Until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, March 4 was the official day for presidential inaugurations. When the fourth fell on a Sunday, as it did in 1821, 1849, 1877, and 1917, the ceremonies were held on March 5. Yet the first president, George Washington, was not inaugurated until April 30. Although Congress scheduled the first inauguration for March 4, 1789, they were unable to count the electoral ballots as early as anticipated. Consequently, the first inauguration was postponed to allow the president-elect time to make the long trip from his home in Virginia to the nation’s capital in New York City. In celebration of his inauguration on March 4, 1829, President Andrew Jackson invited the American public to the White House. Overwhelming crowds ruined many White House furnishings and forced the new president to make a getaway through a window. Undeterred by the raucous reception, Jackson continued to host public parties at the residence. In 1921, President-elect Warren G. Harding set another inaugural first by traveling to the Capitol for his inauguration in an automobile. It was just one sign of the changing times. With modern advances in communication and transportation, election officials and newly-elected candidates no longer needed four months to gather election returns and travel to Washington. To minimize the transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and curtail “Lame Duck” Congresses in which members defeated in November served until March, legislators introduced the Twentieth Amendment. It was ratified in 1933, and on January 20, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first U.S. president sworn into office in January.
- Visit the Inaugurations feature presentation on the Teachers Page. This feature is designed for teachers and students.
- The online exhibition “I Do Solemnly Swear…” Inaugural Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress contains more than forty items, including photographs, manuscripts, campaign posters, letters, broadsides, and inaugural speeches.
- Read the inaugural address President Washington delivered in New York’s Federal Hall.
- Search Today in History for the name of your favorite chief executive.
- Be sure to see the online exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress. This collection includes Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address and a banner from Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign.