Only five times, other than this year, has the day mandated for the president's inauguration occurred on Sunday, and each provided some of American history's most unusual moments.
Ronald Reagan, for instance, is only the third president to take the oath of office on Sunday. In 1821, a South Carolina senator became the only man to serve one day as president; for one day in 1849, no one was legally president and, for more than a day in 1877, when a president-elect took the oath on Saturday, the nation had two presidents simultaneously.
Sunday inaugurations have presented problems because of the Sabbath and because the Constitution makes no provision about how they should be treated. They are rare, however, and occur only once in the next half-century, in 2013.
Public officials have generally considered the Sabbath a particularly sensitive day on which to conduct business. Religious Americans of the early 19th century adhered to the biblical description of Sunday as the day of prayer and rest, and a president using Sunday for his inauguration risked political liability.
Legend has it that the Continental Congress chose March 4 as Inauguration Day because it was the date least likely to fall on Sunday every four years, and only four of the 37 March inaugurations did so. Since ratification in 1933 of the 20th Amendment moved Inauguration Day to Jan. 20, only Dwight D. Eisenhower's second inauguration has occurred on a Sunday.
On March 1, 1792, Congress sought to forestall an occasion on which the nation would have no president or vice president. It passed a bill under which the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House would succeed to the office, in that order.
In 1820, President James Monroe was elected to his second term, receiving all but one of 232 electoral college votes. His inauguration date of March 4, 1821, was the first on a Sunday.
Monroe and Vice President Daniel Tompkins decided to wait until March 5 to take their oaths, but their first terms expired at noon March 4. John Gaillard of South Carolina, the Senate's president pro tem, thus became the only man to be president of the United States for one day.
Monroe's initial inaugural ceremony in 1817 had been the first one outdoors. Severe rain and snow forced the 1821 event into the newly decorated Hall of Representatives, gold-curtained, Brussels-carpeted and silk-canopied. With its large visitors gallery and elegant appointments, the hall was a beautiful setting for a swearing-in.
The result of a public inauguration in such a small place, however, was chaos. Large crowds turned out despite the weather and forced their way in.
The most immediate fear was possible collapse of the floor, and the stuffy room quickly became jammed with soaked people, making movement in the visitors gallery impossible. The crowd's chatter was made louder by a great echo only partially absorbed by the heavy curtains.
Meanwhile, Monroe solemnly made his way to Capitol Hill from the White House, sitting alone in his stately carriage and leading a trail of one-person carriages bearing each Cabinet member.
Monroe felt that an Inaugural Address was unnecessary because the Constitution did not require it, but he was urged not to break the precedent set by George Washington. The soft-voiced president gave a long speech, and few people could hear it above the constant din in the gallery. After about an hour of the speech, some people nodded off in the humid crush.
After the address, Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath. Finally, a rousing rendition of "Yankee Doodle" was played by the U.S. Marine Band, making its first of many inaugural appearances, and the crowd fled into the rain. A small inaugural ball was held that night at the Indian Queen Hotel and was attended briefly by the socially indifferent first family.
The second Sunday inauguration date was that of Zachary (Rough and Ready) Taylor in 1849, two years after his last success as an Army general in the war with Mexico.
Taylor was one of few men elected to the presidency who never wanted the office. When the letter informing him that he had been nominated by the Whigs arrived at his Baton Rouge, La., home with postage due, he refused to pay for it, as he did all unpaid mail.
After his election, no word came as to when he would arrive in Washington. The Whigs expressed concern that he might not come and called on his former son-in-law, Democratic Sen. Jefferson Davis, to get him into town.
By January 1849, Taylor had begun his long journey by coach, train, boat and sleigh and was cheered by thousands along the way. In Washington, he was greeted by bonfires, bands and booming cannons. Davis rose to the occasion again by smoothing strains between Taylor and his predecessor, James Polk.
