Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration

On January 20, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first U.S. president sworn into office in January. It was his second of four inaugurations; the first had been held four years earlier on March 4, 1933. Roosevelt’s first inauguration had been shadowed by the onset of the Great Depression—within a week of taking office, the new president had declared a federal bank holiday.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Executive Oath of Office, The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. America’s Founding Documents. U. S. National Archives and Records Administration

Inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca 1933-1945. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Roosevelt’s second inaugural address was optimistic about the gains that had been made during his first administration, while acknowledging that much more was needed. In his speech he shared his vision of the nation’s potential and challenged Americans to continue in a united effort to address poverty.

Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley? I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources…I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown…But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens…who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life…The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little…

Inaugural AddressExternal, Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 20, 1937. The American Presidency Project.

Congress had originally established March 4 as Inauguration Day. The date was moved to January 20 with the passage of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933.

Inaugural celebrations have run the gamut from Andrew Jackson’s raucous White House reception in 1829, to FDR’s somber wartime affair in 1945, but a basic pattern of activities has been established over the years. Around noon, the president is sworn in at the Capitol by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. After taking the brief, 35-word oath of office, the new chief executive delivers an inaugural address, followed by a parade through the city, and an evening of gala festivities.

TR’s Inaugural Ceremony, 1905. United States: 1905. Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

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Kennedy’s Inauguration

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy distinguished his inaugural ceremony with a poetry reading by fellow New Englander Robert Frost. Blinded by the sun’s glare on the snow-covered Capitol grounds, Frost found himself unable to read the poem he had prepared. Instead, he recited The Gift Outright from memory, his words moving many. Dedication, the poem Frost intended to read at the Kennedy inauguration, is included in the digital collections from the Library’s Manuscript Division. The Gift Outright can be found in the Imagination section of the Library’s American Treasures exhibition.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

The Gift Outright.” Robert Frost.

Dedication.” Robert Frost’s presidential inaugural poem, January 20, 1961. Stewart L. Udall Collection. Manuscript Division
The Gift Outright.” Poem recited by Robert Frost at the January 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Imagination Gallery B. American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
Robert Frost [left] and Carl Sandburg in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion, Washington, DC, May 2, 1960. Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Inaugural AddressExternal, John F. Kennedy, Friday, January 20, 1961. The American Presidency Project

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