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Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller administering the oath of office to Benjamin Harrison on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1889

[Detail] Administering the oath of office to Benjamin Harrison, 1889.

"I Do Solemnly Swear . . .": Presidential Inaugurations, reflects United States history in the first official actions of each president, and is an excellent resource for making chronological comparisons. The war of 1812 and the effect of the media on inaugurations can be studied through analysis of letters, speeches, illustrations, photographs, and other historical documents. Such primary sources also provide the opportunity to analyze the artistry and impact of Lincoln's speeches and to explore how presidents have dealt with controversy in their elections.

Chronological Thinking

Each inaugural ceremony serves as a reflection of the era in which it was held. Franklin D. Roosevelt described the inauguration as a renewal of dedication to an ever-changing America in his 1941 inaugural address:

In Washington's day the task of the people was to create and weld together a nation.

In Lincoln's day the task of the people was to preserve that Nation from disruption from within.

In this day the task of the people is to save that Nation and its institutions from disruption from without.

The collection presents inaugural addresses and images in chronological order in the collection's Inauguration Index , providing a starting point for understanding the historical context of an inauguration. What was “the task of the people” when the following presidents were first inaugurated?

Federal Hall, 1790

Front of Federal Hall, New York City, 1790.

In addition, the images in this collection reflect the changes in the location of inaugurations. A search on capitol provides illustrations and photographs of the different buildings that housed Congress over the years, including New York City's Federal Hall, the Capitol before it was burned by the British as shown in an 1814 illustration, and the new Capitol building at different stages of construction (for example, during James Buchanan's 1857 inauguration).

The search also retrieves evidence of the moving of the ceremony to the West Portico for Ronald Reagan's first inauguration. The Special Presentation, "Presidential Oaths of Office," also lists other locations where presidents have taken the inaugural oath.

  • Why does the inaugural ceremony typically occur at the Capitol building?
  • What does this location imply about the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government?
  • What changes in the nation do the changes in the location of inaugurations reflect?
  • Why has the event moved within and around the Capitol itself?