“Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
United States presidential inaugurations began almost 228 years ago when George Washington took the oath on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Since then, there have been 57 formal presidential inaugural ceremonies, with the 58th ceremony taking place on Friday, January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Surprisingly, beyond the oath itself, the Constitution provides very little on how the swearing in of a president should be handled. Traditions concerning the inaugural ceremony, the parade, the balls, etc., have evolved over two centuries with the help of technology, events of the day, and the personalities of the sworn-in presidents themselves. These stories and anecdotes help shape who we are as Americans and set us apart from countries all around the world.
Before the swearing in of Donald Trump as our nation’s 45th president, share some fun facts with your students and encourage them to visit the online resources listed below:
- Shortest inaugural speech – 135 words: George Washington, second inauguration March 4, 1793
- Longest inaugural speech – 8,445 words: William Henry Harrison, March 4, 1841 (it is believed that his prolonged exposure to bad weather during his speech caused him to die of pneumonia one month later)
- Andrew Jackson was the first president to take the oath on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol on March 4, 1829. The first inauguration held on the other side of the Capitol took place during Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration on January 20, 1981, and has been held on the West Front side ever since.
- The tradition of the president and president-elect riding together to the Capitol began on March 4, 1837, with outgoing president Andrew Jackson and president-elect Martin van Buren traveling in a carriage. Warren G. Harding was the first president to ride to and from his ceremony in an automobile.
- Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration on March 4, 1865 had African Americans participate in the inaugural parade for the first time.
- Women participated for the first time during the inaugural parade of Woodrow Wilson’s second inauguration on March 5, 1917.
- With technological advances requiring less time to count votes and travel to Washington, D.C., the 20th Amendment, which was ratified in 1933, moved up Inauguration Day to January 20 from March 4.
- While not stipulated by the Constitution, it has become a tradition for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to administer the oath.
- Chief Justice John Marshall holds the record with having given the oath 9 times.
- First photographed ceremony: James Buchanan, March 4, 1857
- First filmed ceremony: William McKinley, March 4, 1897
- First broadcast nationally on radio: Calvin Coolidge, March 4, 1925
- First televised: Harry S Truman, January 20, 1949
- First internet broadcast: Bill Clinton, January 20, 1997
The Library of Congress, U.S. Presidential Inaugurations web guide, which includes diaries and letters written by presidents and those who witnessed the inaugurations, handwritten drafts of inaugural addresses, broadsides, inaugural tickets and programs, prints, photographs, and sheet music.
Architect of the Capitol, Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol provides a myriad of information about the ceremony and how it has changed. Information about vice presidential inauguration are also provided.