Presidential Inaugurations Have Storied Past
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TERENCE SMITH: The only part of a presidential inauguration mandated by law is the oath of office, in modern times at noon on Jan. 20.
DWIGHT EISENHOWER: I, Dwight D. Eisenhower…
JOHN F. KENNEDY: …do solemnly swear…
LYNDON JOHNSON: …that I will faithfully execute…
RONALD REAGAN: … the office of president of the United States.
TERENCE SMITH: Amid the pomp and circumstance, presidents set the look and the style of the administrations that will follow.
George Washington began the tradition at the first inauguration, by behaving as a chief executive and not a monarch. He ordered a plain, brown suit for the occasion, made of American cloth.
MARVIN KRANZ: No fancy ribbons or anything like that. He gave up the general’s uniform, and he was going to be president of the people.
TERENCE SMITH: Marvin Kranz is an American history specialist at the Library of Congress, which is displaying items from its collections in a new exhibit, “I Do Solemnly Swear.”
Presidents, he says, have used the day to set a tone, for better or worse.
MARVIN KRANZ: William Henry Harrison was elected in what they call the “Hard Cider” campaign.
TERENCE SMITH: The president wanted to show his new administration’s vigor on his Inauguration Day. It proved his undoing.
MARVIN KRANZ: Harrison, who was a relatively aristocratic person himself, had won a battle against the Indians at the battle of Tippecanoe. He was going to demonstrate that he was a real he-man.
So he went out to make his inaugural address; he left his hat behind, he took his coat off and stood in rainy, damp weather for — and gave the longest inaugural address in history, well over an hour.
He caught a cold, and within a month, he had died — the first president to die in office.
TERENCE SMITH: Theodore Roosevelt rode to his inaugural surrounded by Rough Riders. But Dwight David Eisenhower, the World War II hero –
COMMENTATOR: He is waving. The famous wave.
TERENCE SMITH: — needed to show the nation that he could also be a civilian man of the people.
COMMENTATOR: As the loop dropped around the general’s shoulders, he was grinning like a kid at the circus.
TERENCE SMITH: His successor, John F. Kennedy, brought a new glamour and sophistication to the presidency.
COMMENTATOR: President Kennedy and the first lady venture from the White House to attend a round of no less than five gala inaugural balls.
JIMMY CARTER: Is there anybody here from Georgia? Right on. Thank you very much for helping me get here.
TERENCE SMITH: Jimmy Carter, by contrast, sought to show that he would be a populist president, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue at his people’s inaugural.
BILL CLINTON: You going to give me a hug?
TERENCE SMITH: And Bill Clinton’s inaugural ushered the baby-boom generation into the seats of power.
SINGING: We are the world. We are the children…
TERENCE SMITH: The nation’s 54 inaugurals have provided only a few memorable speeches and lines.
Thomas Jefferson, winning after a tie in the Electoral College, implored citizens to “unite with one heart and one mind. We are all Republicans,” he said, “We are all Federalists.”
At his second inauguration as the Civil War was ending, Abraham Lincoln pleaded for reconciliation “with malice towards none, with charity for all.”
Decades later, in an age of mass media, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave encouragement to a depression-weary nation.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
TERENCE SMITH: And John F. Kennedy spoke to the dreams of a post-war America.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Let the word go forth to from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…
TERENCE SMITH: Americans have been reassured over the years by the rituals of Inauguration Day. These early photos, taken when the ceremony was on the east front of the Capitol, have a sameness to them that demonstrate an orderly transfer of power.
But events have sometimes overtaken the most planned of celebrations. Andrew Jackson’s White House reception for frontier citizens did not go as envisioned.
MARVIN KRANZ: In a way, this was the first popular president. More people voted in that election than had voted ever before.
They had invested in this thing, and they thought they ought to go into the White House. People in their boots stood on the damask covered sofas and left mud marks. They pulled down the curtains.
And it was kind of, almost like a riot, until the attendants of the White House brought tubs of punch and put it on the lawn so that they could get the people out of the White House.
TERENCE SMITH: Richard Nixon’s second inaugural was marred by demonstrators and stones thrown at his car.
COMMENTATOR: I think we have a demonstrator being carried away.
TERENCE SMITH: Ronald Reagan came to town, and was sworn in at the hour the American hostages in Iran were being released.
COMMENTATOR: We understand now from the Associated Press that the 52 hostages have taken off in their airplane.
TERENCE SMITH: George W. Bush’s first inaugural was a subdued affair, following a contested election result. There was little time to plan.
This time, in a post-9/11 America, the theme is: “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service;” 6,000 law enforcement personnel and 7,000 troops will provide unprecedented security for the most expensive inauguration in history.