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Foreign Press Centers > Briefings > -- By Date > 2009 Foreign Press Center Briefings > January 

Historical Perspectives on the Inaugural Swearing in Ceremony

Donald Kennon, Ph.D., Vice President for Scholarship and Education, U.S. Capitol Historical Society
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
January 14, 2009

Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce to everybody today Dr. Donald Kennon. He is the Chief Historian of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. He’s also the Vice President of Fellowship and Education for the Society.
Dr. Kennon received his PhD in American History from the Univesrity of Maryland and has been involved in several publications dealing with the history of the United States.
Some of his publications include Speaker of the House of Representatives, a bibliography; and the Committee on Ways and Means -- a Bicentennial History.
I’ll turn the time over to Dr. Kennon.

Donald Kennon: Thank you, Matt, for that introduction. Four years ago I did a similar briefing here for the Foreign Press Center. Some of you may have been here at that time. I have changed my remarks somewhat. At that time I gave pretty much a prepared speech and tried to be deep and philosophical about the meaning of America’s presidential inaugurations. Today what I want to do is give you a little bit of that, but mostly to talk about some of the interesting precedents in American history involving presidential inaugurations and how it has evolved to what you will see on January 20th, next Tuesday. Then I’ll be very happy to take any questions you might have.

I must say that in preparing for this I reviewed the current state of press coverage of the history of presidential inaugurations by the American press and I was very very impressed. There’s some very high quality reporting being done by the news in the United States about historical precedents involved with our presidential inauguration. At least the American press is doing a good job and I’m sure you will too. You can find a lot of good information in American coverage and especially on the internet and various sources.
Let me begin by on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 the Presidential Oath of Office will be administered for the 70th time in American history. This year’s presidential inauguration is the 56th quadrennial inaugural ceremony since George Washington was inaugurated as the first president in 1789 in New York City. The 2009 ceremony will be the 51st such ceremony at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the 7th on the Capitol’s West Front. But even more historically, it will be the first time which the oath is taken by an African-American.

Shortly after noon, at noon or shortly thereafter, Barack Obama will take the Oath of Office as the 44th President in American history. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution ratified in 1933 provides that the term of the President begins at noon on January 20th. However, before executing the powers of his office the President must take the Oath of Office as specified in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution. That 35 word oath is, “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.”
It’s probably safe to say that the presidential inauguration is the transcendent ritual of America’s democracy and representative government. Unlike the coronation of a monarch or any ritual associated with the rise to power of a dictator or autocrat, the inauguration of the American President is a cyclical, regularly scheduled event held every four years. The regularity of presidential inaugurations lends a sense of reassuring stability, continuity and permanence to a political system that permits turnover in office holders and change in policy agendas. Moreover it is a peaceful change in government, unlike the violence that so often has accompanied a change in head of state elsewhere.

Consider some of the symbolism of inauguration day. In instances in which a new President has been elected, the President-elect is greeted at the White House by the outgoing President who escorts him to the Capitol. They ride together.
One of the traditions that has fallen by the wayside over the years is the tradition of Presidents wearing formal hats. Kind of a tradition that I wish would come back. If you look at newsreels of old presidential inaugurations, I’m thinking especially of the 1933 inauguration of Herbert Hoover, there’s this wonderful footage of Hoover and FDR getting in an open-topped car together and turning to the camera and almost synchronized, tipping their hat to the camera. It would make I think a wonderful Olympic event -- synchronized hat tipping. Anyway, that’s a tradition that has fallen by the wayside. JFK in 1961 was the last President to wear the formal hat.

The chief executive’s Oath of Office significantly is administered at the seat of the legislative branch of government. The President-elect goes to the Capitol, the home of Congress, to take the oath of office. He is escorted from a holding room in the Capitol by a committee of Members of Congress.

Prior to the recent completion of the Capitol Visitors Center there was a special room on the East Front of the Capitol. It was right in the center underneath the central stairs called EF-100, EF, East Front, 100. It was right in the middle. It was equally divided between the House and Senate sides of the Capitol and it was in that room that the President would wait for the time to go out either the East Front or the West Front of the building to be inaugurated. Now with the visitor’s center in operation, the President will first go to the visitor’s center before going outside for the inauguration.

