Facts about Inauguration Day

Did you know that Inauguration Day used to be held on March 4th? True! That was the original date (March 4, 1789) when the Confederation Congress, which operated under the Articles of Confederation, officially handed off power to the new constitutional government.

When the new Constitution changed the opening day of Congress to the first Monday in December (Article I, Section 4), March 4th was chosen as the last day of the two-year legislative session. Because elections were held in November, this created an extended lame-duck session. The Twentieth Amendment changed the date of inauguration to noon on the 20th day of January. Here are more fun facts about the biggest day we have as a nation – every four years:

  • George Washington started the practice of swearing-in with the incoming president’s left hand on a Bible (which he borrowed from a Masons lodge). Washington also started the tradition of kissing the Bible after the oath. That tradition was followed by most every president until Dwight Eisenhower, who said a prayer instead of kissing the Bible. Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible and both John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce swore on a book of law. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in on a Catholic missal found on Air Force One even though he was a Protestant. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama each swore the oath on two Bibles, as will Donald Trump.
  • Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be sworn in in Washington D.C. in 1801.
  • The first inaugural ball was held for James Madison in 1809. Tickets were $4.
  • Calvin Coolidge’s inaugural address was the first to be broadcast on public radio in 1925.
  • Since 1937, every inauguration has included at least two prayers given by members of the clergy (Baptists have given a prayer 14 times; Catholics 12 times). The last official inaugural event also includes prayer: the National Prayer Service (January 21) at the Washington National Cathedral.
  • In 1949, Harry S. Truman’s inauguration became the first to be televised .
  • The first President to be sworn in on January 20th,as mandated by the 20th amendment, was Franklin Roosevelt during his second inauguration in 1937.
  • Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 was the first to be live streamed on the Internet.
  • Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president is offering a number of firsts. At the age of 70, he beats out Ronald Reagan as the oldest president. He’s also expected to have the most expensive inauguration in American history, topping President Barack Obama’s $170-million soirée in 2009.
  • Washington’s second inaugural address was the shortest with only 135 words.
  • William Henry Harrison delivered the longest inaugural address with 8,445 words. He spoke for one-hour and 45-minutes in a snowstorm without a coat. Mr. Trump is expected to speak for about 20 minutes.
  • Barack Obama’s first inauguration had the highest attendance with an estimated 1.8-million people crowding the National Mall in 2009.