Presidential inaugurations, the second time around


FILE – This Jan. 20, 2009 file photo shows the crowd on the National Mall looking from the Capitol toward the Washington …

Mass-media firsts, Marine bands, frozen canaries, poisoned pigeons. Now that’s a party?

The presidential inauguration is a chance for the nation to celebrate a milestone—its continued peaceful transition of power. The Fourth of July might bring communities together in street parades and backyard barbecues, but the inauguration is a time when all eyes focus on the nation’s capital for fine speeches, political reflection, and high-powered inaugural balls.

Understandably, second inaugurals tend to be smaller affairs since, among other things, the bloom’s off the rose, so to speak: Gallup Inc. notes that among post-war presidents, only Richard Nixon had higher approval ratings at his second inauguration than at his first (and that didn’t last). The presidents themselves have become careworn with the realities of the office—they’d probably benefit more from a spa retreat than a Washington, D.C., gala event.

While first inaugurations get more of the pomp, the second ones are more rare. The United States has had 44 leaders, but fewer than half have had the opportunity to serve two terms. (Franklin D. Roosevelt probably hogged a spot with his four-term tenure.)

Rhetoric junkies can scroll through the Library of Congress, Senate website, or Hulu for inaugural addresses. For historic firsts and small grievances, check out how presidential pomp looked, the second time around.

Presidents who had a second term

George Washington (1793) “I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America…” and about 76 more words.
Thomas Jefferson (1805) The nation’s third president had his first inauguration in the new capital, Washington. His second inauguration had some new musical accompaniment: The U.S. Marine Band has performed at every inauguration since 1805.
James Madison (1813) Tradition has it that the chief justice administers the swearing-in. John Roberts fumbled the oath at Obama’s first inauguration, but that was better than John Marshall, who, at Madison’s second inauguration, “reportedly smirked throughout the ceremony.”
James Monroe (1821) The ceremony was supposed to take place indoors, but bickering between the Senate and the House over “what chairs would be used” sent the whole affair outdoors.
Andrew Jackson (1833) He took the oath—the ninth and last administered by John Marshall—but the hero of the Battle of New Orleans was too sick to attend the parties.
Abraham Lincoln (1865) African-Americans marched in the inaugural parade for the first time. A rare photograph of Lincoln giving a speech comes from this occasion. Look closely: Some claim that John Wilkes Booth can be spied in the crowd.
Ulysses S. Grant (1873) Some historians dub his second inaugural address as “petulant” and full of self-pity, given that it followed a term beset by scandals. The day was so cold (16 degrees F), that the 100 canaries meant to chirp cheerily actually froze to death.
Grover Cleveland (1893) Also known as Big Steve and Uncle Jumbo, Cleveland is still the only president to serve non-consecutive terms. Benjamin Harrison, grandson of President William Harrison, beat him and lost to him.
William McKinley (1901) His second inauguration was the first to be in a motion picture. Six months later, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president, who died 8 days later of gangrene from the bullet.
Theodore Roosevelt (1905) The most inclusive celebration to date, attendees included “cowboys, Indians (including the Apache Chief Geronimo), coal miners, soldiers, and students…
Woodrow Wilson (1917) No party hound, he. Wilson canceled the ball—the first time since 1853, because he didn’t think such an occasion warranted such frivolity. But the inaugural parade went on, and women participated for the first time.
Calvin Coolidge (1925) Radio had become the new mass medium, and his voice was the first to be broadcast for such an event.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1937, 1941, 1945) Barring George Washington’s, previous inaugurations had been held in March to avoid winter weather. The 20th Amendment, however, changed the date to January 20, and FDR’s second term honored that date.
Harry S. Truman (1949) Now television was the new medium, and his parade was the first to be broadcast on this newfangled machine.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1957) The Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies Act had passed in 1956, setting the standard for all future shindigs. Presidents traditionally kissed the Bible after oath. Eisenhower bypassed the buss and instead said a prayer.
Richard Nixon (1973) An open-top limo can be an invitation to pigeon poop, but Nixon nixed the possibility when a chemical bird repellent called “Roost No Moore” was applied to trees along the route—at the cost of $13,000. The birds ate the repellent and their corpses littered Pennsylvania Avenue.
Ronald Reagan (1985) Ronald Reagan, whose best roles may have been astride a horse, wanted horses in the parade, and a city crew was assigned to follow the 730 equine participants to clean up their droppings. But, subzero temperatures forced the cancellation of the event, and left 12,000 marchers with nowhere to go—except somewhere warm indoors.
William J. Clinton (1997) Clinton’s second inauguration, the last inauguration of the 20th century, was themed “An American Journey: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.” The London Independent reported that inauguration souvenirs included 2-foot statuettes of Clinton holding a saxophone—a steal at $75.
George W. Bush (2005) In a post 9/11 landscape, sharpshooters, bomb-sniffing dogs, and about 13,000 troops were deployed for President Bush’s inauguration, which contributed to the $157 million price tag, attended by 400,000 spectators.
Barack Obama (2013) The president’s second inauguration likely will not repeat his first inauguration’s record-attendance numbers of 1.8 million. (The previous record had been held by Lyndon Johnson in 1965.) But he may still draw from 600,000 to 800,000 people—nearly double that of George W. Bush or Clinton.