Memorable Moments in Inauguration History
President Barack Obama was sworn in today for the second time in as many days for his second term in the Oval Office. In a slight twist on tradition, Obama was sworn in today using two Bibles, one belonging to Abraham Lincoln and the other once owned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every inauguration brings with it its own take on traditions depending on the officeholder or the circumstances of the swearing in. In this slideshow, explore some of the most memorable moments in inauguration history.
During Obama's first inauguration in front of a record-breaking crowd for such an event, the Chief Justice John Roberts, who administers the oath of office, misplaced a word in the oath. According to Section 1 of the Second Article of the U.S. Constitution, the words any president has to say to assume the office are 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." Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully." In an effort to prevent theories that Obama hadn't legally been sworn into office, the Chief Justice readministered the oath in the White House using the correct wording. Given that President was sworn in twice in 2009 and twice in 2013, Obama has in total taken the oath of office four times. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt has taken the oath as many times.
On the night a president is sworn into office, they celebrate with a series of inaugural balls to commemorate the event and celebrate the efforts of all the people that helped bring the politician into office. In 1993, at a number of the inaugural balls, Clinton appeared on stage toting his saxophone and played for the crowd. Clinton jammed with Ben E. King, Herbert Hancock and Thelonius Monk at different events.
On the 200th anniversary of the presidency, George H.W. Bush took the oath of office and acknowelded the historic event by placing his hand on the same Bible that George Washington used two centuries earlier to be sworn in as the first President of the United States.
Any president just being sworn into office is bound to want to hit the ground running in ticking off their top policy priorities as soon as the inauguration is over. Few though can claim a political victory of sorts moments within minutes of taking the oath. Shortly after President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office in 1981, 52 American hostages that had been held in Iran for a year and a half were released. The crisis contributed to Jimmy Carter failing to secure a second term in office.
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President Abraham Lincoln has what might be the most famous inaugural address in history after he took the oath of office for his second term. In his speech, coming as the Civil War was winding down, Lincoln said, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Although Lincoln might have the most famous speech in inaugural history, his successor Andrew Johnson might have given the most unmoored speech in history. In what is supposed to be an apolitical event that lays out the agenda of the incumbent for the next for years, Johnson's address was considered listless, incomphrensible and even foolish by his peers. A lot of that might be due to the manner in which Johnson prepared for the event, by downing glass after glass of whiskey.
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Of any president in history, William Henry Harrison holds two records that are related. He has given the longest address in inaugural history at 8,445 words. He is also the most inconsequential president in history having caught pneumonia and died a month in into office. George Washington, by contrast, in a speech ahead of his second term in office only spoke 135 words, and look at how well he's remembered.
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Tradition holds that every president swear the oath of office on a Bible. In some instances, as was the case this year as well as for the swearing-in of president George H.W. Bush, some presidents elect to take the oath using two Bible. Whether this was the case in the early years of the Republic though is unclear. John Quincy Adams swore the oath on a book of laws, rather than a Bible. According to his own account, Adams eschewed using a Bible because he did not want to mix religion and politics.