Friday, March 04, 2011

What's The Occasion? Inauguration Day

Except for the first inauguration of George Washington - which was held on the final day of April 1789 - every President of the United States from 1793 (Washington's second term) to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933 was sworn in on March 4th. That of John Adams in 1797 was as historic as either of its predecessors, since it was the first ever peaceful transfer of power between elected leaders in modern times. Beginning with Roosevelt's second term in 1937, the Inauguration was moved to January 20th under the terms of the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution.

PhotobucketBeing the most hallowed day in the life of the republic Inauguration Day has seen its fair share of evolution through the years including, as has been said, the change of date. It was Thomas Jefferson who instigated the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue during his second inaugural in 1805. Since then the only President to forego the parade was Ronald Reagan, whose second term began (in January) with freezing cold temperatures. Jimmy Carter tried to start a new tradition of walking the route, rather than riding in an open car, but security concerns soon curtailed that pointed nod towards gasoline conservation.

From Martin Van Buren (1837) to Carter (1977) the President was sworn in at the East Portico of the Capitol Building; since Reagan (1981) the ceremony has been held against the epic backdrop of the West Front of that awe-inspiring edifice.

The most recent Inauguration Day - in case you'd forgotten - was one of the most eagerly anticipated events in modern history, when in the tried-and-true American tradition one tyrant was forced to respect the Constitution at long last, and turn his half-unearned Presidency over after eight years to someone who actually respects it while his co-tyrant was relegated to the least sympathy-inducing wheelchair in human history.

I chose the puckish image shown above for many reasons, but mainly because it depicts the final March 4th inaugural; cartoonist Peter Arno perfectly captured the national mood with it for The New Yorker in 1933. The sombre countenance of one-term President Herbert Hoover - whose laissez-faire leadership and policies did nothing to prevent the Crash of 1929 or alleviate the suffering of the Great Depression - is in marked contrast to the hopeful grin employed by FDR.

It's an image which never fails to cheer my smug liberal heart...

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