Next Tuesday at noon, President Elect Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States.
Our Constitution mandates every new President must take the oath of office and repeat the following words. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
George Washington, our country’s first elected President, repeated this oath and concluded with these words, “So help me God.” Every President since has ended the Constitutional oath with those same words.
George Washington was at home in Virginia when he learned that after counting the congressional electoral votes he was to be our country’s first Chief Executive. He left Mount Vernon immediately for New York to undertake a leading roll in America’s history.
The Congress, along with John Adams, the Vice-President elect, was trying to determine what the official title of the high office should be. Adams wanted the new position to have the title of “His Most Benign Highness”. Fortunately a Congressional committee chose the title we still use today, “President of the United States”.
The Harsh New York winter conditions played a big part in changing the first planned Presidential Inauguration. It was planned that March 4, 1789, would be our country’s first day for the United States government under the leadership of its newly elected President.
Due to the poor weather conditions it was not until April 30,1789, in New York City, at Federal Hall and before both houses of Congress, that Washington took his oath of Presidency. After his swearing in, Washington gave the first Inaugural address. It was only 135 words long.
The second Inauguration of Washington was held in the Senate Chambers of Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pa. John Adams, the second President, also took the oath of office in Philadelphia.
Not until Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency in 1801 did the first Inauguration take place in Washington, D.C. Even though it was not until the next year that the city became the official Capital of the United States.
Only three Presidents have taken the oath of office outside Washington, D.C., since Jefferson’s time. Chester A. Arthur in September 1881 was sworn in at a private residence in New York.
Calvin Coolidge took the oath at his father’s home in Plymouth, Vt., in August 1923. And last was Lyndon Johnson aboard Air Force One in Dallas, Texas, after President Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963.
Only members of Congress in Federal Hall that first Inauguration heard George Washington’s speech. In 1804 the words of James Madison’s inaugural address were the first to be published in newsprint for all to read.
When James Polk took office in 1845 his words spread across the country by a new invention called the electric telegraph. Samuel Morse, the device’s inventor, operated the tapping communicator that first day.
Our first photographic record of an inauguration was a few years before the Civil War in 1857. James Buchanan’s Presidential image was captured on a large box camera and the photograph was viewed across the nation.
In 1897 William McKinley was filmed by one of the first movie cameras of the day. The filming took place during his inauguration in the original Senate wing of the U.S. Capital.
Calvin Coolidge’s oath of office was heard by thousands of Americans that sat and listened to his words from an early radio filled with glowing glass tubes. It was the first time Americans outside of our nation’s capital heard President’s words as they were spoken in August 1925.
The first live images were of Harry Truman being sworn in as President on early black and white TV.
Many Americans had not yet seen the electronic images that the small glowing picture tube could create out of the air and onto the wondrous device.
On Tuesday, millions of people around the world will watch as live images are broadcast into space and relayed by satellite in a blink of an eye to the furthest part of our small planet as we inaugurate our next President.
Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Regan each began their first term as President by taking the oath of office. But in all three cases the oath was taken twice at the beginning of their second term. Once in private and then a second time publicly.
Only one President has ever taken the oath of office four times. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in March 1933, January 1937, January 1941, and last in January 1945.
Inauguration Day traditionally was held on March 4 until the 20th Amendment moved it to the Jan. 20 date we will use next week. Only a couple of times since 1933 has the date changed due to falling on Sunday.
George Washington knew when he took the oath of office the job and the country’s new democracy brought with it a great many challenges. Democracy then and now is never easy or has the price ever been free. Ideals and challenges that faced that first government are still with us today.
Washington, Adams, and Jefferson started our country on the path of democracy. Lincoln helped to prevent a divided country from tearing its self apart. And Harry Truman’s strong guidance was needed when the world was at war and longed for real peace.
Next Tuesday the red, white, and blue of our nation’s flag will wave high above the houses of American government. That American icon has changed and grown while flying above 43 Presidents. And soon the 44th will take his place in our country’s history. Each of these men will have held the temporary job we call “President of the United States.”
Perhaps the words of Franklin Roosevelt at his first inauguration during the great depression may be of some hope for our new President and all Americans. “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper.” Whether in a great depression or a world in crisis, we as free Americans must stand tall and welcome our new President, Barack Obama. I hope you will watch as our country’s history books open for the next chapter Thru The Lens.