Mistakes, innovation and spontaneous gestures mark the history of possessions in the United States – 01/19/2021 – World

The basics of the inauguration are simple: the new president takes an oath of 35 words on a date prescribed by the Constitution.

But the formula leaves plenty of room for news. As goods have evolved over the decades, many of them have become turning points in tradition, marked by mistakes, innovations and spontaneous gestures.

Jimmy Carter started an informal habit when he unexpectedly got out of his limo and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. Barack Obama’s first term got off to an unusual start, when he became the first president to renew the oath of office. Harry S. Truman’s second inauguration was the first to be televised, and Bill Clinton’s, in 1997, the first to be broadcast live.

Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday will also attempt to balance tradition with the challenges of the present day, including the pandemic and widespread political unrest. For the first time, the procession to the White House will be replaced by a “virtual parade”, an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has already killed nearly 400,000 Americans.

Here are some precedents in the history of presidential possessions.

The oath

The President’s Oath is also enshrined in the Constitution: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully be President of the United States and, to the best of my ability, will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. “.

Every president must recite the pledge of allegiance, which has already been taken 72 times by the 45 presidents of the United States who preceded Biden.

Franklin Pierce, in 1853, was the first to choose the word “I affirm” instead of “I swear” and he set a precedent by not embracing the Bible.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the first and only President to be sworn in on an airplane, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. It was also the first time that a woman was sworn in: Judge Sarah T. Hughes of the North Texas District overheard Johnson speaking to Air Force One, using a Catholic missal found on board, before the plane left Dallas for Washington.

The oath of Barack Obama, who became the first black president of the United States in 2009, had a unique bias. He was twice sworn in to Judge John Roberts: the second time was on Jan.21, during a White House rehearsal, after the two had crossed paths at the inaugural ceremony a day earlier.

“In 25 seconds, President Obama became president again,” wrote The New York Times.

The speech

George Washington was a man of few words. His second inaugural speech contained 135 of them – the shortest ever. In 1817, James Monroe became the first president to take the oath and deliver the inaugural address outside in front of the old brick Capitol. William Henry Harrison spoke the longest, at 10,000 words, in 1841.

The place

George Washington was sworn in at Federal Hall in New York, then delivered the speech in the Senate precinct. John Adams was inducted into the Philadelphia House of Congress in 1797. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was the first to arrive and leave office and was the first president to be installed on Capitol Hill.

The date

The induction day was not always in January. George Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1779. In the 19th century, March 4 was incorporated into the Constitution as the day of induction. But in 1933, the ratification of the 20th Amendment established that the terms of the president and vice-president were to end on January 20 at noon.

The first president to take office on Jan. 20 was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was sworn in for a second term in 1937, with large crowds to watch despite heavy cold rains.

The transition

In 1837, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren traveled together in a chariot to the Capitol for the inauguration, the first time that an outgoing president had accompanied his successor. “We expected it today, but we won’t have it this year, unfortunately,” said Jim Bendat, a wealth historian. “It is an important symbolic moment to show that the old and the new can be understood, even if they are from different parties.”

A president whose term of office ends is not required to participate in the inauguration. In 1801, John Adams became the first president to avoid the swearing-in ceremony of his successor, in this case Thomas Jefferson. After months of misrepresentation that the 2020 election was stolen, President Donald Trump has announced that he will not participate in Biden’s nomination.


Top hats were the traditional accessory of many presidential possessions. But Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced it in 1953 with a typical “homburg” felt hat of the time, breaking “official sartorial tradition,” the NYT reported. Kennedy recovered the traditional hat in 1961, before it disappeared as an official costume.

The poet

Kennedy was the first to add a poet to his dedication ceremony. The event did not go as planned. Robert Frost, then 86 years old, intended to read “The Preface,” which he had written for the occasion. But the light on the page made it difficult to see. “I don’t have good lighting here,” he said, according to The New York Times coverage of the event.

Johnson tried to shade the manuscript with his top hat. But Frost put it aside and recited his poem “The Gift Outright”, which he knew by heart.

Amanda Gorman, who in 2017 became the first National Young Poet Laureate, will read at this year’s ceremony.

The Bible

Over the years, most presidents have taken an oath with one hand on the Bible. Some have chosen a family Bible, like Jimmy Carter, with the one Washington used on the lectern.

Theodore Roosevelt was an innovator in 1901. At a friend’s house after the murder of William McKinley, he did not use a Bible, but swore with a “raised hand.”

Others have put their personal mark on the gesture. Kennedy, the first elected Catholic president, used a Catholic Bible. Johnson asked his wife, “Lady Bird,” to hold the Bible during the oath, being the first to do so. And Obama used the Bible that belonged to Abraham Lincoln. (Trump used the same in 2017.)

The parade

Lincoln’s second inauguration, in 1865, was the first time African Americans had participated in an inauguration parade. Women first participated in the parade in 1917, at the start of Woodrow Wilson’s second term. In 1977, Carter became the first to walk more than a mile to the White House. Carter’s walk with his wife, Rosalynn, and 9-year-old daughter, Amy, has become a tradition that has been repeated – ceremonially, if not in extension – by subsequent presidents.


James and Dolley Madison began the tradition of an inaugural reception and ball at the White House in 1809. Tickets cost $ 4 ($ 21), or about $ 85 ($ 455) at current prices.


The possessions reflected technological and industrial innovations. In 1921, Warren G. Harding was the first to possess it in an automobile. Fast forward to the bulletproof closed limousines that appeared in 1965 with Lyndon Johnson.

The audience has grown with technological developments. In 1845, James Polk’s inaugural address reached more people by telegraph. In 1897, McKinley’s ceremony was captured by a motion picture camera, and Calvin Coolidge’s in 1925 was broadcast on the radio.

Ronald Reagan, a former actor, had a television camera placed in his limo on the way from the Capitol to the White House in 1985. And in 1997, Bill Clinton had his first inauguration broadcast live on the Internet.


Some inauguration ceremonies were innovative in terms of the family. James Garfield’s mother participated in its inauguration in 1881, setting a precedent. In 1923, the father of Calvin Coolidge, a justice of the peace from Vermont, was sworn in for his son. The first inauguration ceremony attended by both parents of the president-elect was that of John Kennedy in 1961. And George W. Bush’s ceremony in 2001 was the first and only time that a former president, George Bush, participated in the inauguration of your son as President.

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