Memorable Moments in US Inauguration History

19/01/2017

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  • The first U.S. president, George Washington, was inaugurated in New York City.
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  • At the time, New York was the temporary capital of the country.
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  • Because Americans had never had a president before,
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  • George Washington had to wait a week before lawmakers could agree on what an inauguration ceremony should look like.
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  • Finally, on April 30, the president- and vice president-to-be, along with other lawmakers, gathered at the senate building.
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  • They walked to the balcony and waved at the crowd.
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  • Then, a judge asked Washington to swear to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.”
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  • Those are the words the U.S. Constitution requires.
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  • The judge wanted Washington to swear on a Bible.
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  • But at the last minute, the judge realized he did not have one.
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  • A messenger had to find and borrow one quickly.
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  • After the oath, Washington read a speech to the senators.
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  • One of those senators described the scene in his diary.
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  • William Maclay wrote that Washington appeared nervous and uncomfortable.
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  • Washington trembled and had difficulty reading his speech.
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  • The ceremony was short, sweet, and – according to Maclay – awkward.
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  • Thomas Jefferson, the third president, had an inauguration that was reportedly even simpler.
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  • He walked to the ceremony instead being driven in a carriage, as the first two presidents had done.
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  • When Jefferson arrived at the Capitol, a large crowd met him.
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  • The president-elect had prepared a speech.
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  • But when Jefferson gave it, his voice was so soft that few people heard him.
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  • Today, Jefferson’s first inaugural speech is well-known among Americans.
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  • It is famous for trying to ease the ugly dispute between political parties during the campaign.
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  • But apparently the bitter taste of the election remained.
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  • Jefferson’s rival in the election – former president John Adams – did not attend the inauguration.
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  • In the dark hours just before the ceremony, Adams packed his bags, quit the White House, and took a coach back to Boston.
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  • No history of presidential inaugurations would be complete without noting William Henry Harrison, the country’s ninth president.
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  • At 68, Harrison was the oldest person to take office at the time.
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  • On his Inauguration Day, he reportedly wanted to show that he was strong enough to serve as president by delivering a very, very long speech.
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  • It was a cold day, and Harrison did not wear a coat or hat.
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  • One month later, Harrison died – the first president to die in office.
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  • His doctor recorded that Harrison died of pneumonia.
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  • The usual story is that his long speech killed him.
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  • But researchers reviewed Harrison’s case and in 2014 proposed a different reason for his death.
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  • Jane McHugh and Philip Mackowiak say Harrison did not get sick until three weeks after his inauguration.
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  • And he complained of being tired and anxious, not of pain in his lungs.
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  • The researchers point out that, at the time, Washington, DC did not have a good sewer system.
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  • Human waste “simply flowed onto public grounds a short distance from the White House,” they wrote in the New York Times.
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  • Some of the bacteria probably entered the president’s pipes – so to speak.
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  • The researchers conclude that Harrison probably died from drinking dirty water.
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  • Not all presidents have memorable inaugurations.
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  • But the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, is notable for being the least memorable.
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  • In August of 1923, Coolidge was the vice president.
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  • He did not have many duties and went on vacation at his family’s house in Vermont.
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  • In the middle of the night, his father woke him up with a telegram.
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  • It said that the president, Warren Harding, had died.
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  • Coolidge was now president.
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  • Coolidge wrote in his diary that his first act was to stop and pray.
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  • Then he found the text of the inaugural oath from the Constitution.
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  • He gave it to his father.
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  • Mr. Coolidge Senior administered the oath in the family’s living room,
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  • by the light of a kerosene lamp.
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  • Within half an hour, the new president was back in bed.
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  • In contrast, most American’s can call to mind the dramatic, emotional inauguration of Lyndon Johnson,
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  • the 36th president, an hour and a half after John F. Kennedy’s death.
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  • The event is captured in an iconic image of Johnson on the president’s plane, Air Force One.
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  • Johnson is raising his hand as he takes the oath of office.
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  • His wife is on one side. Jackie Kennedy, the former president’s widow, stands at his other.
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  • The judge administering the oath is also a woman – she is the first and only female judge to swear in a U.S. president.
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  • The image is famous because it shows the shock on Mrs. Kennedy’s face.
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  • She still has on the suit she was wearing when her husband was shot.
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  • The image also provided proof to the American people that a new president had been sworn in.
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  • It promised that even in moments of chaos, the U.S. government continued.
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  • But that is not to say that the U.S. government always operates smoothly. Many inaugurations go wrong.
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  • After Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829,
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  • supporters at the White House were so eager to shake the new president’s hand that they almost crushed him against a wall.
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  • Jackson had to leave his own party by escaping out a window.
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  • In 1865, another Andrew, Andrew Johnson, delivered his vice presidential speech drunk.
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  • In his defense, he was sick; he had been using whiskey as medicine.
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  • Ulysses S. Grant in 1873 wanted live birds at his inaugural ball.
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  • Unfortunately, the day was very cold.
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  • The birds froze to death.
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  • Similarly, in 1973, Richard Nixon aimed to clear pigeons from the path of the inaugural parade by spraying chemicals.
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  • He succeeded … sort of.
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  • On Inauguration Day, the crowd had to step over the bodies of the dead birds all along Pennsylvania Avenue.
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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  • And I'm Anne Ball.
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