History and Events of the Presidential Inauguration

 History surrounds the rituals and practices that take place during the presidential inauguration. In January of 2017, Donald J. Trump took the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States. Here is a compendium of historical events surrounding the presidential inauguration through the ages. 

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Presidential Inaugurations - History and Events

George W. Bush being sworn in for the second time at the US Capitol in 2005.
George W. Bush being sworn in for the second time at the US Capitol in 2005. White House Photo

January 20, 2009, marked the 56th presidential inauguration with Barack Obama taking the oath of office that officially began his first term as president of the United States. The history of presidential inaugurations can be traced back to that of George Washington on April 30, 1789. However, much has changed from that first administration of the presidential oath of office. Following is a step-by-step look at what happens during a presidential inauguration.

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Morning Worship Service - Presidential Inauguration

John F Kennedy shakes hands with Father Richard Casey after attending mass before his inauguration.
John F Kennedy shakes hands with Father Richard Casey after attending mass before his inauguration. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt attended a service at St. John Episcopal Church the morning of his presidential inauguration in 1933, president-elects have attended religious services before taking the oath of office. The only apparent exception to this was the second inauguration of Richard Nixon. He did, however, attend church services the next day. Of the ten presidents since Roosevelt, four of them also attended services at St John's: Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. The other services attended were:

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Procession to the Capitol - Presidential Inauguration

Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt Riding to the Capitol for the Roosevelt's Inauguration.
Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt Riding to the Capitol for the Roosevelt's Inauguration. Architect of the Capitol.

The president-elect and vice-president-elect along with their wives are escorted to the White House by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Then, by tradition began in 1837 with Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson, the president and president-elect ride together to the swearing-in ceremony. This tradition has only been broken three times including the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant when Andrew Johnson did not attend but instead stayed back in the White House to sign some last-minute legislation.

The outgoing president sits to the right of the president-elect on the trip to the capitol. Since 1877, the vice president and vice president-elect ride to the inauguration directly behind the president and president-elect. A few interesting facts:

  • Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were the only two presidents to walk to their inaugurations.
  • In 1917, Edith Wilson became the first First Lady to accompany her husband to the capitol.
  • The first president-elect to ride to the inauguration in an automobile was Warren G. Harding in 1921.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president-elect to ride to the inauguration in a bullet-proof limousine in 1965.
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Vice President's Swearing-In Ceremony - Presidential Inauguration

Dick Cheney takes the oath of office for his second term at inaugural ceremonies January 20, 2005
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney gestures as he takes the oath of office for his second term as administered by House Speaker Dennis Hastert at inaugural ceremonies January 20, 2005 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Before the president-elect is sworn in, the vice-president takes his or her oath of office. Until 1981, the vice-president was sworn in at a different location than the new president.

The text of the vice-presidential oath of office is not written in the Constitution as it is for the president. Instead, the wording of the oath is set by Congress. The current oath was approved in 1884 and is also used to swear-in all senators, representatives, and other government officers. It is:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

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Presidential Oath of Office - Presidential Inauguration

Dwight Eisenhower takes the Oath of Office as the President during his Inauguration
Dwight D. Eisenhower takes the Oath of Office as the President of the United States during his Inauguration January 20, 1953 in Washington D.C. Also pictured is former president Harry S. Truman and Richard M. Nixon. National Archive/Newsmakers

After the vice-president is officially sworn in, the president takes the oath of office. The text, as set down in Article II, Section 1, of the US Constitution, reads:

"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."

Franklin Pierce was the first president to choose the word "affirm" instead of "swear." Additional oath of office trivia:

  • 1797 - John Adams was the first to receive the oath of office from the Chief Justice.
  • 1817 - James Monroe was the first to take the oath-of-office out of doors in Washington, D.C.
  • 1853 - Franklin Pierce was the first to use the word "affirm" rather than "swear" when taking the oath.
  • 1901 - John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, and Theodore Roosevelt were the only presidents not to use a bible while taking the oath of office.
  • 1923 - Calvin Coolidge's father administered the oath of office to his son.
  • 1963 - Lyndon Johnson became the first president whose oath was administered in an airplane and by a woman.
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President's Inaugural Address - Presidential Inauguration

William McKinley Giving His Inaugural Address in 1901.
William McKinley Giving His Inaugural Address in 1901. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-22730 DLC.

After taking the oath of office, the president delivers an inaugural address. The shortest inaugural address was delivered by George Washington in 1793. The longest was given by William Henry Harrison. One month later he died of pneumonia and many believe this was brought on by his time outside on inauguration day. In 1925, Calvin Coolidge became the first to deliver his inaugural address over the radio. By 1949, Harry Truman's address was televised.

The inaugural address is a time for the president to set forth his vision for the United States. Many great inaugural addresses have been delivered throughout the years. One of the most stirring was delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1865, shortly before Lincoln's assassination. In it he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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Departure of the Outgoing President - Presidential Inauguration

George W Bush escorts Bill Clinton from the Capitol after the presidential inauguration ceremony
United States President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush and former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton exit the Capitol building following the presidential inauguration ceremony. David McNew/Newsmakers

Once the new president and vice-president have been sworn in, the outgoing president and first lady leave the Capitol. Over time, the procedures around this departure have changed. In recent years, the outgoing vice-president and his wife are escorted by the new vice-president and his wife through a military cordon. Then the outgoing president and his wife are escorted by the new president and first lady. Since 1977, they have departed from the capitol by helicopter.

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Inaugural Luncheon - Presidential Inauguration

President Ronald Reagan is shown speaking at his inaugural luncheon in the U.S. Capitol.
President Ronald Reagan is shown speaking at his inaugural luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 1985. Architect of the Capitol

After the new president and vice-president have seen the outgoing executives leave, they then return to Statuary Hall within the capitol to attend a luncheon given by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. During the 19th century, this luncheon was typically hosted at the White House by the outgoing president and first lady. However, since the early 1900's the luncheon location was moved to the Capitol. It has been given by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies since 1953.

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Inaugural Parade - Presidential Inauguration

The Presidential reviewing stand during the inaugural parade on January 20, 2005
Spectators watch from the Presidential reviewing stand as a marching band passes during the inaugural parade in front of the White House January 20, 2005 in Washington, DC. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After the luncheon, the new president and vice-president travel down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. They then review the parade given in their honor from a special reviewing stand. The inaugural parade actually dates back to George Washington's first inauguration. However, it wasn't until Ulysses Grant in 1873, that the tradition was begun of reviewing the parade at the White House once the inaugural ceremony was complete. The only parade that was canceled was Ronald Reagan's second owing to extremely low temperatures and dangerous conditions.

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Inaugural Balls - Presidential Inauguration

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at the inaugural ball January 20, 1961
President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy attend the inaugural ball January 20, 1961 in Washington, DC. Getty Images

Inauguration Day ends with the inaugural balls. The first official inaugural ball was held in 1809 when Dolley Madison hosted the event for her husband's inauguration. Almost every inauguration day has ended in a similar event since that time with a few exceptions. Franklin Pierce asked that the ball be canceled because he had recently lost his son. Other cancellations included Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. Charity balls were held for the inaugurations of presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The inaugural ball tradition began anew with Harry Truman. Starting with Dwight Eisenhower, the number of balls increased from two to an all-time high of 14 for Bill Clinton's second inauguration.