Michael Stoll: ‘Andy ain’t a drunkard’ (and other Inauguration Day facts)

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Since today is Inauguration Day, here are a few facts about past inaugurations.

• Despite owning a tremendous amount of land, George Washington did not regularly have a lot of cash at his disposal. As a result, he had to borrow money to travel to his 1789 inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City.

• Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to be inaugurated on March 4, the original date of presidential inaugurations. Adopted on Jan. 23, 1933, shortly before Roosevelt’s first inauguration, the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution changed the inauguration date from March 4 to Jan. 20. Consequently, Roosevelt was also the first president to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Email newsletter signup

• The first Inaugural Ball was held for James Madison’s inauguration in 1809. Tickets cost $4 apiece (The equivalent of about $85 in 2021). His wife, Dolly Madison, was the first First Lady to attend an inauguration.

• After Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1829, a post-inauguration celebration was held at the White House. The drunken party-goers became so unruly that Jackson had to escape through a window. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted, “The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant.” The crowd only dispersed when the bowls of liquor and punch were moved to the front lawn of the White House. In the end, the White House was a wreck and thousands of dollars worth of china was destroyed.

• William Henry Harrison spoke for over two hours during his inauguration in 1841. At almost 8,500 words long, Harrison’s inaugural address was the longest in history. Harrison, however, was not properly dressed for the cold, rainy weather; he contracted a cold that turned into pneumonia and died one month later.

• March 4, 1849, was a Sunday, and because he wanted to “keep holy the Sabbath Day,” Zachary Taylor refused to be inaugurated, even in a private ceremony, until March 5. But the terms for President James Polk and Vice President George Dallas had expired, leaving the country without a president. Historians argue as to whether or not President Pro Tempore of the Senate David Rice Atchison was technically president for the day, though it’s generally accepted that he was not. Atchison himself never claimed the title, telling people he slept through most of the day.

• Franklin Pierce refused to “swear” during his inauguration in 1853, choosing instead to “affirm” that he would faithfully execute the oath of office. He also did not use a Bible because the death of his only child, Benjamin Pierce, two months earlier had him in a crisis of faith.

• Andrew Johnson was suffering from typhoid fever just before his inauguration as vice president in 1865. To help with the pain, he drank whiskey before his swearing-in. Unfortunately, he drank too much and gave what Michigan Sen. Zachariah Chandler called “a drunken foolish speech.” Abraham Lincoln defended Johnson, telling people that they “need not be scared; Andy ain’t a drunkard.”

• The temperature was 16 degrees in Washington, D.C. during Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1873. As a result, all of the food and champagne froze, as did hundreds of caged canaries that were to be released during the ceremony.

• During his inauguration in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt wore one of Abraham Lincoln’s rings. The ring was lent to him by Secretary of State John Hay, who had been Lincoln’s private secretary. Hay was present at Lincoln’s assassination and was given the ring by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

• Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were the only presidents to be sworn into office by a former president. Former President William Howard Taft, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, swore-in Coolidge in 1925 and Hoover in 1929.

• Harry Truman’s 1949 inauguration was the first to be televised.

• John F. Kennedy invited poet Robert Frost to read his poem “The Gift Outright” during his inauguration in 1961. Frost opted to write a new poem, “Dedication,” but when it came time to read it, the bright sun obscured the 87-year-old poet’s vision. Frost quickly recovered and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.

• Judge Sarah Hughes became the first woman to inaugurate a president when she swore-in Lyndon Johnson aboard Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963, just after John Kennedy’s assassination.

• First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson was the first First Lady to be involved in an inauguration, holding the Bible during Lyndon Johnson’s swearing-in ceremony in 1965.

• To prevent pigeons from interfering with his 1973 inaugural parade, Richard Nixon ordered that the trees along the parade route be treated with a chemical designed to make the trees itchy to the birds’ feet, thus preventing them from perching. The pigeons, however, ate the chemical, which proved to be toxic. On inauguration day, the parade route was littered with dead and dying pigeons.

• The Jelly Belly jelly bean company created the blueberry jelly bean for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981. While governor of California, Reagan developed a love for jelly beans, which he ate to help him quit smoking. More than three tons of jelly beans were used in Reagan’s inauguration, with the blueberry flavor being created so there could be red, white and blue jelly beans.

• Ronald Reagan was inaugurated on the warmest and coldest Inauguration Days. It was 55 degrees during his inauguration in 1981 and 7 degrees during his inauguration in 1985.

• Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1997 was the first to be streamed live on the internet.

• Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 was attended by about 1.8 million people, making it the largest event ever held in Washington, D.C. It was also the internet’s most-watched inauguration.

• Donald Trump is not the only president to not attend his successor’s inauguration. John Adams did not attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801; the two were political enemies and the inauguration marked the first time one party was transferring power to another. It is unknown why Adams did not attend, but it is thought that he either did not want to incite violence between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans or because Jefferson never formally invited him. Likewise, John Quincy Adams did not attend Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 as they too were political enemies. Adams did not invite Jackson to the White House, nor did Jackson make any effort to call on Adams. Andrew Johnson did not attend Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration in 1869. Johnson was embarrassed by his impeachment and Grant’s rise in the Republican Party, which led to animosity between the two. Woodrow Wilson met with Warren G. Harding before the 1921 inauguration, but was unable to attend the public ceremony due to poor health.