Ahead of Joe Biden's Inauguration, 5 Notable Inauguration Moments in US History
From drunken brawls, dysentery, dead birds, and debates over crowd sizes, some inauguration days have seen it all.
Presidential Inaugurations are generally austere and dignified events that showcase America’s new leadership and highlight peaceful transitions of power, but sometimes, the road to the White House is not without a few potholes.
The serious and important event that showcases the passing of the torch in democratic fashion has occasionally been surrounded by bizarre and dramatic moments.
Ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, which some fear may be marred by violence following the assault on the U.S. Capitol, below is a list of incidents and events that have occurred throughout history.
Washington Needed Dollar Bills to Get to the Inauguration
While George Washington's face currently resides on the $1 bill, it certainly wasn't the case when he needed money to make his swearing-in.
Thirteen years after America was founded, the nation elected its first president. In February 1789, all 69 presidential electors unanimously chose George Washington to be the country’s very first president. He beat John Adams and in April of that same year, he was to be inaugurated in New York. But Washington, heavily in debt, had to borrow money to get to his own Inauguration because he did not have the income to pay for travel on his own, according to historical accounts.
The Brawl at the Ball
In March 1829, thousands of Americans descended on Washington, D.C., for Andrew Jackson’s swearing-in. Following his speech, he retreated to the White House where he met with the rich, famous, and political power.
Jackson, who was still grieving his wife’s 1828 death, did not want a party or inaugural ball, according to historians. He still got one and the man who is considered the founder of the Democratic Party was met by 20,000 civilians dressed in their Sunday best at the White House.
While the tradition, which began with Thomas Jefferson in 1801, seemed like a good idea, it turned into a disaster as reports circulated of drunken altercations, damaged property inside the White House and destruction inside America’s most famous address.
According to historians, White House staff put bathtubs filled with juice and whiskey out on the South Lawn and encouraged the revelers take the party outside.
“The surging crowd made mingling impossible, and as people pushed toward Jackson and lunged toward refreshments, they collided with fragile furniture and shoved servants laden with punch bowls and trays of food. Waiters trying to maneuver with a large bowl of spiked orange punch crashed into a crowd and spilled it all on the carpet. Men in work boots, straining to see Jackson, stood on expensive upholstered furniture,” the White House Historical Association said.
The tradition of allowing civilians into the White House on Inauguration Day ended in 1885 when President Grover Cleveland opted to have a parade instead.
The parade is a celebration that has continued.
Sloshed at the Swearing In Ceremony
When President Lincoln was re-elected in 1865, he took on a new vice president, Andrew Johnson, who was apparently drunk while giving his first speech as Veep.
According to historic records, Johnson was sick with typhoid fever the night before the inauguration and used the medicine of the era — whiskey — to relieve the symptoms. He must have still been feeling the effects of the alcoholic beverage and gave what was perceived as a train wreck of a speech.
It embarrassed Lincoln so much that historians said he looked on in horror. Lincoln’s outgoing vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, begged the president to make Johnson stop speaking.
Months later, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and Johnson became the 17th president of the United States.
James Buchanan’s Sickly Swearing In
Becoming president would obviously be a major milestone, but nothing can hamper an important day quite like a case of diarrhea.
In 1857, James Buchanan was struck with dysentery on the day of his inauguration and later struck with a strange illness known as the National Hotel Disease, which hit the nation’s capital at that time.
The disease left 400 people sick and 36 people dead between February and April of that year.
It is believed that it began after many contracted the illness inside Washington, D.C.’s National Hotel, where many aristocrats and politicians had been staying in the days leading up to the inauguration. It quickly spread around the city and lingered for months.
Historians and today’s medical doctors believe the inadequate sewage system may have been to blame.
Buchanan spent the first few weeks of his presidency in bed, prompting many news outlets of the era to believe he was dead.
Tricky Dick’s Pigeon Problem
Like many big cities, Washington, D.C., has a large pigeon population and in 1973, President Richard Nixon was not interested in letting the birds rain on his parade.
