History of Inauguration Day


I do solemnly swear 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, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8


George Washington was inaugurated with a speech of 1,419 words on the balcony of the Federal Hall in New York City and uttered “so help me God” having placed his hand on the Bible hastily and randomly opened to Genesis 49:14, and then kissed the Bible upon which he took his oath. His inauguration for his second term was only 135 words.

In 1861, thirty thousand people listened to Abraham Lincoln‘s inaugural speech of 3,628 words, which was then sent to newspapers over the telegraph. The last words of his speech were received two hours after the new President began the speech.


President George W. Bush‘s most recent inauguration of 2005 saw the first Live Web Cam of inaugural construction.


Historically, Inauguration Day was originally held on the 4th of March to allow for the weeks of vote counting from all over the land, and to allow for the time for the new President-elect to travel to the capital.


However, since 1937, with the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution and the second inauguration of Franklin D Roosevelt, January 20th has officially set as Inauguration Day, to accelerate the change of administration.

It used to be that the Presidential Inauguration was handled by the major news networks with live TV, then subsequently the newspapers and magazines would publish the story.


But not this time

When Barack Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible and takes office as the 44th President of the United States of America the event will be covered simultaneously by networks, live Internet streaming video, as well as coverage via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, blogs, and Hulu.

People will experience it on televisions, laptops, iPhones, BlackBerries, Treos and other cell phones. If it is true that the act of observing changes the observed then this portends a different kind of “change”, as this event will be observed by a variety of different lenses, media, and portals. In a new way, observers will be participants. Social networking was a tool and theme of the candidate’s campaign, it will be seen what the Obama Administration does to use transparent media that “is about all of us” going forward.

Dwight D Eisenhower‘s first inauguration in 1953 has been the longest ever, so far. It included 73 bands, 59 floats, and horses and elephants and lasted four-and-a-half hours. While there are no elephants this time, the overlap of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the proximity of the weekend makes the celebration for this inauguration particularly long.

Information Explosion

But length is not as significant as depth. It will not be just the number of people who are physically present at the Inauguration, many times the 30K at Lincoln’s swearing-in. Consider the amount of information that will be generated, distributed, replicated, commented upon, redistributed, and repurposed — much of it in real-time for those “virtually” attending. From high-resolution video to low-bandwidth text messages, from long webcasts to short SMS messages, the cables and airwaves will be lit up. As the first “wired” — or is it wireless — President Barack Obama gives his inauguration speech, American’s heads will be in the Internet cloud. Speaking of clouds, here is a “tag cloud” of Obama’s most frequently used words in previous speeches.


UPDATE: For the details on how the information played out, see my article, “Obama Inauguration: Info Extravaganza.”


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


  1. […] my article on the History of Inauguration Day, I said that: …the event will be covered simultaneously by networks, live Internet streaming […]

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