Top of page

Presentation Inaugurations: Stepping into History

The Inaugural Site

Although the Constitution includes the inaugural oath, it does not dictate where that oath should take place.

The inaugural oath has been taken in many different places over the years, and on different dates.

Where Does the Inauguration Take Place?

In the early 21st century, inaugurations usually take place on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. However, there have been many other inauguration sites in the nation's history.

Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration in 1861 in front of the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol
  • George Washington took the first oath of office on April 27, 1789, on a balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, which was then the temporary capital of the U.S.
  • In 1801, the ceremony moved to Washington, D.C., the nation's permanent capital. Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office in the U.S. Capitol, in what was then the Senate Chamber.
  • From Andrew Jackson's inauguration in 1829 to Jimmy Carter's in 1977, the ceremony usually took place outdoors in front of the East Portico of the Capitol.
  • Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 was the first to take place on the west front of the Capitol, which has been the customary site ever since.
  • Several times, the ceremony took place indoors at the Capitol or at the White House, sometimes because of bad weather, or because the inaugural date fell on a Sunday. Also, on a few occasions, after the death or resignation of a president, the new president has taken the oath in a small ceremony at another location.

When Does the Inauguration Take Place?

Inaugurations customarily take place on January 20th. This has not always been the case, though, and there have often been changes and delays in the inaugural date.

  • From 1789 to 1937, inaugurations customarily took place on March 4.
  • The first inauguration was postponed from March 4 to April 30, 1789. Congressional members were delayed in arriving in New York City and, despite a unanimous victory for George Washington, electoral ballots weren't counted on time.
  • In 1933, the twentieth amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, and required that a president's term begin at noon on January 20. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on January 20.
  • On a number of occasions, when the official inauguration day fell on a Sunday, the public ceremony was delayed until the following day. In most of these cases, a small, private swearing-in ceremony took place on the customary day.
  • A few inaugurations took place on other dates because of the death or resignation of a president.

How Does the President-Elect Travel to the Capitol?

Taft & Roosevelt driving to Capitol, Mar. 4, 1909

Today, the president-elect usually travels to the Capitol by car, although many walk part of the way. There have often been parades on the day of the inauguration.

  • In 1801, Thomas Jefferson walked the entire way to and from the Capitol.
  • Martin Van Buren's inauguration in 1837 was the first to have parade floats.
  • In 1921, Warren Harding became the first president-elect to travel to his inauguration in a car.

How Is the Inauguration Celebrated?

President's Levee, or all Creation going to the White House

Inaugurations are often celebrated with parties, receptions, concerts, and dances or balls.

The celebrations that followed Andrew Jackson's first inauguration in 1829 became legendary for the unruly crowds that swarmed the White House. One observer wrote that "The Mob broke in, in one uninterrupted stream of mud & filth."

How Is the Inauguration Shared with the World?

Today, people from around the world can watch a new president take the oath of office. New communication technologies have long been used to share this public event with as many people as possible.

Inauguration of James Buchanan, 1857
  • James Buchanan's inauguration in 1857 was the first known to be photographed.
  • In 1897, William McKinley's inauguration was the first to be filmed. McKinley's 1901 inauguration was also filmed.
  • Calvin Coolidge's inauguration in 1925, was the first to be broadcast via radio.
  • In 1949, Harry Truman's inauguration was the first to be televised.
  • Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1997 was the first to be broadcast live on the Internet.

Reflection questions:

  • Why do you think the 20th amendment moved the inauguration from March 4 to January 20?
  • Why do you think it is important to hold the inauguration as a public ceremony?