Politics & Government

From Washington to Obama, 220 years of festivities (and fights)


Q. Where was the first inauguration?

A. On the balcony of Federal Hall in New York on April 30, 1789, for George Washington. John Adams, the second president, took the oath of office in Philadelphia. The first presidential inauguration in the nation's then-new capital, Washington, D.C., was for Thomas Jefferson in 1801.

Q. Which president was elected with only 40 percent of the vote and had to slip into town before his inauguration for fear of being assassinated?

A. Abraham Lincoln, in 1861.

Q. What's the only part of the inauguration that's required by the U.S. Constitution?

A: The taking of the oath of office, which is in Article II, section 1.

Q. Which president's inauguration was so rowdy that he was chased out of the White House by the crowd and spent the night at a hotel?

A. Andrew Jackson's, in 1829. Jackson threw open the executive mansion to his supporters, numbering in the thousands. They reportedly destroyed some furniture, broke china and had fistfights, though some historical sources say that his political opponents exaggerated reports of violence to discredit him.

Q. Which president had the first Jan. 20 inauguration?

A. Franklin D. Roosevelt, at his second inauguration, in 1937. The date was changed by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933, but wasn't implemented until 1937. Before 1937, the oath-taking was in March.

Q. Which president had four inaugurations?

A. FDR, the only president elected more than twice. His inaugurations were in 1933, 1937, 1941 and 1945.

Q. When was the south portico of the White House used for the swearing-in ceremony?

A. In 1945. Roosevelt was so ill that he didn't leave the White House for the Jan. 20 ceremony. He died on April 12, 1945, in Warm Springs, Ga.

Q. Which president was the first to walk to his inauguration?

A. Thomas Jefferson, at his first inauguration, in 1801. The first inaugural parade was in 1805, when some Navy mechanics decided to escort Jefferson back to the President's House. The first organized parade was in 1809 for James Madison.

Q. Which president died about a month after delivering a 90-minute inaugural speech in a brisk March wind?

A. William Henry Harrison. Harrison, the son of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, delivered his speech, then got caught in the rain. He developed a cold, which became pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841.

Q. Why did Ronald Reagan move the ceremony to the west front of the U.S. Capitol from the traditional site on the east front?

A. Partly as a symbolic gesture to his Western roots and partly to save money. The west front looks over the National Mall toward the Washington Monument, so more people could watch the ceremony from the lawn, saving the expense of building temporary stands. Reagan's successors — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — also had their ceremonies at the west front, as will Barack Obama.

Q. Which two presidents invited poets to read at their inaugurations?

A. John F. Kennedy featured Robert Frost in 1961. Bill Clinton shared his stage with Maya Angelou in 1993 and with Miller Williams in 1997.

Q: When was the first inaugural address broadcast live on television?

A: Harry Truman's in 1949.

Q. Which president's inauguration first had electric lights?

A. Grover Cleveland's second, in 1893.

Q. Who was the first president to have his inauguration immortalized on motion-picture film?

A. William McKinley, in 1897. He was also the last president who served in the Civil War.

Q. Which presidents danced at their inaugurations?

A. George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Q. Who delivered the longest inaugural address, and who the shortest?

A. The longest speech was William Henry Harrison in 1841 at 8,444 words. The shortest was George Washington's second, at 135 words.

Q. When was the first inaugural ball?

A. Dolley Madison held it in 1809 for her husband, James Madison. At President Clinton's 1997 inauguration, there were 14 official balls scattered around Washington, up from George H.W. Bush's 11 in 1989. George W. Bush had eight balls in 2000.

Q. Who was the only president to use the word "affirm" rather than "swear" during the oath-taking?

A. Franklin Pierce in 1853. He said, "I do solemnly affirm," instead of "I do solemnly swear." He had a religious objection, based on Matthew 5:34, to using the word "swear."

Sources: CQ Guide to the Presidency, "Inaugural Cavalcade" by Louise Durbin, "Hail to the Chief" by Glenn Kittler, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the White House Historical Association.


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