10 presidential inauguration ceremonies that made history for weird reasons
When President-elect Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday, it will mark the 57th presidential inauguration since the nation’s founding.
Because you read all about Trump’s inauguration, we thought it would be fun to highlight a few of America’s most memorable inaugural moments.
On April 30, 1789, President George Washington was the first to take the oath of office of president of the United States.
Sen. William Maclay of Pennsylvania recalled how Washington trembled when he faced the assembled representatives and senators.
“This great man was agitated and embarrassed, more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket,” Maclay wrote, according to the National Archives.
Encyclopedia Britannica also noted that in the first inauguration Washington famously ad-libbed “so help me God” to the oath and bent down to kiss the Bible, although others contend there is no reliable record of this being said until President Chester Arthur took the oath of office in 1881, according to Time.
Shortest inaugural speech
Washington made history again, Britannica said, in his swearing in for a second term, keeping his speech at 135 words — the shortest ever.
Longest inaugural speech
President William Henry Harrison served the shortest presidency, following the longest inaugural speech in history, according to Britannica. His 8,445-word speech in 1841 lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes. Without a jacket, Harrison rambled on about the Roman Empire in the middle of a snowstorm in 1841.
A month into his presidency, Harrison died of pneumonia. Historians blame Harrison’s fatal illness on his lack of winter attire during his inaugural speech.
Warmest, coldest inaugurations
While weather played a fatal role in Harrison’s inauguration, it was merely a meteorological footnote for President Ronald Reagan, whose ceremonies marked the warmest and coldest inauguration days on record, according to weather.gov. It was 55 degrees Fahrenheit when Reagan delivered his first inaugural speech in 1981.
However, his second inaugural speech was under much colder conditions — only 7 degrees Fahrenheit! Encyclopedia Britannica said Congress requested special permission to use the Capitol Rotunda for the event.
Wildest inaugural party
Not only was President Andrew Jackson’s 1829 presidential campaign one of the foulest, but his inaugural ball was considered the wildest, according to an article from EyeWitness to History.
Jackson’s open house attracted a mob of people who trampled through the White House, spilling food and ruining curtains and fine china. Jackson had to escape to his hotel to escape the rowdy crowd. The Constitution Center noted that Jackson was unfazed by the damage as he planned to renovate the White House anyway.
Bad for birds
On March 4, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant wanted to celebrate his second inauguration with hundreds of colorful canaries. However, planners did not take the weather into account.
During the inaugural ball, dead birds fell on top of the dancing guests. According to Claudia Swain of WETA’s history blog, the dead canaries slipped from their perches as they froze to death.
About 100 years later, dead birds made a comeback when President Richard Nixon wanted to “pigeon-proof” his parade route with a chemical bird repellent. But Nixon’s plan proved ineffectively fatal when dozens of pigeon bodies littered the 1973 parade route, wrote Tia Ghose for Live Science.
- Thomas Jefferson (1801) Jefferson attempted to smooth out tensions between Republicans and Federalists after a deadlocked election was decided by Congress, according to the Library of Congress. “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists,” he said.
- Abraham Lincoln (1865) After presiding over a bloody Civil War, Lincoln’s second inaugural speech was remembered for this famous quote: “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.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933) “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin Roosevelt said after being sworn in during the midst of the Great Depression. According to the Washington Post, President Roosevelt’s encouraging words became the most memorable quote of the 20th century, according to the Washington Post list of famous inaugural addresses.
- John F. Kennedy (1961) Kennedy was the youngest president to be sworn in as president. His presidential library says the most famous inaugural quote was, “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
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