Inauguration Day: Little known facts about our presidential past
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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.
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.
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.
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