January 13, 2005 The History of Presidential Inaugurations Is Celebrated with Exhibition at Library of Congress

Contact: View the exhibition online. | View an American Memory collection on inaugurations. | NOTE: ABC-TV's "GNOTE: ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" will broadcast live | in HDTV from the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress on | Inauguration Day, Thursday, January 20, from 7-10 am EST.
Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest presidential library and has in its custody the papers of 23 presidents, including those men who founded the nation and led it through some of its greatest crises. Among these papers are key documents relating to the early presidential inaugurations.

"'I Do Solemnly Swear...': Inaugural Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress" offers a selection of these items -- photographs, manuscripts, campaign posters, letters, broadsides and inaugural speeches -- that provide a glimpse into the history of American presidential inaugurations.

The display is installed in the "American Treasures" exhibition, located in the Southwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E., Washington, D.C., and is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday, through May 7.

The 2005 inauguration of the president is the latest manifestation of a profound American political ritual, one witnessed by the American people every four years since 1789. As prescribed by the Constitution, the only requirement for taking office is for the president-elect to utter "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Beyond the oath and the date of inauguration, nothing else about the event is mandated law. The place and manner in which the oath is taken, the use of a Bible, the inaugural speech, parades, balls and other festivities are all rooted in traditions -- many of which were established by George Washington at his first inauguration in 1789. Although each president- elect defines the celebration, inaugural speeches have been the cornerstone of the ritual for more than 200 years.

Featured in this special installation within the "American Treasures" exhibition are some 50 items from the Library's collections that touch on the inaugurations of 18 presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, William Harrison, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Among the materials on display are a letter from George Washington describing the cloth and buttons for the suit he was to wear at his first inaugural; Thomas Jefferson's draft of his first inaugural address, in which he tried to mend the bitter rift between Federalists and Republicans with the phrase "...every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle"; an 1841 printed invitation to the Tippecanoe Inauguration Ball of William Henry Harrison (who died one month after he was inaugurated as the result of a cold he caught on the chilly, wet day he took the oath of office); the first known photograph of an inauguration, James Buchanan's, at the East Front of the Capitol; a broadside from Abraham Lincoln's 1860 campaign for president and the Bible used by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to administer the oath of office to Lincoln on March 4, 1861; and a campaign banners for Rutherford B. Hayes (1876).

Twentieth-century presidents are represented by an invitation to Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration; Woodrow Wilson's draft of his 1913 inaugural address in shorthand script; Calvin Coolidge's terse note saying "I do not choose to run for President in nineteen twenty eight"; a photograph of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt on the way to Roosevelt's first inauguration on March 4, 1933; and a copy of the poem titled "Dedication" that Robert Frost wrote for and intended to deliver at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy but was unable to read because of the blinding reflection of the sun off the snow that day.


PR 05-003
ISSN 0731-3527