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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs