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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora