How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?





Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

Looking at earlier wartime inaugurations the trend was toward simple ceremonies such as James Madison's in 1813, Abraham Lincoln's in 1865, Woodrow Wilson's in 1917, Franklin Roosevelt's in 1945, and Dwight Eisenhower's in 1953. The simplest of all was Roosevelt's fourth inaugural in 1945 amidst World War II. However, the post World War II era saw inaugural ceremonies becoming increasingly more lavish affairs despite the fact that war or protest was ensuing. Lyndon Johnson's in 1965, and Richard Nixon's two inaugurations in 1969 and 1973 were large showcase affairs. The tradition continues this year with George W. Bush's $40 million inaugural celebration.

James Madison

1813: The United States was at war with Great Britain when James Madison took the oath of office for the second time in 1813. The war was still confined to the sea and there were no physical reminders of war in Washington at the time of the inauguration. The theme of his inauguration was the nobility of the American people vs. the brutality of the British, and he called on the population to fight with dignity. Madison took the oath of office in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and it was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall. In the evening Madison attended an inaugural ball. (Dolley Madison had established the first inaugural ball in 1809.) The next year an invading British garrison burned the Capitol and executive mansion.

As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed.

The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed. How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy! -- James Madison, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1813

Abraham Lincoln

1861: Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural occurred at the country's most desperate moment when seven southern states had already seceded from the union forming the Confederate States of America, and civil war seemed imminent. Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the president of the Confederacy two weeks earlier. A somber mood prevailed at Lincoln's inaugural. His safety was in danger, and he was guarded by General Winfield Scott's soldiers, providing unprecedented protection for a president-elect. The United States Calvary that escorted Lincoln in the procession to the Capitol was heavily armed as he rode in an open carriage with President James Buchanan, and the military remained on alert throughout the ceremony. Judge Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln on the East Portico of the Capitol, then in the midst of renovation (the wooden dome was being replaced with an iron one).

In his inaugural address Lincoln claimed, "No government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination." The New York Times wrote that "from the fiery trial the loose federation emerged as a compact nation, which makes this the most significant inauguration after that of Washington." President Lincoln then proceeded to the White House where he received the Diplomatic Corps and well wishers. The inaugural events concluded when Lincoln and the rest of the presidential party made their appearance at the inaugural ball that was held the same evening.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.-- Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

1865: Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration came close to the end of the Civil War. Lincoln did not participate in the procession to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony since he had already gone there earlier in the morning to sign last-minute bills into law. For weeks preceding the inauguration Washington had been rainy, causing Pennsylvania Avenue to become a sea of mud and standing water. The spectators stood in deep mud to see the president's swearing-in ceremony. On the East Portico of the Capitol Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office to Lincoln.

The inaugural ceremonies featured four companies of African American troops; a lodge of African American Odd Fellows. African American Masons joined the procession to the Capitol, and then back to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony. This was the first time that African Americans participated in the inaugural processions, thereby demonstrating the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation. There was constant music conducted by bands interspersed along the procession, which lasted an hour and was a mile long. Lincoln rode toward the White House in an open barouche and was escorted by the white and black troops for security purposes. In the evening following Lincoln's swearing-in ceremony there was a public reception at the White House. The inaugural ball took place the night in the Patent Office; this was the first time a government building was used for the ball.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. -- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

Woodrow Wilson

1917: As Woodrow Wilson prepared to take his second oath of office the rest of the world was embroiled in a war that was entering its third year with no end in sight. Although the United States had not entered the World War--Wilson had said during the campaign that there was such a thing as a nation too proud to fight-- there was still an uproar about the pomp of the inauguration ceremonies. The inaugural ball was cancelled, though this may not have been because of the war. Wilson disliked balls and nixed plans for a ball during his first inaugural. Certain officials suggested that the public ceremonies be cancelled completely because of the international situation. However, tradition won out and a bill was signed allotting $30,000 for the inaugural ceremonies. Robert N. Harper chairman of the local Inaugural Committee, issued a statement discussing the direction the ceremonies would take:"I am pleased to announce that the inauguration ceremonies will be held. While the greatest possible simplicity will be observed, it is intended to make this inauguration unusually impressive in order to afford an opportunity for a perfectly spontaneous exhibition of the patriotic feeling of the country."

