In the broad scope of history, Richard Bradwell's trip to Washington this week won't warrant a mention. But it does say something about how Jimmy Carter started his presidency.

Bradwell, a rather disheveled man of 27 with a beard and long hair, flew into twon Tuesday with his wife and 2-year-old son in tow, wanting to find if Carter's talk about "a people's inaugural" was "sham or reality." He had no inaugural invitation, no tickets, no connections, and a healthy cynicism about political rhetoric.

He readied himself for the Washington runaround when he presented himself to inaugural officials at the Commerce Department building. But, he recalled yesterday, "the man behind the counter looked me in the eye and said 'I know how much this means to you. Anyone who came all the way from Florida shouldn't be locked out.'"

Within a day, Bradwell, who owns a tropical fish store in Miami, had more tickets than he knew what to do with. He had an invitation to an inaugural ball, a ticket to the swearing-in ceremony, and a chance to buy a ticket on the VIP reviewing stand.

"I was amazed. We got into everything we wanted," he said yesterday. "We weren't shut out of anything. I don't know if other people got the same response, but for us it was a people's inaugural."

It is dangerous to draw too broad a conclusion from Bradwell's experience. For Jimmy Carter's inauguration had its share of foul-ups. It left its share of bruised egos. It excluded people as it included them.

Like thousands of others who came to the city - particularly members of groups long excluded from such affairs - Bradwell was an outsider wanting in.

The amazing thing about it all was that Bradwell, like so many others, made it.

For those who did, it was a people's inaugural - if for no other reason than Jimmy Carter said it was. He set a tone that sent backpackers from Georgia and well-heeled Washington celebrities alike to free jazz concerts and inaugural balls that seemed more like a hometown bash save the silk and satin tuxedos and dresses and minks.

"Everything is fantastic," Grace Collins from Indianapolis said Thursday after she left the parade. "It's so interesting to meet and talk to so many different kinds of people - real rich, not so rich and like me."

Carter built on the image of a people's inaugural by walking to the White House with his family, his wife, built on it by wearing a 16-year-old dress to the inaugural balls. "That's just the kind of person Jimmy is," said Billy Johnson, a mobile home dealer from Americus, Ga. "He's an ordinary guy. He figures if all those high school kids in the bands can walk to the White House, so can he. I think he practices empathy more than any highly elected official I've heard of."

There's nothing particularly new about a President putting a common touch on his inaugural. Thomas Jefferson walked from his boarding house to the Capitol before his swearing-in, and returned there to eat supper. Grover Cleveland made his bid for the common man by not using a prepared manuscript for his inaugural address. Grant proved he was an ordinary guy by carefully wetting his thumb and forefinger before he turned each page of his speech. Then too, his daughter, Little Nellie, an early day Amy Carter grabbed her father's hand as he finished reading the address.

What made Carter's different though, was the pervasive presence of people - southerners and blacks - who heretofore had long been left out.

What drew such a large number of blacks to Washington for this inauguration appears to have been a feeling of having participated in Carter's campaign, having taken a stand and been taken seriously.

There were people here such as Robert (Bobcat) Smith, a 52-year-old Mississippi gas station attendant who said he pumped free gas for car pools in Carter's voter registration drive.

United Auto Workes official Marc Stepp of Detroit who said he defended Carter in speeched during the "ethnic purity" controversy was also here. Blacks who said they personally wrote Carter during the campaign telling him not to worry about that Playboy interview episode because they all knew what he meant, showed up.

Les Purce, 30, former mayor of Pocatello, Idaho his hometown - speculated that it was Carter's "sincere effort" to touch base with as many black leaders as early as possible that drew so many blacks to Washington this time.

"He (Carter) didn't leave a stone unturned," said Purce, who is black. "Because of his Southern experience, and his close contact with blacks, he developed a unique closeness with almost all blacks. I call it the ultimate intimacy between a politican and his constituency. People believed he was sincere. I believed he was sincere. And it was a rare sincerity that blacks had not felt since Kennedy."

Even among blacks Washington residents who did not attend any of the inaugural activities, there was a feeling that Carter's commitment to the poor will result in more jobs, housing and welfare reform.

"It was too cold to be out parading," said Greg Willoughby, while eating at a 14th Street grill. "But I personally like Carter. He'll do all right. He'll bring the jobs and I'll be ready for one of 'em."

Willoughby, an unemployed construction worker, said the "People's Inaugural" means, "Everybody is welcome. Like, I kinda feel like I should have gone to some of the things. I might have had a good time, who knows. I thought about going to the parade. I didn't think about going to Nixon's inaugural."

J. W. McGlockton of Savannah, Ga., who is black, has been involved in Georgia voter registration drives for more than 35 years. He came here this week for his first inauguration.

"If Carter hadn't been elected," he said, "I wouldn't be here today. No other President has invited black folks from the South. This is the people's inauguration and all the people are taking part in it."

But in many ways it wasn't a people's inauguration. For one thing not all that many people came. Police estimated the crowd along the parade route at 350,000, only 50,000 more than in 1969, and far fewer than the 1.2 million persons estimated to have watched Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

Economics excluded many.Tickets to the inaugural ball, even if one could get an invitation, went for $25 each, and cocktails inside were another $2 each. To get a motel room in most parts of the area, visitors had to pay for four nights. Then there's food, transportation cost. Bradwell said he spent more than $600 all told.

There was a time when any creature that could afford 25 cents for hack hire could show up at the White House and shake the President's hand after he was sworn in. At Andrew Jackson's inauguration so many people crowded into the White House, drinking spiked punch, that fights broken out. Women fainted. Furniture was broken. Children were handed out windows.

Those days are long gone. This year, as in all recent inaugurations, there has been a clear pecking order to things. Invitations are paceled out. Each has its own status, its own price. This week the invitations to the inauguration gala at Kennedy Center held the most status; those to a private White House reception at the White House yesterday slightly less; those to inaugural balls moderate status; those to Vice President Mondale's reception Wednesday slightly less; and those to all but the choice seats, at the swearing-in ceremony, still less.

They have a purpose quite apart from anything to do with a "people's inaugural." They're parceled out to reward friends, fatcat contributors, party workers. They make any inauguration a gathering of the party clan.

"To me, it's like a class reunion," said Carl Turvin, a Baltimore Democrat who worked in campaigns almost 20 years. "I keep running into people I've worked with in the past. I'm even wearing the same suit I wore at the 1965 inauguration."

But this and much about Washington, from its prices to its bus system, was foreign to Rob Ottley, 17, and Chuck Shiflett, 18, both of Marietta, Ga. They are Carterites, the true believers. Shiflett's grandfather, W. B. Carter is a cousin of the President and once a political power in his own right. They've campaigned for their fellow Georgian more than a year - "It's almost a religious thing back home," said Shiflett.

The two young men were standing beside the White House fence, looking in. "People up here, keep saying, 'Oh, you're from the South, like it's a different country. They try to make you feel inferior," he said. "But the South has a lot of good ideas, different ideas. Jimmy will help this place a lot."