5 Obscure Facts About Past Presidential Inaugurations
We’re looking forward to bringing more than 6,000 students to our nation’s capital to experience this year’s historic Presidential Inauguration! As our groups begin to arrive in Washington, D.C., we put together this list of five obscure facts about past Presidential Inaugurations you may not know.
- Inauguration Day used to occur on March 4. The original version of the Constitution stated the length of presidential terms, but no dates for a beginning or end. When the Constitution was ratified in 1789, the outgoing national congress, which had governed under the Articles of Confederation, chose March 4, 1789 as the start of the new constitutional government. However, with elections in November, that meant a long wait between the time the new president was elected and when the new administration began. So, the 20th Amendment, enacted in 1933, moved Inauguration Day to January 20.
- The “Oath of Office” is spelled out in the Constitution. The new president promises to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” George Washington added the phrase “so help me God” at his first inauguration. Presidents have traditionally added the phrase ever since, with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt who said “and thus I swear.”
- George Washington’s second inaugural address was only 136 words, the shortest in history. The longest speech belongs to William Henry Harrison who took just shy of two hours to read his 8,445 word speech. His inauguration took place during a snowstorm in 1841. A former general, he refused to wear a coat, hat, or scarf to appear strong in front of his nation. He developed a cold which turned into pneumonia and died April 4, 1841 after serving just 31 days. He served the shortest term in U.S. history.
- African-Americans participated in the inaugural parade for the first time in 1865, at Lincoln’s second inauguration. Lincoln’s first inauguration was the first in which major security measures were implemented. Perhaps ironically, John Wilkes booth, the man who would shoot Lincoln a month later, can be seen in photos, standing near the President as he delivers his speech.
- For his second inauguration in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt wore a ring containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair as he had admred the President from an early age. There’s an image of Roosevelt as a boy looking out of a window as Lincoln’s funeral procession passed. Roosevelt eventually became friends with Secretary of State John Hay who was Lincoln’s former personal secretary. Hay presented Roosevelt with the ring as a keepsake.
We’ll be posting live updates from Washington, D.C., on our Facebook and Instagram pages so make sure you follow along! You can also test your knowledge on the Inauguration with our Presidential Inauguration quiz!