News

US Presidential Inaugurations Have Rich History

When President George Bush takes the oath of office for a second four-year term on January 20th, it will be the latest installment of an American political ritual that has occurred every four years since George Washington's first presidential inaugural in 1789.  National correspondent Jim Malone has more on the history and symbolism of presidential inaugurations from Washington. 

 

 

For many Americans, the simple act of a new or re-elected president taking the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building has come to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power and the continuity of American democracy.

 

Marvin Kranz, a historian with the Library of Congress told VOA, "I would say that this is one of the great events in what we might call civil religion in this country.  Even though most of the presidents have talked about being inaugurated under the auspices of Almighty God, nevertheless it is basically a very civil ceremony and it is something that takes place every four years, war or peace, no matter what."

 

The process of the inauguration: the oath-taking, inaugural address, the parade and formal balls that follow, have often helped the nation heal the political wounds in the wake of divisive elections, dating back to the early days of the republic.

 

Again, Marvin Kranz: "We have done this time and time again.  Every four years since 1789 and there has never been a revolution, there has never been a chance of an armed fight.  It simply has taken place.” 

 

Mr. Kranz gave this example of the least-accepted behavior: “When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated in 1801, John Adams, the previous president who was defeated for re-election, kind of snuck out of Washington and was not present.  These days, even though they may not care for each other, the former president, if there has been a change, rides with the president from the White House to the inaugural stand."

 

When an incumbent president has been defeated, political experts say it is important for the public to see victor and vanquished standing together at the inaugural ceremony as a testament to the country's stability and political continuity, regardless of the outcome of the election.

 

That spirit was also on display at President Bush's first inaugural four years ago when the man he narrowly beat, outgoing Vice President Al Gore, stood on the same platform along with the outgoing president, Bill Clinton.

 

The highlight of the inaugural ceremony is usually the president's inaugural address, a tradition that historian Marvin Kranz says began with the first U.S. president, George Washington. "It has become a custom.  Washington, in his first inaugural address, gave a real address.  Now, in his second inaugural address, he had two paragraphs.  So, that is the shortest.”

 

Times have changed adds Mr. Kranz. “But it simply has been accepted and every president since that time has written an inaugural address."

 

Historian Kranz says what usually makes an inaugural address memorable is that it is considered a speech for the times.

 

Among those best remembered is Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, delivered near the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865. "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 do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

 

In 1933, a new president faced a different challenge.  Franklin Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural at the height of the Great Depression and he urged Americans not to give in to fear and despair with the phrase, "... the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

 

In 1961, incoming-President John Kennedy used his inaugural address to encourage Americans to enlist in public service in what became the rallying cry for a generation. "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."

 

Four years ago, President Bush sought to unify the country in the wake of his closely contested election victory over Al Gore. "Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today.  To make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life."

 

With a more comfortable election victory this time, many analysts expect the president to be less open to compromise as he pushes a conservative agenda for tax and pension reform.

 

Thomas Mann monitors the U.S. political scene at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "I think this president is very ambitious in his policy and political designs but he is very well rooted in a view of what ought to be done that really prevents him from reaching out for new ideas and compromises with Democrats,” said Mr. Mann. “He is happy to welcome Democrats to support his proposals but he has no interest in compromising those proposals."

 

But there will be plenty of time for the divisive political battles after the inauguration.

 

Historian Marvin Kranz says the inauguration is generally a time when Americans put aside their political differences and recognize the stability and continuity of their democracy. "And it is part and parcel of what we are as Americans because we accept this sense of change,” said Mr. Kranz.

 

He added, “We know it is a legitimate change and we accept it.  Even in times of stress, we recognize this.  And those of us who might be in opposition to the new person who comes into office, he is still the president of all of us and we have to live under the new rules that are established."

 

Security is expected to be extremely tight for the first presidential inauguration since the 2001 terrorist attacks.  In addition, there is also concern about anti-Bush protestors who say they will turn their backs to the president as he passes along the inaugural parade route.

 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs