Presidential Inauguration History: From Grand to Fatal to Downright Awkward

Many presidents found that their predecessors could be less than gracious during the ceremonies.

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For other presidents, the people—not the weather—were seen as the biggest threat. When Andrew Jackson invited the public into the White House for a celebration after his swearing-in in 1829, he meant to show that the building belonged to the people. But the people didn't necessarily all belong in the White House at the same time. The crush was so great that visitors collided with servants, spilling punch on the carpet; men in work boots stood on expensive, upholstered furniture. A Georgia congressman escaped the throng through a window.

Jackson—already worn down by the day's proceedings and because he had just lost his wife to a heart attack, thought to be brought on by the opposing campaign's mudslinging—wound up pressed against a wall by well-wishers. Worried friends hustled him out of the house. The crowd didn't thin until Jackson's steward ingeniously placed large tubs of whiskey punch outside on the lawn.

At another inauguration 140 years later, it was protesters, not supporters, who worried the president. Richard Nixon's ceremony was met with a three-day counterinauguration, complete with parade, reviewing stand, and ball. Protesters threw sticks, stones, and smoke bombs at the presidential limo, the first time an inaugural parade was interrupted by demonstrators. Four years later, with anti-Vietnam War fervor at fever pitch, somewhere from 25,000 to 100,000 gathered in protest along the route. They were met by troops standing every 10 feet.

  • See a map of the inaugural festivities.
  • Read more about the inaugural events.
  • Read about inaugural balls of the past.
  • Read some tourist tips for Washington, D.C.
  • Take a quiz on inaugural trivia.