What we are about to witness is a carefully choreographed ceremony, almost none of it proscribed by law. Every element in the inaugural, except for the actual oath of office, has become tradition after an earlier president first established a precedent.
Dating back to George Washington, U.S. presidents had to invent the inaugural ceremony.
From the first inaugural, George Washington's in 1789, most of what we see in the now elaborate ceremony has grown from tradition. The constitution requires only the oath…
…and the date, January 20th.
Even the Bible is not required by law.
George Washington was the first to use a Bible and the first to give a speech.
There have been many other firsts:
--Warren Harding, in 1921, the first to ride to his inaugural in a car.
--Harry Truman, in 1949, the first inaugurated on nationwide TV
--And John F. Kennedy, in 1961, the first Catholic president, although he is remembered more for his relative youth.
“The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century," Kennedy said in his Inaugural Addess.
President-elect Barack Obama will place his hand on the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used. Clark Evans oversees rare artifacts for the Library of Congress. “By association, the Bible is priceless," he says.
"Here we have the first African American to be inaugurated as president, taking the oath of office on the Bible that the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln similarly used," explained Evans.
“This is a huge change for us if you look at the historical past of this nation’s,” says Associate Senate Historian Donald Richie, a scholar of presidential inaugurations. He says Mr. Obama becomes president less than a half century after Congress guaranteed blacks full voting rights. And Richie says many who have watched both say they are inspired by Mr. Obama much as they were by President Kennedy.
The new president will step to the microphone amid two wars and the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Richie points out, "There's something about a crisis that makes everybody very concerned about what the president is going to say."
People pondered Mr. Obama's burdens as they snapped photos of the inaugural stand. But Hazel Gregg, who lives in the Washington area, says fear is not the dominant feeling. “I think people are generally anxious,” says the Inauguration attendee, “but I really feel that people are hopeful as well because this is a kind of new beginning for us."
When the new president steps to the microphone Tuesday, he will speak to a nation with high expectations. Public opinion polls show as many as eight in 10 Americans say they are optimistic about the next four years.