A more important question was what to do about March 4 falling on Sunday. Taylor decided to take the oath on Monday. This time, however, there was no official Senate president pro tempore. The office was held by Missouri's David Atchison, and its term officially adjourned March 3. The reelected Atchison could not legally return to that position until March 5.
Since Polk was no longer president after noon March 4 and Taylor declined to be sworn in until noon March 5, the nation was without a president for one day. Some historians and his native Missourians have insisted that Atchison was president that day; others think he was president part of that day.
On that Monday, colorful groups of people began arranging themselves to escort Taylor on the ride from his hotel to the Capitol. Washington college students, national religious leaders and groups of Chippewa Indians were included. At each intersection, Whigs serenaded their president-elect, and the Indians continued a special victory dance begun in early morning.
The oaths were administered in the Senate gallery. Some seats were reserved for congressional wives but, when visitors gallery doors were opened, women awaiting entry since dawn rushed in and all available space was taken. First, Atchison was reelected president pro tem to swear in senators-elect and Fillmore. At this point, some believe, he was president until Taylor was sworn in within the hour.
Three women fainted in the stuffy chamber. Then Taylor entered, and the crowd was in an uproar. Dignitaries lined up in pecking order and walked to the East Portico for the inauguration.
Outside, Taylor and Fillmore were seated on sofas as snow flurries fell. Taylor's Inaugural Address was short and, according to Polk, spoken too quietly and enunciated poorly. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the oath as Taylor placed his hand on the Bible used by Washington at the first inauguration.
The new president's suit was strange. Never known as a well-dressed man, Taylor acceded to fashion on the auspicious occasion by wearing a fine black suit. He had ordered it several sizes too large so it would not wrap tightly around his rotund figure.
That night, Taylor and Fillmore attended the three inaugural balls without their wives. One ball was for the military, and another was attended by Democrats defeated by Taylor. It was organized by the elite Washington Assembly for serious dancers only.
The so-called "Grand Inaugural Ball" was attended by more than 4,000 joyous Whigs, who listened to patriotic songs and danced in a large temporary structure at Judiciary Square. Taylor and Fillmore appeared at 11 p.m. and, at midnight, separate buffet dinner tables were set for men and women.
The president joined the ladies, who attacked the food with such fervor that the official British representative to the United States said it seemed that they had not "eaten for days." With wax dripping on them from candles in the chandeliers, punch staining their gowns and the crush robbing them of ir, some of the women fainted and were taken outside to revive in the unrelenting snow. Taylor left.
By 4 a.m., departing guests learned that their coats, wraps and hats had been left in big piles by coat checkers long since gone. Jeff Davis, committee chief for inaugural arrangements, made it home with his coat. An Illinois congressman, a member of the ball committee, left without his large hat -- Abraham Lincoln braved the storm bareheaded.
The third Sunday inauguration date followed the election of 1876, disputed for months by Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden because of a conflict about certifying members of the electoral college. On March 1, 1877, Hayes remained uncertain of the final outcome; a 15-man bipartisan election commission had been at work for a month, trying to resolve the dispute.
Hayes and his family left Ohio for Washington that day on a quiet train route. The next morning, he was informed that the commission had declared him president-elect.
Amid the confusion in Washington, no inaugural ball had been planned because no one was certain which party would be celebrating. Tilden and his supporters were angered about the decision favoring Hayes -- Tilden had won a majority of the popular vote and fallen one vote short of the required number of electoral votes, with many in dispute.
Rumors were heard that Hayes might be kidnaped and Tilden brought to Washington to be sworn in. Fueling speculation was the Sunday inauguration date: the oath-taking was planned for Monday, while President Ulysses S. Grant's term ended at noon Sunday. Anything might happen in those 24 hours.
On Saturday, March 3, the Hayeses and Grants dined at the White House with Chief Justice Morrison Waite and others. After dinner, the three men joined Secretary of State Hamilton Fish in the Red Room, and Hayes was secretly sworn in. He was the first president-elect to take the oath in the White House.