The oath, of course, is administered when weather permits outside in the presence of the public, the electorate who chose the president. The President-elect and the Vice President-elect are surrounded by Members of Congress, past and present; Justices of the Supreme Court; members of the Diplomatic Corps; and other dignitaries as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States administers the oath of office. So in this way all three branches of the federal government are joined together in this ritual of reaffirmation of American representative government. You have the executive branch represented by the President and Vice President; you have the Congress, the legislative branch, in attendance at their building; and you have the judiciary branch represented by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who administers the oath.

The administration of the oath of office as a ritual of reaffirmation combines the worlds of the sacred and the profane, or in other words, religion and politics. The oath, as specified by the Constitution, is sworn as the President-elect lays his left hand on the Bible, raises his right hand -- somewhat analogous to a defendant or a witness in a trial. Most significantly, the President-elect takes the oath of allegiance to the Constitution, to the written blueprint of our form of government. By promising to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, the ritual invokes the solemnity of sacrament.

Just as other sacred ceremonies throughout history are followed by feasts and celebrations, the remainder of Inauguration Day then takes the form of a festival. Following the inaugural ceremony the new President now is escorted into Statuary Hall in the Capitol where a luncheon in his honor is hosted by Members of Congress, a tradition that began in 1897 but then really took hold in 1953 and has continued ever since.

The President and his entourage then travel back to the White House at the head of an increasingly elaborate parade. The day is then completed with the inaugural balls held at various locations around the city at which the political elite parties with its corporate backers and major financial supporters. The function of festival in this case seems to be to bring the consecrated one, the President, back down to the grubby secular world of social and political obligation.

I don’t want to talk to you today about the balls and the luncheons and all of the other events that surround the inaugural ceremony, but I want to focus upon what defines it. That is the taking of the oath, the Presidential Oath, as specified in the Constitution. So I want to talk to you now briefly and give you some of the historical precedents involved in how the oath-taking ceremony at the Capitol has evolved to what it is today.

All that the Constitution requires is that the President take the oath of office. It doesn’t say where he or she is to take the oath, it doesn’t say who will administer the oath, or any other aspect of ceremony. All these have developed as a result of history, precedent, and tradition.

The Constitution does specify a date. First, it was set as March 4th; then when the 20th Amendment was ratified in 1933 the date of inauguration was changed to January 20th. This was done so that there would not be such a lengthy “lame duck” period, as it was called, from the election of the President in November until his or her inauguration in March, so they changed it earlier to January 20th.

What happens, however, if Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday as has happened six times in American history? The first two times were in 1821 when James Monroe became President, and in 1849 when Zachary Taylor became President. History doesn’t record that they took the oath on Sunday, but they did have their public ceremonies on the following Monday.
The other four times that it has occurred, in 1877 with Rutherford B. Hayes -- for Hayes, he took the oath of office on March 3rd, Saturday, and then publicly on March 5th. In 1917 Woodrow Wilson took the oath on Sunday, March 4th, and then publicly on Monday, March 5th. In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower in his second inaugural took the oath on January 20th, Sunday, and then publicly on January 21st.

Some of you may remember the 1985 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, his second term as President. It was notable for two events. First of all when it fell on Sunday he took the oath privately at the White House -- privately, but it was televised. That’s also, to my memory, the only time that January 20th, a Sunday, was also Super Bowl Sunday. If you remember that Super Bowl, President Reagan by television conducted the [inaudible] part of the Super Bowl. Then he took the oath publicly on Monday, January 21, 1985. That was notable because that was the coldest inaugural day, in fact it was too cold to have the ceremony out of doors. I think the thermometer was like seven degrees, ten degrees below zero with the wind chill factor, there was ice all over the place, and the inauguration was moved indoors to the Rotunda of the Capitol.

The next time January 20th falls on a Sunday will be the next inauguration in 2013. It falls on a Sunday and it also happens the following day, Monday, will also be Martin Luther King Day. Martin Luther King Day, the inauguration has been held on one previous Martin Luther King Day. That was in 1997, Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. He remarked about that in his inaugural address.
So you can see there have been occasions in American history when Presidents took the oath of office twice for their same term -- dual swearing in ceremonies. Because of this Presidents Wilson, Reagan and Eisenhower each took the oath of office three times. They were two term presidents, but they took the oath three times. Of course the record for the most swearing in ceremonies goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who served four terms or was elected to four terms as President.