The thing I shall count upon, the thing without which neither counsel nor action will avail, is the unity of America: an America united in feeling, in purpose and in its vision of duty, of opportunity and of service.-- Woodrow Wilson, Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1917

Franklin Roosevelt

1941: Franklin Roosevelt's third inauguration was unprecedented in American history. The world was at war, but the United States still officially neutral.

Roosevelt was accompanied throughout inauguration day with an increasingly visible number of Secret Service guards. Roosevelt began the day by continuing the tradition he started in 1937 by attending church service at St. John's Episcopal Church, next to the White House prior to his swearing-in ceremony. Then the president went forth to the Capitol. Roosevelt's inaugural address was shorter than usual, only twelve minutes long. Time magazine reported that "the speech was not in the President's usual literary style. It was pseudo-poetic, full of little except generalities, as if it had been written for him by someone such as Playwright Robert E. Sherwood."

The inaugural parade was designed to be shorter than usual. This corresponded with Roosevelt's plan for simplicity. There was an air demonstration planned with Army, Navy and Marine Corps planes participating, which was a new addition to the inaugural parade. Roosevelt chose to watch the parade from an open stand. The parade at first featured the usual parade fare, but then the mood turned more solemn as a glimpse of what American involvement in the war would mean. For five minutes the parade route was dominated by armored cars, soldiers on motorcycles, tanks; light tanks, medium tanks, trucks carrying pontoon bridges, kitchen trucks, trucks drawing six-inch guns, eight truckloads of anti-aircraft guns--the machines of war. Roosevelt canceled the inaugural ball as he had in 1937 during the Depression. But an inaugural concert was staged at Constitution Hall; the performers included Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Massey and Ethel Barrymore.

If we lose that sacred fire--if we let it be smothered with doubt and fear--then we shall reject the destiny which Washington strove so valiantly and so triumphantly to establish. The preservation of the spirit and faith of the Nation does, and will, furnish the highest justification for every sacrifice that we may make in the cause of national defense. In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Third Inaugural Address, January 20, 1941

1944: Roosevelt's fourth inauguration occurred at a time of world war, and the president's increasingly failing health. Roosevelt decided upon a short and simple inaugural ceremony. The morning of his inauguration, instead of attending church services at St. John's Episcopal Church, Roosevelt arranged for a private service at the White House East Room with 250 members of his official family. Instead of taking the oath at the Capitol, he took it on the South Portico of the White House. Immediately below the portico were 7,806 invited guests; on the Ellipse there were another 3,000 in attendance.

After taking the oath of office Roosevelt gave the shortest of his four inaugural addresses at 573 words. He did not once mention domestic affairs, but gave a passing remark about the war. The speech indicated the president's mood and focused on the world after the end of the war. Afterwards, 2,000 invited guests streamed into the Red Room for the post-inaugural luncheon, which would be the last one of its kind. It was the largest affair held in the Roosevelt White House for years but it was also spare. The guests stood and the menu included; chicken salad, hard rolls without butter, unfrosted pound cake, and coffee. The First Lady hosted a tea for those who did not come to the luncheon. There was no parade or ball. The day's events were capped off with a private dinner which included the Roosevelt family's first rib roast in months.

In the days and the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace. . . . We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately--but we shall strive. . . . We have learned lessons--at a fearful cost--and we shall profit by them. We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace. . . . We have learned that we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. . . . We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that "the only way to have a friend is to be one." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fourth Inaugural Address, January 20, 1945

Dwight D. Eisenhower

1953: Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as president during the Korean War. Eisenhower broke precedent by beginning his inaugural address with a prayer. His address emphasized American leadership in the world, and focused on the challenge of establishing peace, freedom and unity in the free world. The swearing-in ceremony was followed by a ten division parade that was the longest and largest inaugural parade in history, lasting four hours and 39 minutes with 25,000 marchers, 73 bands, 59 floats, horses, elephants and civilian and military vehicles. As a tribute to those serving in Korea some of the servicemen fighting there were brought home to march in the parade. The salute to Eisenhower also included 1,000 military planes from jets to super bombers, which flew over the parade. The inaugural celebration was capped off with two inaugural balls at the National Armory and Georgetown University's McDonough Hall. Approximately 75,000,000 people were able to watch the inaugural ceremonies on television.

