Presidential inauguration at the western front of the U.S. Capitol facing the National Mall (site since Reagan in 1981) – Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
Presidential inauguration with old overhead ceremonial porch at the eastern front of the U.S. Capitol (Lyndon B. Johnson, January 20, 1965)
Inauguration Day, January 20, 2005: President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush lead the inaugural parade from the Capitol, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House

The inauguration of the president of the United States is a ceremony to mark the commencement of a new four-year term of the president of the United States. During this ceremony, some 72 to 78 days after the presidential election, the president takes the presidential oath of office. The inauguration takes place for each new presidential term, even if the president is continuing in office for a second term.

The first inauguration of George Washington took place on April 30, 1789. All subsequent public inaugurations from 1793 until 1933 were held on March 4, except in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917, when March 4 fell on a Sunday and the public inauguration ceremony took place on Monday, March 5. Since 1937, it has taken place at noon EST on January 20, the first day of the new term, except in 1957, 1985, and 2013, when January 20 fell on a Sunday. In those years, the presidential oath of office was administered on that day privately and then again in a public ceremony the next day, on Monday, January 21. The most recent presidential inauguration was held on January 20, 2021, when Joe Biden assumed office.

Recitation of the presidential oath of office is the only component in this ceremony mandated by the United States Constitution (in Article II, Section One, Clause 8). Though it is not a constitutional requirement, the chief justice typically administers the presidential oath of office. Since 1789, the oath has been administered at 59 scheduled public inaugurations, by 15 chief justices, one associate justice, and one New York state judge. Others, in addition to the chief justice, have administered the oath of office to several of the nine vice presidents who have succeeded to the presidency upon their predecessor's death or resignation intra-term.

Since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the ceremony has been held at the west front of the United States Capitol facing the National Mall with its iconic Washington Monument and distant Lincoln Memorial. From 1829 through 1977 most swearing-in ceremonies had taken place on a platform over the steps at the Capitol's east portico. They have also been held inside the Old Senate Chamber, the chamber of the House of Representatives, and the Capitol rotunda.[1] The most recent regularly scheduled inauguration not to take place at the Capitol was the fourth inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, which was held at the White House.

Over the years, various traditions have arisen that have expanded the inauguration from a simple oath-taking ceremony to a day-long event, including parades and multiple social gatherings. The ceremony itself is carried live via the major U.S. commercial television and cable news networks; various ones also stream it live on their websites.

When a president has assumed office intra-term the inauguration ceremony has been conducted without pomp or fanfare. To facilitate a quick presidential transition under extraordinary circumstances, the new president takes the oath of office in a simple ceremony and usually addresses the nation afterward. This has happened nine times in United States history: eight times the president has died while in office, and once the president resigned.

Inauguration ceremonies

Dates

The first inauguration, that of George Washington, took place on April 30, 1789. All subsequent (regular) inaugurations from 1793 until 1933, were held on March 4, the day of the year on which the federal government began operations under the U.S. Constitution in 1789. The exception to this pattern was those years in which March 4 fell on a Sunday. When it did, the public inauguration ceremony would take place on Monday, March 5. This happened on four occasions, in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917. Inauguration Day moved to January 20, beginning in 1937, following ratification of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, where it has remained since. A similar Sunday exception and move to Monday is made around this date as well (which happened in 1957, 1985, and 2013).

President Reagan is sworn in "privately" on television, January 20, 1985

This resulted in several anomalies. It has been alleged that in 1849, Senate President pro tempore David Rice Atchison was president for a day, although all scholars dismiss that claim.[2][3] In 1877, due to the controversy over the Compromise of 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in secretly on March 3 before Ulysses S. Grant's term ended on March 4—raising the question if the United States had two presidents at the same time for one day.[2] In modern times, the president took the oath on a Sunday in a private ceremony and repeated it the following day with all the pomp and circumstance. In 1985 and 2013 these ceremonies were televised. Irregular inaugurations occurred on nine occasions intra-term, after the death or resignation of a president.

Inauguration Day, while not a federal holiday, is observed as a holiday by federal employees who would be working in the "Inauguration Day Area" and who are regularly scheduled to perform non-overtime work on Inauguration Day.[4] There is no in-lieu-of holiday for employees or students who are not regularly scheduled to work or attend school on Inauguration Day. The Inauguration Day Area consists of the District of Columbia; Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland; Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia (the City of Fairfax is considered part of Fairfax County for this purpose), and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia.[4]

Locations

Most presidential inaugurations since 1801 have been held in Washington D.C. at the Capitol Building. Prior inaugurations were held, first at Federal Hall in New York City (1789),[5] and then at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1793 and 1797). Each city was, at the time, the nation's capital. The location for James Monroe's 1817 swearing in was moved to the Old Brick Capitol in Washington due to on-going restoration work at the Capitol building following the War of 1812.[6] Three other inaugurations—Franklin D. Roosevelt's fourth (1945), Harry S. Truman's first (1945), and Gerald Ford's (1974)—were held at the White House.

Presidential inaugurations (aside from intra-term ceremonies following the death or resignation of a president) have traditionally been outdoor public ceremonies.[7] In 1909, William H. Taft's inauguration was moved to the Senate Chamber due to a blizzard.[8] Then, in 1985, the public second inauguration of Ronald Reagan was held indoors in the Capitol Rotunda because of harsh weather conditions.

The first inauguration of Andrew Jackson, in 1829, was the first of 35 held on the east front of the Capitol. Since the 1981 first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, they have been held on the Capitol's west front; a move designed to both cut costs and to provide more space for spectators.[9] Above the west front inaugural platform are five large United States flags. The current 50-star flag is displayed in the center.[7] On either side are earlier variations of the national flag: two are the official flag adopted by Congress after the admission to the Union of the new president's home state and two are the 13-star flag popularly known as the Betsy Ross flag.[10]

Organizers

Inauguration platform under construction for Woodrow Wilson's first inauguration in 1913

Prior to Inauguration Day, the president-elect will name a Presidential Inaugural Committee. This committee is the legal entity responsible for fundraising for and the planning and coordination of all official events and activities surrounding the inauguration of president and vice president (other than the ceremony), such as the balls and parade.[11]

Since 1901, the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has been responsible for the planning and execution of the swearing-in ceremonies.[12] Since 1953, it has also hosted a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol for the new president, vice president, and guests. Three senators and three representatives make up the committee.

The Joint Task Force National Capital Region, composed of service members from all branches of the United States Armed Forces, including Reserve and National Guard components, is responsible for all military support to ceremonies and to civil authorities for the inaugural period (in 2017, January 15–24). U.S. military personnel have participated in Inauguration Day ceremonies since 1789 when members of the Continental Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony. Their participation traditionally includes musical units, color guards, salute batteries and honor cordons. Military support to the inauguration honors the new president, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and recognizes civilian control of the military.[13]

Attendees

In addition to the public, the attendees at the inauguration generally include the vice president, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, high-ranking military officers, former presidents, living Medal of Honor recipients, and other dignitaries. The outgoing president and vice president also customarily attend the ceremony.

While most outgoing presidents have appeared on the inaugural platform with their successor, six did not: