Monday, January 19, 2009
Since tomorrow is packed with running and watching and generally being overcome with delight at the change in administrations, I thought I'd add this post tonight.
The inaugural pomp and circumstance has changed over the last 233 years, not in the least because the crowd on the Mall tomorrow is estimated to be almost more than the population of the entire country at the first inauguration. (In 1790 our population was around 3 million, but only 2.4 million were free, and of those, less than 39,000 were eligible to vote (meaning less than 39,000 were old, rich, white guys, who also owned enough property to qualify to vote).
Yes, Virginia, you had to qualify age-wise, race-wise, financially, *plus* you had to actually own enough land. Meaning even if you were a 30-year-old dashing young gentleman with impeccable pedigree from the finest white family, if all your ancestral lands were in England, you still couldn't vote over here.
One thing they were progressive about: the polls were opened for 3 weeks for voting, and the results were determined by run-off: George Washington ran unopposed, but 11 guys ran for Vice-President, and the one who got the most votes won (John Adams).
Washington's inaugural was held in New York on April 30, 1789, and paid for entirely by private citizens. His wife, Martha, didn't even bother making the trip.
Thomas Jefferson was sworn in on March 4, 1801, and was probably the only president to walk both to and from his inaugural, which was the first held at the U.S. Capitol. This was also the first time the local newspaper saw fit to publish the text of the inaugural address.
James Madison was the first to invite the U.S. Marine Band to play for the first inaugural ball (1809).
In 1825, John Quincy Adams was the first president to be sworn in wearing long trousers. One may assume this was because male fashions changed, not because the previous presidents showed up minus pants.
Lincoln's vice-president -Andrew Johnson- also holds the dubious distinction (as far as is known) of being the only VP (and probably the President), to take the oath while completely drunk.
Johnson had been suffering from a head cold, and took several large glasses of whiskey to get him through the speech. During the speech not only was he noticeably drunk, but almost fell off the platform. (the photo above is of that particular Lincoln inauguration -if you look closely you can see Andrew Johnson riding the wave in the mosh pit below the official platform -just wanted to see if you were paying attention)
Franklin Pierce drove to and from the Capitol standing up in his carriage, and broke with the tradition of kissing the Bible, prefering instead to merely place his hand upon it. Pierce also gave his speech without notes, speaking extemporaneously.
The first inaugural to be photographed was James Buchanan, in 1857. (Photography caught on, and documented the upcoming Civil War.)
Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in at the White House in 1877, for no apparent reason.
William McKinley had his inaugural recorded by a movie camera in 1897, and watched his parade from a glassed in reviewing stand (you'll see that tomorrow too, but now it's bulletproof glass, and heated)
Theodore Roosevelt was the only President not sworn in on a Bible, just lifting his hand instead.
There is no requirement that a Bible be used, or any holy book - just that an incoming president
swear that he (and someday, she) will serve to the best of their capabilities. Roosevelt also refrained from saying "so help me God" (which is not part of the official oath), preferring instead to say "And thus I swear".
President William H. Taft rode in the first automobile in his parade, and the dome of the capitol was illuminated for the very first time that night.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson broke precedent by taking the oath on a Sunday, and allowing women to march in the inaugural parade (although he drew the line at allowing them to vote).
The first inaugural to be broadcast on the radio was in 1925 for Calvin Coolidge.
Television followed 24 years later with Harry Truman's inauguration in 1949.
In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower refused to kiss the Bible, choosing instead to recite his own improvised prayer. Odd, considering it was under his administration that "In God We Trust " was added to our money. But that's largely due to the insistence of Joe McCarthy, the icon of blacklisting and Communist witchhunting.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy broke tradition on more than a few fronts: he invited the first poet to the ceremony (Robert Frost), moved the ceremony to the Capitol's East Front, saw the parade coverage broadcast in color,was tha last president to wear the traditional stovepipe hat, *and*
used Army flame throwers to clear snow from Pennsylvania Avenue.
Richard Nixon was the first to use two Bibles for his swearing in in 1969. In hindsight, even two Bibles weren't enough to help Nixon.
Jimmy Carter was the first president (with his family)to walk all the way from the Capitol to the White House. Solar heat was used to heat the glass reviewing stand during the parade, and a provision was made for the first "handicapped" parade seating section.
Ronald Reagan outdid all the other Presidents for the most inaugural balls, including 10 balls held in Washington D.C., with transmission by satellite to 32 other inaugural ball sites around the country.
And finally...Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997 was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet.
Tomorrow's inaugural will be full of another round of firsts. It's a proud day for America!