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Presidential Inauguration Facts


Presidential inaugurations are a time of great pomp and circumstance in Washington, D.C. complete with large crowds and numerous balls across the city. Following is a list of key facts about presidential inaugurations.

1. The Day Begins With a Morning Worship Service

The current precedent for the president-elect to attend Morning Worship Service on the day of the presidential inauguration began in 1933 with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since that time, every president has attended a religious service on the day of their swearing-in. President Barack Obama attended St. John's Episcopal Church in 2008, the same church as Roosevelt attended in 1933. However, in 2013, he is attending a service at the National Cathedral.

2. The President and President-Elect Arrive Together

Since 1837 and the inauguration of Martin Van Buren, the president and president-elect have ridden to the swearing-in ceremony together. Forty years later, the tradition was expanded so that the vice president and vice president-elect also ride together to the ceremony. They traditionally follow the presidential car.

3. The Vice President is Sworn in First

The Vice President takes his oath of office before the president. His oath is not unique to his position and is instead used to swear in government officers and legislators. It reads as follows:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

Part of the reason for having the vice president sworn in first is that it protects the line of succession to the presidency.

4. The Oath of Office is Directly From the Constitution

The presidential oath of office was set down in the US Constitution as follows:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Tradition has it that the oath is taken while the president rests his hand on a bible. Only three presidents have not used a bible: John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, and Theodore Roosevelt. Seven presidents have restated their oaths of office including President Obama in 2009.

5. The Inaugural Address Has Been Part of the Tradition from the Beginning

George Washington started the tradition of giving an inaugural address in 1789. To this day, his was the shortest ever delivered. The inaugural address has been used by presidents to set policy, provide vision for the future, and in the case of Abraham Lincoln to try and help heal a wounded nation.

6. The Outgoing President Leaves the Capitol Immediately After the Ceremony

As part of the peaceful change of government from one president to the next, the outgoing president leaves soon after the swearing-in and inaugural address. In recent years, the tradition has been that both the former president and vice-president and their wives are escorted from the Capitol by their new counterparts.

7. Lunch is Held in Statuary Hall

After the official swearing-in ceremony is completed and the outgoing president and vice-president has left, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies hosts a lunch in Statuary Hall at the Capitol. In 2009, President Obama and Vice-President Biden were served Seafood Stew, a choice of Duck or Pheasant, followed by Cinnamon Apple Spongecake.

8. The Inaugural Parade Dates Back to George Washington

George Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789. It began more as procession that joined him on his journey from Mount Vernon to New York City where he took the oath of office. It wasn't until 1801 when the ceremony was held in Washington, D.C. with the swearing in of Thomas Jefferson. The parades continued to be processions and honor guards rather than organized affairs until 1809 and the inauguration of James Madison. In 1873, with the election of Ulysses S. Grant, the president began the tradition still carried on today of reviewing the parade in his honor at the White House.

9. Official and Unofficial Inaugural Balls Fill the Evening Hours

James Madison not only had the first organized parade, but his wife Dolley Madison organized the first Inaugural Ball in 1809. Since that time, there have only been a few inauguration days that did not end in a ball, or in the case of Bill Clinton, 14 balls. In 2013, President Obama is only planning to have two official Inaugural Balls. Although there will be a number of unofficial ones happening that evening.

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