Former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton will join President elect Joe Biden on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to endorse his inaugural theme “America United.” Biden’s inaugural committee explains, “At a time of unprecedented crisis and deep divisions, “America United reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future.”
The inauguration of the 46th President of the United States will look and feel remarkably different from those of the past. First, Biden is scheduled to arrive at the nation's capital the same way he did for decades as a senator— the Amtrak train. Tickets to the swearing-in ceremony will be scarce; parade viewing stands have been dismantled; inaugural balls have been canceled; and public health officials have urged people not to attend or travel. “The footprint of the inauguration will be extremely limited due to social-distancing protocols,” the inaugural committee explains, and all permits for public gatherings have been denied in the wake of the 2021 Siege on the U.S. Capitol.
While reciting the presidential oath of office is mandated by the United States Constitution, the pomp and ceremony that follows is American tradition. There will be a socially distanced Pass in Review — a military ceremony where the newly sworn-in president reviews military readiness— after which the newly sworn in Commander-in-Chief will join former U.S. Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
Replacing crowds on the National Mall, and along Pennsylvania Avenue, this year’s inauguration parade will be virtual. Fewer people will attend the 58th inauguration ceremony than any other in American history.
American Firsts & Faux Pas
While President Trump announced he won’t attend Biden's inauguration, he isn’t the first president to skip the inauguration of a successor. John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, was already halfway home to Boston when his successor Thomas Jefferson was taking the oath of office. It was followed up 28 years later when his son John Quincy Adams boycotted Andrew Jackson’s inauguration, and by Donald J. Trump who is the third and last US president to willfully skip his successor’s inauguration.
Warren G. Harding was the first to arrive by automobile, and Calvin Coolidge’s speech was the first to be heard over the wires. Harry Truman was the first on television, and Lyndon B. Johnson actually took the oath of office on Air Force One, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. James Madison, the 4th occupant of the White House, was the first to hold an Inaugural Ball in 1809, and he and his superstar wife Dolley Madison invited 4000 guests at $4.00 a pop. But it was Barack Obama that drew the most spectacular crowds. In fact, an estimated 1.8 million attended the 56th Inauguration of the President of the United States in 2009 — making it the single largest event ever to take place in Washington D.C.
George Washington gave the shortest speech in inaugural history (135 words) and William Henry Harrison the longest (8445). Though he spent a robust 2 hours delivering his speech, he died just one month later making his presidency the shortest in history. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the longest serving president in US history, serving four consecutive terms, and Donald Trump is the only president in United States history to be impeached twice.