Facts About Inaugurations

Looking for some added facts about Inaugurations? We’ve got plenty!

  • How often have we had a president refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration? Four times. The nation’s second president, John Adams, was on his way home to Quincy, Massachusetts when Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office in 1801. While no one knew why, the rumor was that Adams simply hadn’t been invited. In 1829, when Andrew Jackson became our seventh president, John Quincy Adams was in town, but their bitter rivalry saw him sitting the ceremonies out. Martin Van Buren wasn’t present for the 1841 inauguration of William Henry Harrison – no reason has ever been established. The last time it happened on purpose was in 1869. While Ulysses Grant took office, outgoing President Andrew Johnson spent his final moments in office signing final bills and holding a cabinet meeting. In 1921, however, Woodrow Wilson remained inside the Capitol Building during the inauguration of Warren G. Harding due to poor health.


  • Washington’s first inauguration required some improv. He arrived in New York City on April 30, 1789, with much fanfare, and then a large crowd gathered in what turned out to be a parade. When Washington arrived at Federal Hall, someone realized they forgot the Bible and obtained one from a nearby Masonic Lodge. Washington also started the inaugural address tradition. His speech, just 135 words.


  • The longest inaugural address? It was given by William Henry Harrison in 1841. The day of the inauguration was overcast with cold wind and a noon temperature estimated to be 48-degrees, but the president-elect chose to not wear an overcoat, hat, or gloves for the ceremony. He spoke for about 90-minutes, delivering the longest inaugural address to date, at 8,445 words. He also died a month later of pneumonia.


  • Today, we know January 20th as Inauguration Day, but following Washington’s first inauguration, the Continental Congress declared March 4th as Inauguration Day. That date remained in place until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933; Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president inaugurated on the new date, for his second inauguration on January 20, 1937.


  • Zachary Taylor refused to be inaugurated on a Sunday. In 1849, President Taylor refused to be sworn in on a Sunday, because he was very strict about “keeping holy the Sabbath.”


  • When Andrew Johnson was inaugurated as vice president in 1865, he wasn’t sober. He had been very ill from typhoid fever and drank whiskey to try to numb the aches and pains…but he overdid it and ended up slurring his way through his oaths. Then he tried to swear in the new senators, but got too confused and had to let a Senate clerk complete his duties.


  • Today? Joe Biden will be Sworn in with a 127-year-old family Bible. Biden has used the family Bible for every swearing-in ceremony since he was first elected to the United States Senate in 1973.


  • Nearly every president has taken their oath with one hand on a Bible—though, technically, there is no requirement for them to use a religious text. Some of Washington’s successors – like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H. W. Bush – used their own Bibles, while others picked Bibles that once belonged to other prominent presidents. Barack Obama chose the Lincoln Bible for his 2009 inauguration, making him the first to do so since it was initially used in 1861.