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'Firsts' in presidential inaugurations
by Mary Deibel
Scripps Howard News Service


January 12, 2005

Washington - The Constitution contains only two inauguration requirements:

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

That they repeat a 35-word oath that they 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."

But presidents have spent 216 years creating their own inaugural traditions:

GEORGE WASHINGTON added "so help me God" to the oath and kissed the Bible. His 1789 swearing-in was in New York City, the temporary capital. His 1793 inaugural address, at 135 words, was the shortest in history.

JOHN ADAMS was the first president sworn in by a chief justice, Oliver Ellsworth, in 1797. The first president to live in the White House, Adams was also the first president to leave town without attending his successor's inauguration.

THOMAS JEFFERSON in 1801 was the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C. 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 inadvertently left the country without a president for a day between his two terms four years later: 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 in 1817 after the British burned the Capitol. His was held on the Capitol's East Front, where inaugurations usually were staged until 1981.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, the first son of a president to become president, also was the first president to wear long pants to his inaugural. Before his 1825 inauguration, it was knee britches.

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 _ a two-hour oration in the cold and rain that totaled 8,445 words. Appearing without an overcoat and riding on horseback, Harrison caught pneumonia and died a month later.

JOHN TYLER, on April 6, 1841, became the first vice president to become president on a president's death.

JAMES K. POLK, the only speaker of the House to become president, was the first to have news of his 1845 inauguration telegraphed to the world. Samuel F.B. Morse personally punched the message.

FRANKLIN PIERCE also broke Washington's tradition when Pierce didn't kiss the Bible in 1853. Pierce wouldn't "swear" to uphold the Constitution, either, but "affirmed" his duty. He was also the only president to deliver his entire inaugural address from memory.

JAMES BUCHANAN'S 1857 inaugural was the first to be photographed. John Wood, photographer for the architect of the Capitol, did the work for the only bachelor president.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN had the first inaugural parade to include blacks in 1865.

ANDREW JOHNSON on April 15, 1865, was the first vice president to become president on the assassination of a president.

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the first to take the oath in the White House. The Red Room ceremony was on Saturday, March 3, 1877, because March 4 was a Sunday and because, due to a disputed election, threats were made on his life. A public ceremony was held Monday.

JAMES GARFIELD was the first president to review the inaugural parade from White House stands in 1881.

GROVER CLEVELAND in 1893 was the only president sworn in for a second non-consecutive term.

WILLIAM McKINLEY'S 1897 inauguration was the first filmed by a motion picture camera.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the only president not sworn in on a Bible when he took the oath at Ansley Wilcox' house in Buffalo, N.Y., following McKinley's 1901 assassination.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT'S 1909 inaugural parade marked the first time a first lady rode beside her husband.

WOODROW WILSON suspended inaugural balls in 1913. He said they detracted from the dignity of the office. Wilson's 1917 inaugural parade was the first to allow women. (The 19th Amendment giving women the vote was ratified in 1920).

WARREN HARDING was the first president to go by car in his inaugural parade. He also revived inaugural balls in 1921, but Congress wouldn't pay. So Harding raised private money to pay for the inauguration and balls _ a tradition that continues today.

CALVIN COOLIDGE was sworn in by his father, a justice of the peace, at home in Plymouth, Vt., on Harding's death in 1923. "Silent Cal's" inaugural address following his 1924 election was the first broadcast nationwide by radio.

HERBERT HOOVER'S 1929 inauguration was the first for talking newsreels.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT in 1937 was the first president to take office Jan. 20, the new date specified by the 20th Amendment. In 1941, Roosevelt became the first president inaugurated more than twice _ a practice later prohibited by the 22nd Amendment. FDR's fourth inauguration in 1945 was on the White House South Portico and lasted only six minutes; Roosevelt died the following April 12.

HARRY TRUMAN was presiding over the Senate on April 12, 1945, when Eleanor Roosevelt summoned him to the White House to tell him FDR was dead. Truman's 1949 inaugural was the first carried on TV.

DWIGHT EISENHOWER broke custom in 1953 by improvising an inaugural prayer. He didn't kiss the Bible and wore a homburg instead of the traditional top hat.

JOHN KENNEDY, the first president born in the 20th century, wore a top hat for his inauguration, to the joy of haberdashers. He was the last president to do so. The first Catholic president, he was sworn in on a Catholic Douay Bible.

LYNDON JOHNSON was the only president sworn in aboard an airplane. After Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, U.S. District Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath to Johnson aboard Air Force One in Dallas. Johnson's 1965 inaugural parade was the first to have a president ride in a bulletproof limousine and the first to include the first lady officially: Lady Bird held the Bible.

RICHARD NIXON was the first president to require that only people with special invitations be admitted to the Capitol grounds for his 1969 inauguration.

GERALD FORD was the only unelected vice president to assume the presidency on Nixon's 1974 resignation because of the Watergate scandal.

JIMMY CARTER, the first president born in a hospital, was the first to walk from the Capitol to the White House after being inaugurated.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH was the first vice president elected to succeed his president since Martin Van Buren.

RONALD REAGAN'S 1981 inaugural was the first staged on the Capitol's West Front.

BILL CLINTON'S 1997 inauguration was the first carried live in cyberspace.

GEORGE W. BUSH'S 2001 inauguration marked the first time since John Quincy Adams that a president's son became president and the first time that spectators attending the parade had to pass through security checkpoints and undergo searches.


Reach Mary Deibel at deibelm(at)


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