EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 18, 2009

Presidents have spent 220 years creating own inaugural customs

The Constitution contains only two inauguration requirements:

That presidents-elect take office at noon on Jan. 20.

That they repeat the 35-word oath to "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."

But presidents have spent 220 years creating their own inaugural customs. Here's a look at some:

GEORGE WASHINGTON added "so help me God" to the oath and kissed the Bible. His 1789 swearing-in was on a balcony in New York City, the temporary capital.

JOHN ADAMS was the first president sworn in by a chief justice, Oliver Ellsworth, in 1797. (There was no chief justice to swear in Washington because presidents name Supreme Court justices, so New York Chancellor Robert Livingston administered the oath to Washington.)

THOMAS JEFFERSON was the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C., in 1801. He was the first and only president to walk to and from his inauguration.

JAMES MADISON was the first president to have an inaugural parade and ball, hosted in 1809 by his party-loving wife Dolley.

Madison also inadvertently left the country without a president for a day between his two terms: The Constitution initially specified inaugurations be held on March 4, but March 4, 1813, fell on a Sunday, when civil oaths and celebrations were unheard of. The problem was subsequently remedied by letting new presidents take the oath in advance in private with public inaugurations delayed until Monday.

JAMES MONROE moved inaugurations outdoors again in 1817 after the British burned the Capitol. His was held on the Capitol's East Front, where inaugurations usually were staged until 1981.

MARTIN VAN BUREN was the first U.S.-born citizen-president in 1837. His predecessors predated formation of the United States.

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON was the first to arrive in Washington by rail. His 1841 inauguration also set the record for the longest inaugural address at 10,000 words. He caught pneumonia and died a month later.

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