Inauguration Day: Little known facts about our presidential past

A defeated Grover Cleveland held an umbrella over Benjamin Harrison's head during the latter's inaugural address, and other facts
Photo: President Obama's 2009 Inauguration

FORT WORTH, Tx. January 19, 2013 — For the first time Inauguration Day will take place on a Sunday. In the past, however, the exchange of power in Washington did not happen on the last day of the week or that date.

Inauguration Day used to be on March 4th, starting with George Washington. Back then Congress gave four months to count all votes be sure all the election results were accurate.

Calvin Coolidge gives his inaugural address after being upstaged by his vice president

But by the early 20th Century information traveled much faster so that four month window was no longer necessary. Congress then adopted the Twentieth Amendment, called the Lame Duck Amendment to the Constitution which changed the date of the Inauguration to January 20th.

Until now the President-Elect took the oath privately over the weekend if January 20th fell on a Sunday. Then he would publically repeat it on the steps of the Capitol building the next day. 

Since this is the first Sunday inauguration it started me wondering what other events and/or feats stood out on this all important day.

1. George Washington gave his oath at Federal Hall in New York City by the Chancellor of New York Robert Livingston. John Adams was the first to use the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

2. George Washington kept it short, sweet and to the point when he gave the shortest inaugural speech that contained just 135 words. The longest address cost William Henry Harrison his life by way of  pneumonia he developed by giving an 8, 445-word speech that took two hours to deliver on that cold and wet day. He became the president with the shortest term in office when he died a month later.

3. The only Constitutional requirement for inauguration is the Oath of Office. The day and date are by tradition, not by law.  The term, “I swear” can be exchanged for, “I affirm.”

4. George Washington added “So help me God” to his promise though it is not required by law.  Theodore Roosevelt is the only one who omitted the term from his oath.

5. The Vice President used to give an inaugural speech. Two of them stand out.  Vice President Andrew Johnson was drunk during his speech. He was sick and had consumed medicinal whiskey to help alleviate malaria, according to Rich Rubino, author of The Political Bible of Little Known Facts in American Politics.

Overzealous constituents storm the White House after Andrew Jackson’s inauguration

Abraham Lincoln defended Johnson saying, “I have known Andrew Johnson for many years. He made a slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain’t a drunkard.”

In 1925 Vice President Charles C. Gawes upstaged President Calvin Coolidge when he used his speech to criticize ineffective Senate rules. The media covered his speech as much as Coolidge’s.

6. The Chief of the Supreme Court administers the oath of office by tradition although law does not specify who is to do it. The only woman to swear in a president was US District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who administered the oath to Lyndon B. Johnson.

John Calvin Coolidge Sr., a state certified notary public administered the oath for his son, John Calvin Coolidge Jr. in Vermont. The latter was visiting his father when Warren G. Harding died.

William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice - 1921 to 1930

Federal Judge Adolph A. Holding swore him in a second time in case anyone questioned the legitimacy of his first oath.

7. The very people who elected Andrew Jackson almost killed him the day he took his oath. He was the first president to represent the common man as opposed to his aristocratic predecessors.

Over 20,000 overzealous voters invaded the White House that day in an effort to shake his hand. The throng of people surrounded and nearly crushed him to death. He had to escape to a nearby hotel while the revelers carried on with the celebration back at the White House.

8. In 1853 Franklin Pierce gave his speech of 3, 319 words from memory. He is the only president to use the words, “I affirm” instead of, “I swear” while taking the oath.

9) Vice President William Rufus King (1853) is the only executive official to take the oath of office on foreign soil.

Congress allowed for it as they knew King was terminally ill and in Cuba at inauguration time because of it.

He died a month later making him the shortest serving Vice President.

10) The only person to serve as president and Chief Justice of the US is William Howard Taft.

Fourth Chief Justice John Marshal holds the record for administering the most oaths for incoming presidents

11. Weather is a big influence for the day too.

Benjamin Harrison gave his inaugural speech in the midst of a downpour.

William Howard Taft gave his speech in the Senate chambers because of a blizzard the night before he took office. The record rainfall for the inaugural day is 1.77” in 1937. President Roosevelt was soaked most of the day according toNOAA.

Both of Ronald Reagan’s days hold the records for the warmest and coldest January date; 55 degrees and nine degrees, respectively.

12) Chief Justice John Marshall has given the oath of office a record nine times.

Read more of Claire’s work at Feed The Mind, Nourish The Soul in the Communities at The Washington Times, her blog Sustenance For The Mind, and the writing group she belongs to at Greater Fort Worth Writers Group.

Join her on Twitter and Facebook.

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More from Inauguration 2013 - Ceremonies, parades, balls and parties past and present
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Claire Hickey

Claire has held a Texas Cosmetology License, Certification in Surgical Technology and has decorated cakes professionally. She believes that life is a banquet to be experienced and wants to learn and do as much as possible while she’s here. This Stay @ Home Mom has always loved to write and thanks to the Communities @ The Washington Times has got her chance. Her curiosity and writing lead her to create her column based on “garbage in garbage out” theory to provide interesting and thought provoking pieces that enrich her readers. A proud member and Treasurer for the Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Group she is currently working on her first novel.  


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