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Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller administering the oath of office to Benjamin Harrison on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1889

[Detail] Administering the oath of office to Benjamin Harrison, 1889.

Historical Research Capability

Andrew Jackson Taking the Oath of Office, 1829

Chief Justice John Marshall Administering the Oath of Office to Andrew Jackson, the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1829.

The Special Presentation, “Precedents and Notable Events” provides details about each inauguration and offers a starting point for investigating how changes in the media affected inaugurations. A search on newspaper provides a number of nineteenth-century accounts of different inaugurals starting with the 1845 Illustrated London News article, “Inauguration of the American President”, describing James Polk's inauguration and including the account of how “Professor Morse brought out the Magnetic Telegraph to the platform . . . communicating results to Baltimore as fast as they transpired.”

A review of the collection's Subject Index provides an opportunity to observe the transition from paintings and illustrations to photographic prints when documenting these events. Early films of President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt taking the oath of office are also available, as well as a number of images of the 1949 inaugural stand of Harry Truman (the first inauguration to be televised).

Images such as the 1881 illustration, The Death of President Garfield, the painting, Calvin Coolidge Taking the Oath of Office, and the 1963 photograph Johnson Taking Oath in Air Force One provide an opportunity to compare the use of three different media in depictions related to the death of a president and the swearing in of a successor.

  • How did technological advances change the way that inaugurations were depicted?
  • Did this change the way presidents are perceived by the American public?
  • Did it change the public's attitude toward inaugurations?
  • Did it change the meaning of the inauguration, itself? If so, how?
  • Another way to investigate the role of the media is to review images of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four inaugurations in the Menu of Presidents. How is Roosevelt positioned in the photographs? Is it apparent that he had polio?
  • Why would the media have refrained from showing Roosevelt's use of a wheelchair? Would you expect the media to show such restraint today?

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