Now let’s turn to look at the location. Why is the inauguration of the President held at the Capitol? It really I think is for two reasons. One is precedent. When George Washington was inaugurated as the first President he went to the seat of Congress which was meeting at that time, the first Federal Congress, in New York City at Federal Hall. He went to the seat of Congress to be inaugurated and took the oath of office on the second floor balcony outside the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall.

But it also has to do I think with the fact that Congress is the first branch of American government. The first Article of the Constitution created Congress. It was the Continental Congress, after all, that led the American Revolution. It was a legislative revolution, if you will. Therefore, the Capitol building when it moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800 has been since the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801 the site of the presidential inauguration.

Thirty-five times the President has been inaugurated at the East Front of the Capitol. That’s the front that faces the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court building. The Capitol has two fronts, an East Front and a West Front that faces the Mall. And the inauguration has taken place seven times on the West Front facing the Mall -- first in 1981 for the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, and actually Reagan in his inaugural address mentioned the fact, as he looks out he can see the monuments to the founders of the nation -- the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and beyond that, Arlington National Cemetery.

Why was it moved to the West Front? Really, the West Front is better for you, for television coverage. It’s much more photogenic and it gives you that wide sweep of the Mall and the view of the monuments and memorials.

Why is it held outside? It’s held outside so that the public can witness inaugurations. It’s really for the people. As I may have mentioned earlier, it’s only been moved inside only because of inclement weather. The first time, 1833, Andrew Jackson’s second inaugural was moved inside. Jackson was elderly, not in great health, and it was a fairly cold day. In 1909 similarly, a bitterly cold day. I think there were ten inches of snow that day. The inauguration of William Howard Taft moved inside to the Senate Chamber. And as I mentioned before, the 1985 inauguration or Ronald Reagan took place in the Rotunda of the Capitol.

There was one other bitterly cold day with lots of snow, and that was in 1961 for John Kennedy’s inauguration, which is the first one I can personally remember as youngster at the time being on television. There was a good deal of snow. The Army brought in snow blowers and flame throwers, even, to clean the snow off of Pennsylvania Avenue so that the presidential entourage could come from the White House to the Capitol. Fortunately the day turned very bright and sunny and it was a good day for television. But as I’ll mention later, it was a bad day for poets.

Let me just give you a few broadcast firsts that you might find interesting. The first presidential inauguration to be covered by telegraph was in 1845 for James K. Polk.

The first presidential inauguration to be photographed was 1855, James Buchanan. That’s a wonderful photograph, too, that was taken of Buchanan’s inauguration.

The first inauguration to be filmed was William McKinley’s in 1897.

Warren G. Harding’s 1921 inauguration was the first inauguration at which public address amplification systems were used. Prior to that, unless you were within range of hearing my voice, if you attended an inauguration you probably couldn’t hear what was going on. Mainly you went to see what was happening, you couldn’t hear much.

In 1925 Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration was covered by radio, broadcast on radio.

Harry Truman’s 1949 inauguration was broadcast on television, for the first time. The nation had about 170,000 households with television. 1949.

Kennedy’s in ’61 was the first to have color television broadcast.

Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration was the first to be webcast.

Unless I’m wrong, this may be the first, this coming, the first to be broadcast in high definition. Maybe some of you know, but I don’t know if high definition television was around in 2005.

Voice: It was.

Donald Kennon: Okay, so I’m wrong. Thank you. [Laughter]. I’ll add that to the list.

Let’s now turn to the administration of the oath of office. I mentioned it’s most commonly administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That is, as I mentioned, by tradition. It’s not mandated by the Constitution. George Washington was not sworn in by the Chief Justice because there was no Chief Justice. The Congress had not yet created the Supreme Court, and of course Washington had to become President to appoint a Chief Justice. So he was sworn in by a New York State Judge, Robert Livingston.
Fourteen Chief Justices have administered the oath; one Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; three Federal Judges; two New York State Judges; and even one Notary Public has administered the oath of office. I’ll mention that at the end of my remarks.
John Marshall, Chief Justice John Marshall holds the record. He administered the oath of office nine times, starting in 1801 with Jefferson and ending with Jackson’s second inauguration in 1833. He holds the record.