No person, no home, no community can be beyond the reach of this call. We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh our every deed with care and with compassion. For this truth must be clear before us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America. The peace we seek, then, is nothing less than the practice and fulfillment of our whole faith among ourselves and in our dealings with others. This signifies more than the stilling of guns, easing the sorrow of war. More than escape from death, it is a way of life. More than a haven for the weary, it is a hope for the brave. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953

Lyndon B. Johnson

1965: Lyndon Johnson's inauguration came at the beginning of America's active military involvement in Vietnam. Johnson insisted that America's involvement would be minimal, and the inauguration was planned as if it was not occurring at a time of war. Gone were the military pageantries that characterized earlier inaugurations, Johnson did not believe that the day should be used to glorify the military. The four-day celebration was extravagant, costing $1.5 million, and was an attempt to be "bigger and better" than any of the previous inaugurations. According to an account in the New York Times, Johnson wanted to "surmount tradition and make the hoopla of the inauguration a dramatic display of the highest aims and accomplishments of the entire nation."

The first event was the Distinguished Ladies Reception held at the National Gallery of Art, which featured 5,000 guests. Throughout the inaugural's first day of festivities there were receptions in honor of the president all around Washington. On the evening of the first day of events, the Inaugural Gala; a variety show was held at the National Guard Armory. The gala was sponsored by the National Democratic Committee for the party faithful and was a free event that included 8,000 guests. The four banquet dinners that preceded that gala were also free to Democrats who had contributed a minimum of $1,000 to the campaign. The gala included some of the most pre-eminent entertainers of the day; including Alfred Hitchcock as the master of ceremonies and Carol Channing as the mistress of ceremonies.

Lyndon B. Johnson's procession to the Capitol in 1965 was marked by stringent security measures, including a bullet-proof limousine. The swearing-in ceremonies were described by the New York Times as both "a sermon and a circus; a prayer and a parade; the bible and the ballyhoo." Lady Bird joined her husband as he took the oath of office, the first wife of a president to do so. Capping the festivities were four inaugural balls at the National Guard Armory, the Mayflower, Sheraton-Park Shoreham and the Statler Hilton.

The hour and the day and the time are here to achieve progress without strife, to achieve change without hatred: not without difference of opinion, but without the deep and abiding divisions which scar the Union for generations. -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1965

Richard Nixon

1969: Richard Nixon's first inauguration took place amidst the height of the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, racial tension and urban disintegration at home. The inauguration festivities were far more restrained than Johnson's, yet still quite elaborate. The inauguration included four days of festivities, including an All-American Gala in the District of Columbia Armory produced by the "Tonight Show's" Ed McMahon. With tickets reaching $100 the guest list included a variety of Hollywood entertainers. The night before the Inauguration there was a lavish concert for the Nixons and his vice president at Constitution Hall performed by Salt Lake City's Mormon Tabernacle Choir, among others. The concert's tickets ranged in price from $5 to $500.

The swearing in ceremony was on a gloomy cold day, and along the parade route toward the White House 1,000 anti-war protesters gathered and shouted obscenities such as "Four more years of death!" In hopes of uniting a much divided country over the Vietnam War the inauguration's theme was "bring us together again." Nixon took the oath of office on two bibles; both family heirlooms. The inaugural parade was one of the shortest running just two hours but was filmed with color cameras and broadcast live on television. There were six inaugural balls, one of them at the Smithsonian Institution. They were formal white tie affairs; tickets were priced at $70 a couple. A box seat for eight cost $1,000. Approximately 30,000 attended the balls. The Nixons made appearances at all six of them.

The peace we seek to win is not victory over any other people, but the peace that comes "with healing in its wings"; with compassion for those who have suffered; with understanding for those who have opposed us; with the opportunity for all the peoples of this earth to choose their own destiny. -- Richard M. Nixon, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1969

1973: Richard Nixon's second inauguration occurred as negotiations to end the war in Vietnam were being renewed. The three day inauguration cost $4,000,000, and was such an extravaganza that Bob Hope, a Nixon supporter, joked that it commemorated "the time when Richard I becomes Richard II." The inaugural ceremonies opened Thursday afternoon at the Smithsonian Museum with a reception honoring Vice President Agnew and his wife. The first glamour event of the inaugural was a "Salute to the States," at the Kennedy Center which was held in honor of the nation's governors; 40 of them attended the event along with 5,000 guests with Pat Nixon, daughter Julie, and Mamie Eisenhower. The two-hour show ran simultaneously in two separate halls to accomodate the large number of guests. Emcees Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope shuttled between the two rooms. The second day of the inaugural ceremonies included three concerts for the president at the Kennedy Center.

