Democrat Joe Biden will arrive at the White House on Wednesday after the inauguration ceremony. From the first “Inauguration Day” in 1789 with the swearing in of George Washington to that of Donald Trump in 2017, the inauguration has not stopped evolving, always in accordance with long-established traditions.
The inauguration ceremony of the 46th US president, Democrat Joe Biden, will take place on Wednesday, January 20 in Washington. It will be in a deserted capital, controlled by the Army, where he will be sworn in with Vice President Kamala Harris. This particular day responds to multiple codes and traditions.
The date of January 20
The first inauguration in American history, that of George Washington, took place on April 30, 1789 for climatic reasons. It was necessary to wait for the winter thaw to be able to move. The date was immediately set for March 4, that is, about four months after Election Day, the day of the election of the Electoral College, which elects the president and vice president. But in 1983, after the election of Franklin Roosevelt and while President-elect Herbert Hoover was very unpopular, this transition period seemed too long. A month before Roosevelt took office, the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution changed the start of the terms of the president and vice president, bringing it forward to January 20.
However, there were three exceptions: Dwight D. Eisenhower’s in 1957, Ronald Reagan’s in 1985, and Barack Obama’s in 2013. These inaugurations were moved to January 21 because January 20 was a Sunday.
The ceremony that marks the inauguration of the presidential mandate takes place in front of the Capitol, the building that houses Congress, in Washington, and this has been carried out since 1801, when Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was sworn in. Investiture, that of George Washington, was held in Federal Hall in New York, on Wall Street. For its part, two other investiture, that of William Howard Taft in 1909 and that of Ronald Reagan in 1985, were held inside the Capitol, due to weather conditions. As the thermostat read -13ºC, Ronald Reagan let the crowd and its 140,000 guests wait outside.
Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of his successor Joe Biden. Tradition dictates that the outgoing president and the first lady greet the new presidential couple on the morning of inauguration, and then they all proceed to the Capitol.
In 1801, the second American president, John Adams, also bypassed the inauguration of his successor Thomas Jefferson. Defeated, he undermined the reputation of his former vice president and left the White House at dawn on March 4, the day of his inauguration. His own son, John Quincy Adams, won the election under questioned conditions in 1824, before Andrew Jackson. Four years later and after a violent campaign, Jackson took revenge. The two men would never meet again, and Adams slipped away on the eve of the ceremony.
In 1841, for reasons unknown, Democrat Martin Van Buren also missed the William Henry Harris ceremony. On March 4, 1869, Andrew Johnson stayed in the White House during the inauguration of his successor, Ulysses Grant, who refused to share his carriage with him on his way to the Capitol. A century later, in 1974, Richard Nixon also missed Gerald Ford’s ceremony. He simply left the White House after he resigned and before his successor was sworn in.
Instead, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton will attend the event, as will Vice President Mike Pence, who accepted the invitation.
The only event that is recorded in the US Constitution is the swearing in of the new president at noon, traditionally in front of the Chief Justice. About 15 minutes earlier, the new vice president is sworn in. In the event that the new president dies in the interval, the vice president could then succeed him.
The exact words spoken by the president-elect are: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and that to the limit of my abilities I will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
In 2009, Barack Obama made a mistake with the text. The responsibility fell on the president of the Supreme Court who pronounced the words of the constitutional oath in disorder. As a precaution, the 44th president was again sworn in the next day, at the White House. The same misadventure happened to Herbert Hoover in 1929. The Chief Justice practically reinvented the constitutional text.
At noon Washington time, Joe Biden will then take the oath, right hand raised and left hand on the Bible. He decided to use a family bible from 1893, as announced in an interview with Stephen Colbert. He had already used it for his swearing-in ceremonies as a US senator and vice president.
Instead, several presidents used Bibles that belonged to famous historical figures. Warren G. Harding in 1921, Eisenhower in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George HW Bush took the oath on the Bible used by George Washington. It is also possible to use two. Barack Obama took the oath on the Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Bibles, while Donald Trump took the oath on Abraham Lincoln’s, like his predecessor, and on the one his mother gave him as a child.
The Constitution does not explicitly require the use of the Bible. Some presidents used other books, such as John Quincy Adams (who did so on a volume containing the text of the Constitution), Theodore Roosevelt (who had none at his disposal), or Lyndon Johnson (who used a missal).
After the ceremony, the traditional parade along Pennsylvania Avenue will not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be replaced by a virtual “Parade Across America” that will be broadcast on television channels. Joe Biden plans to cross the banks of the Potomac to go to Arlington Cemetery to lay a bouquet on the grave of the unknown soldier, in the company of three former presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The dinner with the parliamentarians inside the Capitol was also canceled due to the health crisis, as were the dances that usually mark the rhythm of this evening in Washington. To replace them, Tom Hanks will host a special television broadcast.
This article was adapted from its original in French