EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 18, 2009

Historical highlights of inaugurals past

In 1801, President-elect Thomas Jefferson walked from Conrad & McMunn's boarding house to the still-unfinished Capitol to take the oath at noon, then strolled back in time for lunch with fellow boarders.

It was the first and last time a president walked to and from his inauguration, although Jimmy Carter did walk from the Capitol to the White House in 1977.

There were no inaugural balls for widower Jefferson — that would wait for his successor, James Madison, and his socialite wife, Dolley. At their cue, the Marine Band, "the president's own," struck up "Jefferson's March" as the outgoing president came in.

"The crowd was excessive, the heat oppressive and the entertainment bad," sniffed John Quincy Adams, a future president himself and son of second President John Adams, the man so bitter at losing he wouldn't attend Jefferson's inaugural.

Far more elaborate was George Washington's first inaugural in 1789. Washington made the 250-mile trek by horse to the interim capital of New York and was feted every step of the way by citizens determined to celebrate the war hero and first president. Had he desired, he could have been king.

Congress ferried him by a barge festooned with royal-red bunting the final miles into Manhattan, where New York chancellor Robert Livingston administered the Constitution's 35-word oath, to which Washington added "so help me God" as fireworks burst over Wall Street.

Never mind that Martha stayed home at Mount Vernon or that the father of our country had to borrow 500 pounds sterling from a Virginia neighbor to make the trip.

By Washington's second inaugural in 1793, remembered for his 135-word address — the shortest so far — the inauguration and capital had moved to Philadelphia, where John Adams also was sworn in as the second president in 1797.

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