John Roberts who will administer the oath of office to Obama, this will be the first time. I also find it interesting that one week from administering the oath of office Roberts will celebrate his 54th birthday, so it’s conceivable that he could be around for four or five more presidential inaugurations, although it’s highly unlikely that any Chief Justice will ever match John Marshall’s record of nine.
The oath of office, as I mentioned, is administered using a Bible. Why is that? It’s the tradition. It was common in the Anglo-American world in 1789 when George Washington began the precedent of using a Bible. So it’s interesting that when Washington got to Federal Hall to be inaugurated, they couldn’t find a Bible in Federal Hall. None of the Members of Congress seemed to have a Bible with them. But they did find and locate nearby in the Masonic Temple a Masonic Bible. That was used to swear Washington in. Actually that Bible has been kept by the Masons in New York City and has been used on four other occasions by Presidents when they inaugurated -- Harding in 1921, Eisenhower in 1953, Jimmy Carter in ’77, and the first George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush had the Bible brought to the Capitol in 2001 to be used, but the weather was so bad that day that the Masons would not allow it to be taken outside for the ceremony, so it was not used.

As you know, Barack Obama will use the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861 to take the oath of office. A Bible that is maintained in the collections of the Library of Congress.

In 1965 Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, began the precedent of the President’s spouse holding the Bible while the oath is administered, and that of course has continued to the present.

The oath says that I solemnly swear or affirm. All Presidents save one have sworn the oath on the Bible. One President, Franklin Pierce, affirmed the oath. History doesn’t tell us why he affirmed rather than swore. He was a very religious man. He didn’t have any scruples against swearing an oath. But his inauguration also was one of the most tragic inaugurations in American history. When Pierce’s family came by train to Washington for his inauguration, the train wrecked and his son was killed in the wreck. His wife was injured. She was still deeply in mourning when he was inaugurated. She did not attend the ceremony or any of the functions surrounding the inauguration and in fact, died of a broken heart not long thereafter. So Pierce may have simply affirmed it because of the deep mourning that he was experiencing.

One President we know did not use a Bible at the swearing in ceremony at the Capitol. That was John Quincy Adams in 1825. Adams in his diary notes that he swore the oath on a book of laws. Again, why did he do that? John Quincy Adams was a deeply religious person, but my interpretation is that he did so because as he points out in his diary, he was swearing the oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States, so he took the oath on a book of laws.

There is one controversy surrounding the taking of the oath of office, and you probably have seen it in reporting already. That is the use of the phrase “so help me God” at the close of the oath.

Four years ago when I made this presentation I said that that precedent had been established by George Washington. I was wrong, and I’m happy to admit it. In fact when this presentation was placed on the internet I got an e-mail from someone I’d never heard of before and I want to personally thank him. His name is Raymond Soler. He asked me, what’s your source of that? I said well, all of the other writing and research on presidential inaugurations says that George Washington when he finished saying the oath said, “so help me God,” and kissed the Bible. And as far as I knew the primary source of that was the multi-volume definitive biography of Washington by historian Douglas Southall Freeman many years ago. He point out to me well, have you ever checked Freeman’s source? I said I know what his source was, it was a letter by George Washington’s private secretary Tobias Leer. He said, have you ever looked at that letter? I said, well no, I’ve not been to the Archives in North Carolina to look at it. He says, well I have, and it’s not there. So I checked it out and he’s right. There is no primary contemporary source that states that George Washington said, “so help me God.”

Why is this important? It’s important because there are a lot of people who are upset that over the years, and especially in the 20th Century, it’s become commonplace for the Chief Justice to add that phrase, “so help me God,” to the oath of office, and it’s not in the Constitution.

As you may have seen, there’s currently a lawsuit in the Supreme Court seeking to prevent the Chief Justice from adding the phrase. As the lawsuit states, they have no objection whatsoever if President Obama chooses voluntarily to say “so help me God,” and of course President-elect Obama has stated that he will say “so help me God,” so that’s where it is. An interesting, I think, example of how history works and historical fellowship works.

