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 fours 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
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 Address External, Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 20, 1937. The American Presidency Project.
The Constitution of the United States had established March 4 as Inauguration Day in order to allow enough time after Election Day for officials to gather election returns and for newly-elected candidates to travel to the capital. With modern advances in communication and transportation, the lengthy transition period proved unnecessary and legislators pressed for change. 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.
- The Library’s U.S. Presidential Inaugurations: “I Do Solemnly Swear…”: A Resource Guide provides a good starting point for research on presidential inaugurations. The Library’s Manuscript Division holds 23 collections of presidential papers and a wide variety of other items related to presidential inaugurations can be found throughout the Library’s collections, including film footage of Theodore Roosevelt and McKinley, photographs of Abraham Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, and the manuscript of the very first inaugural address given by George Washington on April 30, 1789.
- Search on inauguration or president in Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885 to see the “Inauguration Grand March” dedicated to President Rutherford B. Hayes and Vice President William Wheeler, as well as songs dedicated to other presidents. Also, don’t miss the collection’s special presentation Music Published in America, 1870-1885, featuring campaign songs and other music for public occasions.
- For additional tips on finding presidential materials available throughout the Library’s Web site, see Presidents of the United States: Resource Guides.