The U.S. presidential inauguration is a big ceremony in a big country following a big decision. How has it changed over the years?
Keeping it Snappy
The shortest inaugural address is held by George Washington in 1789. He kept it brief. Very brief, with a mere 135 words.
By 1841, the US president, William Henry Harrison, had considerably more to say. His address was 8,445 words, the longest on record to date.
The Miracle of Media
Technology gallops at an ever faster speed.
In 1857, President James Buchanan’s inauguration is considered to be the first that was ever photographed. Come 1997, Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was broadcast live across the Internet.
Meeting the American People: The Touch of the Common Man
Andrew Jackson, was born in a log cabin and was the first president to represent the common man and not come from the aristocracy. His inauguration in 1829 was greeted with rowdy and rapturous crowds, 20,000 of whom stormed the White House to shake his hand.
The new president was forced to flee the drunken revelers and spend the first night of his presidency in Gadsby’s Tavern.
The Perils of a Wee Dram
Public speaking in front of a country can make the best of us nervous. And if you’ve recently been sick, Dutch courage can look appealing to take the edge off. This was the case with President Andrew Johnson in 1865.
Having just recovered from typhoid fever, Johnson knocked back a few glasses of whisky before he took his oath of office, thinking it would make him feel better.
This backfired. As he gave the address he started to ramble. And then ramble a bit more into slurred speech and had to be encouraged to leave the podium.
Moving Election Day: Technology Trumps Time
You might be wondering why the inauguration ceremony is held in cold January. It wasn’t always the case.
It used to be on March 4th because of the length of time it took to count and report votes. In these times news was something that was sent by horse rather than the press of a button on a keyboard.
Come the 1900s, news could be transmitted swiftly thanks to the telegraph and telephone and the car and the airplane.
Given this, a 4 month lapse between an election result and the inauguration was redundant.
So, in 1933 the inauguration date moved from March 4th to January 20th.