U.S. Presidential Inaugurations: Firsts and Photos

January 18, 2005

This week's 55th U.S. presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., will involve a cast of thousands and an audience of millions.

There will be a church service, a procession by the President-elect to the Capitol Building, an oath of office administered by the chief justice, and a 21-gun salute. The newly sworn in President will give a speech and the members of Congress will host him at a formal lunch in the U.S. Capitol. The President will lead a parade of more than 10,000 people and dozens of floats back to the White House.

There will be nine official balls and nearly twice as many unofficial parties. The First Lady's inaugural gown will likely be presented to the National Museum of American History in Washington.

The whole shebang will cost 40 million U.S. dollars, paid for by private donations solicited from President George W. Bush's supporters.

The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the term of the President expires at noon on January 20. Other than the date and time—and the wording of the oath of office—the transfer-of-power protocol is based on traditions going back to George Washington. (See images of past Inaugurations.)

Noteworthy Inaugurations: Firsts and Other Facts

April 30, 1789: George Washington
On the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, Washington was sworn in wearing a dark brown suit, steel-hilted sword, white silk stockings, and silver shoe buckles. During the oath of office he placed a hand on the Bible, beginning a tradition that nearly every U.S. President has repeated.

March 4, 1793: George Washington
In the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Washington delivered what is still the shortest inaugural address (133 words). He wore a black velvet suit, diamond knee buckles, black silk stockings, silver shoe buckles, and a dress sword with a richly ornamented hilt.

March 4, 1797: John Adams
Adams took the oath in the House of Representatives Chamber in Philadelphia's Congress Hall.
• First President to receive the oath of office from the Chief Justice of the United States

March 4, 1801: Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson is thought to have been the first and only president to walk to and from his Inauguration. Wanting to draw a distinction between royal events and simple, democratic ceremonies, he declined to ride in the customary carriage.
• First President to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.
• First time a newspaper (the National Intelligencer) printed the inaugural address on the morning of the Inauguration

March 4, 1805: Thomas Jefferson
After taking the oath of office at the Capitol, President Jefferson mounted his horse and rode back to the White House, followed by members of Congress and a large crowd of citizens.
• First Inaugural Parade

March 4, 1809: James Madison
Tickets to Madison's inaugural ball, the first to be held on the same day as the Inauguration, cost four dollars.
• First inaugural held in the hall of the U.S. House of Representatives

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