By the way, further research, I don’t want to take too much time on this, further research has been done and we found that the real source that Freeman was using was a book that had been written in 1855 that said Washington added “so help me God,” and it used as its source the memories of Washington Irving, a New York writer. Washington Irving was six years old in 1789, so it’s not terribly likely that his memory was ideal.

But in the 20th Century it’s been commonplace to add that.

Prayer has also in the 20th Century become an important part of the inaugural ceremony. Since 1937 invocations and benedictions have been given at the inaugural ceremony, and at other times other prayers have been offered. There were four prayers at Eisenhower’s two inaugurations; and a high of five prayers offered at Nixon’s 1969 inauguration. One wag said that he really needed it, and it didn’t seem to help.

After President Obama takes the oath of office he will deliver his inaugural address. In the 19th Century sometimes the inaugural address proceeded taking the oath of office, but more commonly, the inaugural address follows the taking of the oath of office.
When George Washington took the oath of office outside on the balcony in 1789 he then went inside to the Senate Chamber to deliver his presidential inaugural address. But most have been given outside for those who could hear them prior to the use of amplification.

Most presidential inaugural addresses have not been very memorable. There have been a few, and I want to take just a few moments to review a few of them.

The longest presidential inaugural address was in 1841 by William Henry Harrison. Eight thousand, four hundred and forty-five words. It took two hours to deliver. Again, it was not a nice day. The weather wasn’t very good. If you remember American history, William Henry Harrison died a month later of pneumonia.

The shortest speech was George Washington’s second inaugural in 1793, only 135 words.

Let me just give you a feeling for some of what I think are the best and the most memorable inaugural addresses, and I think they’re ones that seek to appeal to American political ideals and apply them to the specific problems of the time. They’re not ones that go really deep into policy, this is what I want to do. That comes later. That comes in the State of the Union address. But the inaugural address is really for the people, a plea for unity and to apply American democratic values to the problems and issues of the day.
The best inaugural addresses seem to come at times of crisis in American history. The first I want to point out was Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801. Was that a time of crisis? If you remember, Jefferson’s election had been a contested election and it went into the House of Representatives to be decided. And it was the first election in which the presidency changed hands from one political party to the other. The party in power was the Federalist party; Jefferson’s party was known as the Democratic Republican party.

Jefferson appealed to unity. Historians often refer to the election of 1801 as the revolution of 1801 because of the significant switch in party power.

Jefferson said in his speech, “Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We call by different names brethren of the same principle, we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
Similarly, FDR’s inaugural speech in 1933, at the height of the Depression, was a plea for the nation to come together to meet the economic, the deeply divisive issues of the economic crisis of the Great Depression.

FDR reminded his listeners that, “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

“All we have to fear is fear itself,” were words that were taken to heart by the American people.

John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, in recent memory one of the most memorable addresses. In fact some students of inaugural addresses rate his as the best. I have a different candidate that I’ll mention in a moment. But it certainly was, for people, especially young people who heard it in person, it was a very moving speech.
One of his memorable lines was, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

My candidate for the greatest presidential inauguration is Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865.

President Obama’s inaugural team has set as the theme for his inauguration a line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but he’s setting the bar very high in his goal for his inaugural address.

But in Lincoln’s second inaugural, perhaps the most memorable line, he concludes, the bloody American Civil War is coming to an end. 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.”
I’m taking too much time in this. There’s another passage in that that I’d love to quote to you but it’s on-line, go read Lincoln’s second inaugural.

Just a few somewhat frivolous observations now, if the rest of my observations haven’t been frivolous to you.
In recent times it seems that every inauguration has to have a theme. We might say this is the affect of Madison Avenue or Hollywood on presidential inaugurations. One of the first themes that I found in my research was the 1969 inauguration; the theme was “Forward Together”. Really, when you think of it, that’s really the theme of almost every presidential inauguration. Moving forward and moving together. That’s what they are. They’re a plea to move the nation forward and to move it together.
We’re a very diverse nation and seeking unity is the goal every politician must try to achieve.

Bill Clinton’s 1997 theme probably set the record for [verbosity]. “An American journey, building a bridge to the 21st Century.” Perhaps you remember that one.

2001, George Bush’s theme was celebrating America. Celebrating America’s spirit together. Again, togetherness. The 2005 inauguration had two themes. A vision of America, and celebrating freedom and honoring service.

