Happy MLK and Inauguration Day! Today, Barack Obama was sworn in for his second and final term as President of the United States – at least, it appeared that way. He was actually sworn in yesterday, January 20th, as dictated by the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution. However, since that fell on a Sunday, the inaugural ceremony took place today with all the pomp, hype, and glamour that can only be found during the biggest moments of American political history. In honor of this day – and because we here at *AT* love all things presidential – we would like to share the stories of three other inaugurations that stand out from the rest.
1841 – William Henry Harrison
On a cold, wet day in early March, William Henry Harrison delivered his inaugural address as the ninth President of the United States. He was a war hero and won the election of 1840 by an electoral college landslide. All throughout the day, Harrison wore neither a coat nor a hat, and paraded through the streets on a horse. He then proceeded to deliver an inaugural address that was two hours long – and this was edited down from his original speech! Unfortunately, he never got to execute his party’s extensive platform detailed in his speech: he was dead 32 days later, stricken by complications from pneumonia.
Contrary to popular belief, his sickness was actually not caused by his refusal to bundle up on inauguration day; he did not show any signs of sickness until March 26th, over three weeks after his address. Still, this inauguration will always be famous because it was the longest address ever delivered and subsequently the shortest time a president has ever been in office.
1945 – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Near the end of World War II, FDR was sworn in for his fourth term as President. Due to the cost of staging a celebration in the midst of the war effort, however, the ceremony occurred without the usual pomp and fanfare. It was also the opposite of William Henry Harrison because it was one of the shortest inauguration speeches in history and was made by the longest-serving US President that ever has – and ever will – serve.
So how was he able to serve four terms in the first place? Simple: there were not any term limits for US Presidents prior to 1951. Presidents had generally adhered to a “two-term rule”, but several had attempted third terms unsuccessfully. The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution limited presidents to two terms, not including the completion of a predecessor’s unfinished term, and was ratified while Harry Truman was in office.
1963 – Lyndon B. Johnson
The first inauguration of LBJ occurred in the midst of what is undoubtedly one of the most tragic and shocking moments in American history. At 12:30 PM on November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while his motorcade drove through Dallas. Johnson, who was Kennedy’s Vice President and was riding in the car behind Kennedy, was immediately surrounded by Secret Service and rushed to Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was being taken. After Kennedy was pronounced dead, LBJ left for Love Airfield to board Air Force One.
Once on board, Johnson immediately called Robert F. Kennedy, who was JFK’s brother and the US Attorney General. He advised the Vice President to take the oath of office before taking off, and at 2:38 PM, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. During the ceremony, one of the most iconic moments of the 60’s was photographed. Packed in a 16 square-foot space were no less than 27 people; among them were congressmen, assistants, members of Dallas law enforcement, and Judge Sarah Hughes administering the oath of office to LBJ next to Jacqueline Kennedy. The catatonic look on the former First Lady’s face is haunting, as are the fresh stains of her husband’s blood that are visible on her jacket.