The ceremony also gave the country two presidents simultaneously, since Grant's term had not officially ended. No one else at the dinner knew what had happened in the Red Room until it was announced the next morning. An inaugural torchlight parade was organized within 24 hours, but no formal parade or ball was held.
On Monday, the oath-taking ceremony was repeated quickly and simply at the Capitol. Boos and catcalls erupted with the applause, and anti-Hayes chants sparked disturbances in the crowd.
Afterward, Hayes held a small White House reception. Told that a group of fellow Ohioans expected to meet him personally, Hayes invited them in. Crowds outside became ornery, shouting about favoritism, and Hayes told guards to let everyone in.
Fears that he might be harmed evidently were justified: a man claiming to be a loyal Republican was seen with a lump in his jacket and led away by a guard. It was a gun.
A tense international situation affected the fourth Sunday inauguration date in 1917, Woodrow Wilson's second swearing-in. His campaign slogan had been "He Kept Us Out of War" but, as March 4 approached and German attacks continued against U.S. vessels, war loomed. This prompted Wilson to break the unday precedent.
Unnoticed, the president and his wife, Edith, rode Sunday to the Capitol, where he signed documents before being sworn in by Chief Justice Edward White in the President's Room. It was quick and simple, and Edith Wilson was the only woman present.
The hundreds of thousands who usually visited Washington for inaugurations were not present the next day. Death and bomb threats had been received and, for the first time since Lincoln's 1861 inauguration, sharpshooters and guards lined the route from the White House to the Capitol. Edith Wilson was solemn and veiled.
In front of the inaugural stand on the East Portico, soldiers were replaced, at the president's request, with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Policemen were there, too.
Wilson's address dealt with what seemed the inevitability of war: "There can be no turning back. Our own fortunes as a nation are involved whether we would have it so or not."
On the ride to the White House, Edith Wilson was suddenly stunned when a small bundle, thrown from the crowd, landed in her lap. To her relief, it was only a flower bouquet. No ball was held. In 33 days, America was at war.
A young West Point cadet who had marched in Wilson's first inaugural parade in 1913 became, 44 years later, the featured performer on the fifth Sunday inauguration date. Dwight D. Eisenhower's second oath-taking was part of one of the first modern, large-scale and well-organized inaugurations.
This was due to the Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies Act passed on Aug. 6, 1956, by joint congressional resolution. It gave the Inaugural Committee official status and the power "to provide for the maintenance of public order and the protection of life and property in connection with the presidential inaugural ceremonies."
Citing world crises, Eisenhower thought it best to hold a Sunday swearing-in. It was extremely simple, with only family, friends and some officials present at the White House. He canceled televised coverage. His wife, Mamie, arranged for coffee and cake in the State Dining Room afterward.
The next day, the ceremony was repeated with Chief Justice Earl Warren. Later, at a luncheon in the Capitol, the president was extremely uncomfortable as he tried to eat in the glare of television lights.
He requested a simple inaugural ceremony, but only the parade was so: each state was allowed one float and one marching band. Heavily military in tone, the parade featured a gargantuan float more than 400 feet long proclaiming "Liberty and Strength Through Consent of the Governed."
Receptions organized by the newly empowered inaugural committee became models for the contemporary inauguration. They included a governors' reception, the vice president's reception, the distinguished ladies' reception, the youth reception and the inaugural concert. California Sen. George Murphy, a former movie star, organized a Saturday night entertainment gala at Uline Arena.
The number of inaugural balls was expanded into four, two more than marked Eisenhower's first swearing-in and the largest number held at once until then. The Eisenhowers attended all four, as they had promised, and spent an equal amount of time at each, also as promised. The day was described as unusually civil, well organized and smooth.
The cost of an invitation to any of the four balls was the only surprise. It was inflated for the first time since the $10 charge in 1841. The new price was $15. Top price for one of tonight's official Reagan balls is $125.