And of course, as I mentioned, Barack Obama’s theme is a quote from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “A new birth of freedom.”
One other thing, I think I mentioned earlier that Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration was a bad day for poets. Kennedy’s inauguration was the first to use a poet, Robert Frost. There have been four poets at American inaugurations. Maya Angelou at Clinton’s in 1993. Miller Williams at Clinton’s in 1997. And of course this year Elizabeth Alexander will read a poem at Obama’s inauguration.
I note that on her web site she states that, “My joy in being selected to compose and deliver a poem on the occasion of Obama’s presidential inauguration emanates from my deep respect for him as a person of meaningful, powerful words that move us forward.” Move us forward. Forward, together.

Point made? Okay.

I want to conclude then with four anecdotes you might find interesting and perhaps useful.

In 1929 Chief Justice William Howard Taft administered the oath of office to Herbert Hoover. Taft had been a President. He’s the only President then to serve as Chief Justice to administer the oath of office to a President. But when Taft read the oath of office he made a mistake. In stead of asking Hoover to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution he said, “preserve, maintain and defend.” Well, it seemed to have just passed by, but this was broadcast on the radio. A 13 year old student heard this and she said that’s wrong. She had memorized the oath. She wrote Taft a letter. She said you goofed. He wrote her back and said you're quite right. In fact she said, you said “preserve, maintain and defend.” He said you’re right, I didn’t get it right, but I didn’t say it that way. I said, “preserve, maintain and protect.”

Well she was sure she was right, and sure enough, the news media checked their recordings and she was right and Taft was wrong twice. [Laughter].

I want to thank Jim Bendat for that anecdote. He’s written a wonderful book called Democracy’s Big Day about presidential inaugurations.

I mentioned Robert Frost at Kennedy’s inauguration and why it was a bad day for poets. Well, it was so bright and sun-shiny that when he got up he couldn’t read his poem. He had written some dedicatory lines to a poem he had written years earlier, The Gift Outright, and when he got up there, he said I can’t see to read this. Vice President Lyndon Johnson got up and tried to shade his eyes, but he still couldn’t read it. So he said forget it, and he just recited from memory his poem without reading the dedicatory lines that he had written. Reading those lines, maybe it’s not such a bad idea that he couldn’t read them. They included these lines, “Summoning artists to participate in august occasions of the state seems something artists ought to celebrate.” Well, that’s obviously not one of Frost’s better efforts at poetry. [Laughter].

Another anecdote from Kennedy’s ’61 inauguration. It began with Cardinal Cushing of Boston giving the invocation. A 20 minute invocation. People in the stands were looking around, what’s going on? The Speaker of the House at that time was Sam Rayburn from Texas, and Sam was a bachelor. He’d been married but it only lasted a day. That’s a whole different story. I won’t go into that one. His sister was with him, and everybody was standing for the invocation. Finally, after 10 minutes or so she said down and said, “Will somebody shut him up?” He just kept going on and on.

What most people didn’t know was as he began his invocation looking down he could see smoke coming up from the podium and he hoped that it was just a short in the wires beneath the podium, which of course it was. The Secret Service saw it and they sent someone down there to fix it, but it took a while. He thought, however, well it may be a bomb. If it’s going to blow up, let it take me and not the President, so he just kept on going on in his invocation.

The final, I promise I’m going to quit. The final anecdote. My favorite presidential inauguration didn’t take place in Washington, D.C. I should revise that. Favorite swearing in ceremony, taking of the oath.

I mentioned at the very beginning, if you were sharp and caught this, I said there had the oath of office had been taken 70 times, there have been 56 inaugural ceremonies. What’s the difference? Well, there have been presidents who died in office, been assassinated, had one who resigned, so a President would have to be sworn in, the oath of office, without the inaugural ceremony at the Capitol.

One of these occasions took place on August 3, 1923 following the death of President Warren G. Harding. Calvin Coolidge, Vice President, was to become President. Harding died on August 2nd. Where was Calvin Coolidge? He was at his father’s home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. His father did not have a telephone. There was only one telephone in the little hamlet of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, and the person who owned that also operated the telegraph.

She received a telegram that President Harding had died and that Calvin Coolidge was President and he needed to take the oath of office. Remember the Constitution says before you can execute the office, you have to take the oath of office. So he had to take the oath of office.

