of wine -- about $63,000 worth today.

However, as such things go, the 2005 inauguration will be the most expensive in American history: The tab is estimated at $30 million to $40 million, not including security expenses.

The presidential oath of office, as mandated by the Constitution, is a brief 36 words: "I do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." At his first swearing-in, Washington amended it with the phrase, "So help me God," and most of his successors have followed suit, though it is not part of the formula. That phrase does, however, end the oath taken by the vice president and other high-ranking officials, which is twice as long, 70 words, and which was rewritten after the end of the Civil War.

Although it is not mandated by the Constitution either, Washington wanted to take his oath upon a Bible -- but neither he nor anyone else had thought to bring one. Finally, a large altar Bible was carried over from the nearby St. John's Masonic Lodge No. 1. That Bible, which is usually on exhibit at Federal Hall in New York, where that first swearing-in took place, has been lent to the National Archives and will be on exhibit here through Jan. 25. But it's no stranger to the city; it was used in the inaugurations of Warren G. Harding, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, whose 1988 election marked the bicentennial of Washington's.

It was also Washington who improvised kissing the Bible, a tradition that some presidents have observed and others ignored. In 1969, Richard Nixon, whose profanity would later force reporters to punctuate White House tape transcriptions with extensive blanks, took the oath on not one but two Bibles, both family heirlooms. (Perhaps if he'd kissed them both, his language would have been nicer.)

Washington may also have hoped to set a precedent by keeping his inaugural addresses brief; his second was only 135 words long. (William Henry Harrison set the record for length, but it wasn't a happy choice; see below.) Although brevity was rarely an inaugural virtue, some of the most famous phrases in American oratory have come from inaugural speeches. In 1865, Lincoln urged his followers, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds." In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And in 1961, Kennedy urged, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It was in his inaugural address that the first President Bush paired the adjectives that were to become the catchphrase of his administration: "We as a people . . . [must] make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world."

Despite an impressive résumé -- major general of the Army, victor at the Battle of Tippecanoe over Tecumseh, first governor of the Indian Territory, U.S. congressman and senator -- William Henry Harrison probably thought of his inauguration in 1841 as the high point of his life. A classics and history major at Hampden-Sydney College, he wrote an inaugural speech so ripe with classical allusions that even after it was heavily edited by Daniel Webster, no wimpy orator himself, it ran nearly 8,500 words and nearly two hours long. Unhappily, the high point of his life was pretty much his last: After delivering the address only in a suit coat, despite extremely cold weather, he contracted pneumonia and died a month later. He did, however, manage to attend all three inaugural balls held in his honor.

Harrison was the first president to die in office, and he started a rather strange chain: Every president elected in a year that ended in a zero died in office until 1980, when Reagan was elected -- and survived the assassination that would have continued the "zero factor" curse. Harrison was also, intriguingly, the last non-natural U.S. citizen to be president, as he was born before the Revolution, in 1773; the first native-born U.S. citizen elected was Harrison's younger predecessor, Martin Van Buren, born in 1782.

Harrison was not the only president-elect bedeviled by cold. On the morning of March 4, 1873, the temperature was a frigid 4 degrees; by noon, as Ulysses S. Grant prepared to take his oath, the temperature had peaked at 16 degrees; 40 mph gusts pushed the windchill factor as low as 30 below, and cadets and midshipmen who had marched in the parade without overcoats collapsed by the score. That night, with Washington society shivering under the temporary shelter that had been erected in Judiciary Square for the inaugural ball, the food froze, the canaries died and, according to some reports, disgruntled guests started a food fight.

Grant's inauguration held the record for cold until 1985, when a noontime temperature of only 7 degrees and wind chill of 20 degrees below forced Ronald Reagan to take the oath indoors under the Capitol Rotunda and to cancel the parade. Nearly eight inches of snow fell the night before Kennedy's inauguration, but snowplows and salt trucks opened the parade route, and despite the 22 degree weather, an estimated 1 million spectators lined Pennsylvania Avenue. Franklin D. Roosevelt may have had one of the most uncomfortable inaugurations: In 1937, he not only took his oath outside in freezing rain, pausing twice to wipe his face, but rode in a top-down coupe as the rain puddled at his feet.

Altogether, Inauguration Day has so often been unpleasant, either wet or cold or both, that, upon receiving the official invitation to his second inauguration, Harry S. Truman is supposed to have scribbled, "Weather permitting, I hope to be present."

Fashion-wise, U.S. presidents seem to waffle between formal wear and more businesslike suits. For his first swearing-in, Washington wore a rather plain brown suit -- pointedly made in America -- with knee britches, white silk stockings and silver buckles on his shoes; he also wore a sword. The second time his get-up was somewhat more elaborate: a black velvet suit and black silk stockings with diamond knee buckles, silver buckles on his shoes and a much more ornamental presentation sword.

The rest of the founding fathers and their circle wore dark suits for the most part -- with knee britches until 1825, when John Quincy Adams was sworn in wearing long pants -- until the mid-19th century, when Lincoln was sworn in wearing a black cutaway coat and that famous top hat. Several presidential outfits have gone unrecorded, but Woodrow Wilson wore a rose-colored tie with his frock coat and top hat for his first inauguration, switching to a morning coat and striped trousers for his second. The morning coat tradition held with a few exceptions (the private ceremonies when Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford assumed office, for example) until Reagan's second inauguration, when he, too, exchanged morning attire for a business suit.

The Kennedys, of course, believed in glamour. JFK not only wore a morning coat, striped trousers and a top hat, he also attended his five official balls wearing white tie and tails. Even more glamorously, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy designed her own inaugural gown, a silk chiffon sheath embroidered with crystals and silver thread, and a matching cape.

Rosalyn Carter was criticized for a sentimental choice: She wore the same dress she had worn to her husband's two inaugural balls as governor of Georgia (and slipped off her shoes in the greeting line at the White House). Nancy Reagan wore Galanos; Barbara Bush wore Scaasi. Hillary Rodham Clinton chose an Arkansas designer, Sarah Phillips, for her first inaugural ball gown, but shifted to Oscar de la Renta for the second.

In 2001, Laura Bush also picked a home-state talent, Michael Faircloth, designer to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Texas debutante society, who whipped up a ruby-colored scoop-necked ball gown of Chantilly lace. But she, too, has turned to de la Renta for her second-term gown, a pale blue, long-sleeved V-neck gown embroidered with crystals with a matching coat, as well as a white cashmere outfit for the swearing-in from his ready-to-wear collection.

So what will be the fashion statement of '05? It might go against the usual grain, but we'd suggest inaugurating a new age of simplicity: no big belt buckles or silver boot tips, no chandelier earrings or "Aviator"-inspired cleavage with elaborate underwiring, no heavyweight pendants or diamond-crusted cell phone covers. Nothing, in other words, that might set off metal detectors or add to the already long lines. Call it Security Chic.•


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