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The presidential inauguration didn’t always occur on Jan. 20

By Tara Bailey

-Did you Know-

→ Did you know the first inauguration of George Washington took place on April 30, 1789? Thereafter, all subsequent inaugurations from 1793 to 1933, were held on March 4th.

This date was idyllic for election officials to gather election returns and for the newly elected candidates to travel to the capital. With technological advances in transportation, the March 4th date seemed far fetched. Traveling to the capital is no longer a multi-day event. From Pittsburgh, it is only a 4-hour drive, 60-minute flight, or a 6-hour bus ride.

It was not until the 20th Amendment that the U.S. Constitution mandated the specific scheduling of presidential and congressional terms. By 1933, traveling the country was more efficient and congress shortened the lengthy transition period.

→ Did you know tradition dictates the inauguration rather than the constitution? The only requirement is the timing at which oath of office is taken. The president-elect can take the oath anywhere on Jan. 20 at noon — from the privacy of his or her home, on the Gateway Clipper, or even at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Traditionally, the president-elect and the incumbent president arrive at the White House, then proceed to the inaugural grounds at the capitol.

→ Did you know there have only been three incumbent presidents in history who’ve refused to accompany the president-elect? They are John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson.

→ Did you know the vice-president-elect is sworn into office before the president on inauguration day? The vice-president-elect will step forward on the inaugural platform and repeat the oath of office.

Baffling inquiring minds, the U.S. Constitution specifies the oath required by the President but not for the second in command. It only states the vice president and other government officers should take an oath upholding the Constitution. It does not give a guideline of what the oath should say. Presently, vice presidents, senators and representatives repeat the oath previous officials read since 1884. “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.”

Along with dignitaries, members of congress, and former presidents, attendance for the inauguration is open to the public. Citizens from all over the country travel far and wide to witness the historical moment.

Describing the significance of the occasion in Pittsburghese would be, “It’s going to be slippy and cole-dat-dare but yinz wanna see a new president swarrin’ in.” Translation, “It’s going to be slippery and cold outside, but people want to see a new president being sworn in.”

In the history of crowd size for the National Mall, there have only been two presidents with populous numbers. In 2009, President Barack Obama had 1.8 million people, and in 2013, 1 million. President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration had 800,000 spectators.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, President-Elect Joe Biden will not host a convivial inauguration for the masses. The festivities this year will be virtual.

→ Did you know the inaugural address is the speech given at the ceremony which informs the people of their intentions as the nation’s leader?

George Washington started this in 1789. Following in the footsteps of Washington, every president since then expressed their vision and goals for America while setting the tone for the incoming administration.

Often presidents use the time to persuade or for reunification. In 1865, Abraham Lincoln addressed a divided nation not with happiness but with hope for reconciling differences. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

We can apply Lincoln’s sentiment in today’s political climate and serve as an inspiration for President-Elect Biden.

Historians widely reiterate other prominent passages from presidents. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural assertion, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” echoed the fear and panic felt by the people of the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy challenged Americans in 1961 with his proclamation, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

→ Did you know the 2021 inaugural theme is, “Our Determined Democracy: Forging a More Perfect Union”? It will include traditional elements of the inaugural day such as interfaith national prayer service, poetry readings, congressional luncheons, parades down Pennsylvania Avenue and the inaugural ball.



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