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Misc 20/01/2021

Other inaugurations that made history

As in almost everything, there are always historical precedents

Sònia Sánchez
4 min

The inauguration that ended in a war

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 1861

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 1861

The military armour and the tense atmosphere that has gripped the United States in recent days, as Joe Biden's inauguration approaches, have a clear historical precedent that he hopes will not be reflected too much. On the day of Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as 16th president of the United States, the president's procession to the Capitol had to be escorted by a heavy military deployment. It was March 4, 1861, when inaugurations took even longer. Since the November 1860 election, when Lincoln was elected, seven states had already declared secession from the Union and the death threats to the president were very real. For days he rode the train from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington with a strong escort and changing at the last minute to avoid enemies. Biden also wanted to take the train, as he has done for years to go from his home in Wilmington to Washington, but he has been unable to do so now because of possible security threats. Lincoln used every stop on his long journey to try to convince people that he would do everything possible to bring the country back together. He could not: Only a month later the Civil War broke out.

A deadly inauguration

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON, 1841

The 9th President of the United States is, to this day, the one who has been in office the least time and also the one who has given the longest inaugural speech. The two things, precisely, are closely related. William Henry Harrison was 68 years old when he was sworn in as President of the United States on March 4, 1841. He was then the oldest president in the history of that new country: more than a century later, however, he was surpassed by Ronald Reagan (who was 69 when he took office) and later by Donald Trump (he was 70). Now it will be Joe Biden who will surpass them all at 78 years of age at the time of his inauguration. Now, after Harrison, all presidents have made shorter inaugural speeches, perhaps because they have learned the lesson of what the icy winter in Washington can do. Harrison died of pneumonia only 32 days after delivering his speech of more than two hours in extreme temperatures. He also became the first president to die in office.

John Adams leaves in the early hours

THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1801

THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1801

The first historical precedent we find of President Donald Trump's decision not to attend the inauguration of his successor in office is John Adams, who did not participate in Thomas Jefferson's inauguration on March 4, 1801. In fact, he left the White House at 4 a.m. But the reasons were very different from Trump's. "It is believed that part of the reason he left early was because he did not want to incite further animosity or create tension between the then-called Democratic Republicans, which was the party of Thomas Jefferson, and the Federalists of Adams", Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, explained at a press conference at the Foreign Press Center. Brown adds that Adams and Jefferson did indeed have "a strong friendship" and that, although they broke up for a time, "they eventually resolved their differences and understood each other again".

A mob invades the White House

ANDREW JACKSON, 1829

ANDREW JACKSON, 1829

John Adams' son, John Quincy Adams, who was also president of the United States, refused to attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, in 1829. In this case it was out of resentment. Another precedent for Trump, like Andrew Johnson, who also did not attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869. But Trump's case is quite unique: "In no case have we ever had a president who did not admit electoral defeat or who rejected the validity of the election; all presidents have always left knowing that they had not won", Lara Brown says. Jackson's inauguration was the first to be held on the east side of the Capitol, a tradition that was changed under Ronald Reagan: he moved it to the west side in order to bring in more people. Right after Jackson gave his inaugural speech, he headed for the White House, along with thousands of supporters. The mob, in this case excited by the president's swearing in, entered the building even through the windows, caused damage, and forced the president to evacuate.

The growing power of the presidency

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, 1937

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, 1937

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second inaugural ceremony, in 1937, was the first to be held on January 20 instead of March 4. Roosevelt himself had pushed through the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 (when he first came to power). "In the United States, Congress is Article 1 of the Constitution and the presidency is Article 2. But as the presidency became stronger and political communication improved, the president became the face of American democracy", Lara Brown says.

As early as the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt saw that waiting four months to take office, as it had been done up until then to let Congress work first, was pointless. After the New Deal and World War II, presidential power grew even more, augmented by the presence of radio and television (which catapulted John Fitzerald Kennedy into the presidency, for example). An upward evolution that culminated in the use and abuse of presidential powers by the last tenant of the White House, Donald Trump, often at the stroke of a tweet.

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