So she immediately had the town officials sent out to John Coolidge’s home to inform his son, Calvin Coolidge, that you’re now President, you need to take the oath of office. Well, what’s the oath of office? So they wire Washington, send us the oath of office. They wire back the oath of office. She types it up. Takes it back to Coolidge’s home.

In the mean time the telephone company had arrived and they installed a phone in John Coolidge’s home so that John Coolidge, who was a Notary Public, then swore in his son as President of the United States and affixed his Notary Public seal to the document. They telephoned Washington, yes, he’s taken the oath of office, he’s now President.

This took place about 3:30 in the morning. 7:00 o’clock, Coolidge and his wife got up and started back for Washington. His father, John Coolidge, got on the telephone, called the phone company, said come take this phone out. [Laughter]. The simplicity of that I think impresses me more than anything else because it was short and sweet and simple, but it did the job. He took the oath of office.

Thank you, and I’ll be happy to take questions if there’s some time.

Maria Pena: Maria Pena from EFE News Services.I’m going to just boil it down to one or two because there were just so many.
In Latin American countries foreign dignitaries are part of the ceremony and yet here, I wanted to get it clear, I guess, to who makes the invitations, who gets to be invited to the swearing in?

And another thing that may not be related totally, but President-elect Obama is going to be taking a whistle-stop tour, a train tour on Saturday prior to the swearing in. Not all presidents have done that. I was wondering if you could address that as well. Thank you.

Donald Kennon: Let me take the second question first. In fact he is following the route that President Lincoln took when he came to Washington in 1861 to be inaugurated. Again, it’s been remarked before, President Obama feels this linkage to President Lincoln. They’re both from the state of Illinois, they both only served one term in the United States Congress before becoming President of the United States, so he is doing that, as well as taking the theme for his presidency from President Lincoln.

As far as who gets invited from foreign dignitaries, I can’t answer that question. Perhaps someone from the State Department would have a better feeling for that. But I really don’t have a frame of reference for that.

Maria Pena: I’m just wondering if there’s a process or a limit or a rule or a limit to how many people can be invited. I know I read somewhere that the Irish Prime Minister may be coming. He’s been invited by a congressman. So --

Donald Kennon: There are limits to how many people can be seated on the West Front grounds to witness the inauguration. Each congressional office gets a certain limit of tickets that they can hand out to their constituents and to others. In fact there was so much demand for this inauguration, I know, that many congressional offices simply said we’ll send them out based on a lottery. We’ll take in every request and then we’ll just draw names out of a hat.

Haykaram Nahapetvan: I am from Armenian Public Television. My question may sound a little bit high political, but what about the people who are close to White House, who are close to the current President but didn’t -- whom of them do you consider can be a historical person, historical writer, who may have historical integration? For example, Robert Kennedy was close to White House, or Michael Dukakis, I remember others. Thank you.

Donald Kennon: Let me see if I can get your question correct. You were asking about oratory of others who were not President and who were great orators?

Haykaram Nahapetvan: Yes.

Donald Kennon: My frame of reference is the 19th Century. That’s my primary area of expertise in American history. There have been a number of great orators in Congress who never became President, and three of them are known as the big three. Especially they were active in the 1850s, the decade before the Civil War. Henry Clay of Kentucky, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Daniel Webster of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They were all considered very great orators in American history and there have been a number of others.

Mitch Potter: Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star newspaper. I wonder if you can give us a sense, maybe just your impression of the kind of numbers of people we’re talking about here. This is going to be such a public event, such an American experience across the board, and how does that measure up against what you know of the turnout in the past?

Donald Kennon: If I can paraphrase another great American humorist, all I know is what I read in the newspapers as to what the turnout’s going to be. It looks to me like it will be unprecedented. It will set records. In terms of numbers, I really couldn’t give you --

Mitch Potter: What’s the history of major turnouts in the past?

Donald Kennon: There have been large turnouts in the 20th Century mainly, especially larger once the inauguration moved to the West Front because there’s much more room there for people to be seated.

I did have in my notes some numbers from the 2001 and 2005 inaugurations. Unfortunately they escape my memory at the moment, but they did not approach the more than one million figure that is being projected for this year.


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