Franklin Pierce, in 1853, accepted his presidency, but was still in mourning. Just a few months prior to the ceremony, the Pierces lost their 3rd and last child in a railroad accident, that both witnessed. He refrained from swearing his oath on a Bible, due to his religious beliefs. He was the first to affirm his oath and not swear. His 3,319 word speech was entirely from memory.
As a bachelor, James Buchanan, in 1857, took his oath of office, maybe a bit tipsy, but nonetheless without anything going wrong. It seems he hadn’t been feeling well, possibly a gastrointestinal infection, for which a doctor not only medicated him, but also gave him brandy. His was the first to have been photographed.
Abraham Lincoln held two terms of office, in 1861 and 1865. At the 2nd inauguration, it was the first time African Americans participated.
Andrew Johnson also did not attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869. At Grant’s 2nd inauguration, in 1873, there was a blizzard and the temperature was 16 degrees. Guests, at the ball, had to keep their coats on, even the musicians instruments froze. He was the first president to run against a woman, Virginia Woodhull (Equal Rights Party).
In 1877, Rutherford Hayes went to bed the night of election day thinking he lost, due to contested elections in some states. Congress established an Electorial Commission to settle the dispute. Hayes won 185 to 184. Because the date of inauguration fell on a Sunday, Hayes refused to be sworn in. Instead a private ceremony was held on Saturday, with the then-President Grant present, which made it two presidents in one day!
James Garfield, on March 4, 1881, the 20th, had a few firsts to his credit. He was the first to have his mother present at the inauguration, and the first to review the parade from a stand in front of the White House.
Upon President Garfield’s assassination, Chester Arthur became president. The oath was taken in the middle of the night at his private residence in New York, in 1881. Later, his oath was repeated in Washington, D.C.
Grover Cleveland is the only president to be elected for two non-consecutive terms in 1885 as the 22nd, and in 1893, as the 24th president.
During Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration address, in 1889, his predecessor, Grover Cleveland was kind enough to hold an umbrella over him during a downpour. Luckily his address was only 135 words.
After President McKinley’s assassination, Theodore Roosevelt took his oath in 1901 without a Bible, but he did wear a ring that contained President Lincoln’s hair. His 2nd inauguration was in 1905.
William Taft, took his oath on March 4, 1909, in the Senate Chamber, due to a blizzard. After the ceremony, Mrs. Taft was the “first lady” to accompany her husband to the White House. Thus, the term First Lady came about.
Woodrow Wilson took his first oath of office in 1913, and upon his request, the inaugural ball was suspended. At his 2nd swearing-in, in 1917, for the first time the oath was taken on a Sunday. This time the First Lady accompanied her husband to and from the ceremony. It was also the first time women participated in the parade.
After the death of President Harding, Calvin Coolidge took his oath of office in his father’s home, in Plymouth, Vermont, around 2 a.m., on August 3, 1923. His father, a notary public, administered the oath. Afterwards, Coolidge went back to bed. The oath was again repeated in Washington, D.C, at the Willard Hotel. His 2nd swearing-in took place in 1925, and it was the first to be sworn in by a former president, now Chief Justice William Taft. Incidentally, Coolidge’s birthdate is July 4th.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had 4 inaugurations — March 4, 1933, January 20, 1937 (due to 20th amendment change to January), January 20, 1941, and last January 20, 1945 (22nd amendment change to presidents limit to two terms).
FDR started quite a number of innovations at his inaugurations. In 1933, he started the custom of attending a church service before swearing-in. In 1937, after the Chief Justice said the oath, he repeated it verbatim. And, in 1941, he added the benediction, and in 1945 he had a benediction, plus the invocation.
In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to write and recite his own prayer after taking his oath, but he did not kiss the Bible. In his 1957 inauguration, he invited 4 religious leaders to participate — Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox.
John Kennedy was the first Catholic to become president, in 1961. He was the first to invite a poet, Robert Frost, for the ceremony. There was a mishap during the ceremony, but hardly anyone noticed. Cardinal Cushing revealed later he saw smoke trickling from the lectern. Thinking it might be a smoldering bomb intended for Kennedy, he decided to take the impact, thus his overly long prayer. It turned out to be a short circuit that someone eventually disconnected the wires — after 4 minutes of not knowing.
After the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. He was the first to be sworn in on an airplane — Air Force One, the first to take his oath by a woman, District Judge Sarah To. Hughes, and the first to be sworn in with his wife holding the Bible, a tradition that became established.
On January 20, 1977, Jimmy Carter was inaugurated and the first to be sworn in by his nickname. After the ceremony, accompanied by his wife, they were the first to walk to the White House in the parade.
Ronald Reagan, in 1981, was the first to hold the inauguration on the west front of the Capitol. It was the warmest at 55 degrees on record. His 2nd term, in 1985, was the coldest on record — 7 degrees.
George W. Bush, on January 20, 2001, was the first president’s son to become president since John Quincy Adams. He was the first president that the Supreme Court intervened over a dispute over returns from Florida. In 2005, it was the first Web-Cam of inaugural platform construction, first with secure inaugural credentials, and first anti-counterfeiting security for tickets.
Barack Obama was the first black president to take oath on January 20, 2009. Other firsts were the first citizen born in Hawaii, largest attendance, first woman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, to emcee., first to use the 156-year-old Lincoln Bible at his 1st inauguration. At his 2nd term, in 2013, he used the Lincoln Bible again and the “traveling” Bible of Martin Luther King Jr. During the oath, John Roberts made a mistake, thus the oath was given again and reaffirmed the next day.
Now you know some of the “pomp and ceremony” of the presidential inaugurations and with a new president in 2017, we’ll again hear “I do solemnly swear…” possibly with more firsts and traditions.