Throughout the inaugural festivities there were peaceful anti-war protests around Washington. In addition there was a counter-inaugural concert held at Washington Cathedral the same night as the Kennedy Center concerts for the president. The day of the inauguration 75,000 antiwar demonstrators gathered quietly at the Lincoln Memorial for a "March Against Death and for Peace." There were a total of five balls on inaugural night "to celebrate the Inauguration of President Nixon in a festive, traditional manner," as stated in the official press information kit. The inaugural balls were held at the Museum of National History, the Kennedy Center, the Pension Building, Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, and Sheraton Park Hotel, scene of a ball expressly reserved for young people. The inaugural festivities finished on Sunday January 21, with an ecumenical worship service at the White House conducted by Billy Graham and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Let us be proud that by our bold, new initiatives, and by our steadfastness for peace with honor, we have made a break-through toward creating in the world what the world has not known before--a structure of peace that can last, not merely for our time, but for generations to come. -- Richard M. Nixon, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1973

George W. Bush

2005: This is the first inauguration since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and is being held as the Iraq war enters its third year. This year's inauguration will be by far the most ostentatious wartime inauguration. The $40 million event is funded with the donations of lobbyists and corporations. The inaugural events will include nine balls, three candlelight dinners, a presidential gala on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony, a brunch for dignitaries, and a youth rock concert hosted by the Bush twins. 250,000 spectators are expected to watch Bush get sworn in. He will be perched on a new, higher speaker's podium. After his inaugural address Bush will stand as 400 service members from all branches pass in review and become his escorts for the parade. 11,000 people will take part in the 1.7-mile-long parade that includes 45 marching bands, and 5,000 men and women in uniform. The price for good seats at the events are expensive. Seats for the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue are $125, ball tickets are $150 and a chair at the swearing-in on the Capitol's east front is approximately $250.

Some have criticized the scope of the festivities. Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., recently wrote in a letter to his colleagues that "Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted -- if not canceled -- in wartime, and stated that $40 million would buy armor for 690 Humvees or provide a $290 bonus for each service member stationed in Iraq." Even a Bush supporter, Texas billionaire Mark Cuban, publicly suggested that the inaugural balls be canceled and the money donated to tsunami victims of South Asia. To counter the attacks President Bush and his supporters are presenting the quadrennial pageant as an opportunity to salute American troops -- "Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service" is the theme of this year's inaugural ceremony. The events include the first Commander-In-Chief Ball for men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

We are a nation at war, and it is fitting that the inaugural events reflect not only the great sacrifices made by our troops everyday to protect our freedom, but also the cherished ideals that make our nation so unique. -- Jeanne Johnson Phillips, Presidential Inaugural Committee Chairman, January 2005

The inauguration is a great festival of democracy, people are going to come from all over the country who are celebrating democracy and celebrating my victory, and I'm glad to celebrate with them. -- George W. Bush responding to criticism about his inaugural festivities, January 2005


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James Stanley Kabala - 1/18/2005

A good article, except that Eisenhower's 1953 inaugural seems to more greatly resemble the later Johnson-Nixon pattern than the earlier pattern.


Peter N. Kirstein - 1/18/2005

These of course are accurate renditions of major conflicts and the article provides interesting and useful reading. Yet one could argue that the genocide against the Native Americans might have earned a mention in perhaps a Jackson or Van Buren inaugural. The racist slaughter of Filipino freedom fighters against the occupation during the "Splendid Little War," with over 4000 US KIA, was transpiring when President McKinley was inaugurated in 1901, and the ghastly "No Fly Zone War" against Iraq was coterminous with President Clinton's inaugural moments.

I recognize the list of wartime inaugurals could expand significantly perhaps inordinately so. Yet this is a violent, warrior nation and my point was to indicate merely that with so many wars on such a continuous basis, a greater challenge might be to identify inaugural addresses when the United States was not engaged in some military action.