Drunken Brawls, Dead Birds and Dysentery: The Presidential Inauguration Stories You Might Not Know
Presidential Inaugurations are generally austere and dignified events that showcase America’s new leadership and a historical change, but sometimes, the road is not without a few potholes.
The serious and important event has hit a few rough patches with scandal, many of which have gained little attention.
InsideEdition.com has taken a look back at the indignities surrounding some presidential swearing-in ceremonies, like Andrew Johnson delivering his vice presidential speech drunk and James Buchanan’s unfortunate case of dysentery while becoming commander-in-chief.
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.
According to historians, Jackson, who was still grieving his wife’s 1828 death, did not want a party or inaugural ball. 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 of drunken altercations, damaged property inside the White House, and destruction was brought 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 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 continues to this day.
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 and 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 trainwreck of a speech.
It embarrassed Lincoln so much that historians say he looked on in horror. Lincoln’s outgoing vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, begged the president to make Johnson stop speaking.
Months later, Lincoln was famously 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 a major milestone, but nothing can hamper an important day quite like a case of chronic 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
Richard Nixon famously claimed he was “not a crook,” but that didn't mean he was a bird lover.
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.