So the 37th president of the United States asked for a special repellant to be sprayed along the parade route.
What Nixon and his people did not realize was that the repellant, “Roost No More” — which is supposed to keep birds away from trees and make their feet burn — contained a chemical that killed them.
Instead of having birds flying around in the sky during his parade, the route was lined with dozens of dead pigeons.
Donald Trump's Crowd Size
The 2017 inauguration of former reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump started off as regular as previous transitions of power. The incoming Trump family met the outgoing Obamas earlier that morning. Speeches were given, Trump was sworn in and it all seemed relatively normal until a day later, when the newly inaugurated president’s team falsely claimed their crowd size to be the largest ever in the history if inaugurations.
Images of Trump’s inauguration crowd were compared to the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, which saw an estimated 1.8 million people attend. Trump’s crowd did not appear to have anywhere near that judging from footage and photos of the day.
In his debut as press secretary, Sean Spicer took to the White House press briefing room and slammed reports that Trump’s inauguration size was smaller than expected.
Spicer emphatically and erroneously declared that the 45th president of the United States had “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
“I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people,” Trump told the CIA the day after his inauguration and doubled down on Spicer’s comments.
Prior to the inauguration, Washington, D.C. officials estimated that between 800,000 to 900,000 people would attend Trump’s swearing in. While the National Park Service never released the actual number of attendees of the 2017 inauguration, the proof was in the photographs.
A year after the inauguration, Spicer, who had stepped down from his post just seven months into the job, told journalist S.E. Cupp that he “screwed up,” many things during his time as press secretary and the inauguration day numbers were one of them.
What to Expect From President-elect Joe Biden's Inauguration
On Jan. 6, two weeks before Joe Biden was to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, the Capitol was stormed by pro-Trump supporters who falsely claimed that the election was rigged. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, were killed.
Demonstrators used scaffolding and barricades around the Capitol, which were in place for Biden’s upcoming inauguration, to breach security and enter the building. Extremists broke through the doors of the building, halting the joint session of Congress for several hours before it was able to proceed later that evening.
Amidst the uproar, politicians were whisked away by their security guards and senators hid behind chairs in the chambers while rioters scaled walls, shattered windows and marched through the halls of the chambers.
Biden called on Trump to “end this siege” that afternoon and said the events was an “assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: the doing of the people's business.”
Trump, however, said in a video message posted on Twitter that “I know your pain. I know you're hurt. But you have to go home now,” and calling his supporters “very special.”
"Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th," Trump said in a written statement released by the White House. "I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.”
Members of Trump’s own party, such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a republican from Illinois, slammed the insurrection and told CNN, "Anywhere around the globe, we would call this a coup attempt, that's what I think this is.”
The assault of the Capitol will likely affect the series of events leading up to and during Biden's inauguration, which was already poised to be a peculiar one due to strict social distant guidelines due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in in person at the Capitol as planned, however, with limited attendance. Congress normally gets about 200,000 tickets to give away for free to constituents, but this year, their number will be slashed to two tickets per congressmember, the New Yorker reported. Only 2,000 people are expected to attend in person, Rep. James Clyburn, co-chair of Biden's inaugural committee, told USA Today.
Instead of the traditional parade that follows the new president’s address and their first trip to the White House as Commander-In-Chief, Biden and Harris will receive a military escort, with the festive events being held virtually, Business Insider reported.
The usual inauguration balls and after parties held across the nation’s capital will be limited to strict virtual events. The traditional congressional lunch has also been cancelled, the New Yorker reported.
Two days after the insurrection on the Capitol building, Trump announced via Twitter he will not attend the 2021 inauguration. He is the first president to not attend the inauguration of his successor since 1869, when Andrew Johnson refused to attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. Before that, in 1829, John Quincey Adams did not attend Andrew' Jackson's inauguration. And in 1801, John Adams did not go to the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson. In 1921, outgoing President Woodrow Wilson rode with his successor, Warren Harding, to the Capitol for the ceremony, but due to poor health, did not attend the event.
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