The Inaugural Ceremony

Inaugurations are organized by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

All presidents must be sworn in, which involves taking the oath of the office. The oath is listed in Article II of the U.S. Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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."

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court administers the oath of office.

Presidential inaugurals used to be held on March 4 but, beginning in 1937 with the 20th Amendment, were changed to January 20 (at noon) in order to limit the length of time between the election and inauguration.

The inauguration is held at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Beginning with the inauguration of Martin Van Buren in 1837, the ceremony was held at the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol, but was changed to its present location for the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981 in order to accommodate larger audiences.

Not all presidents have used the East Portico or West Front of the Capitol. For instance, a few presidents were sworn in from the House chambers in the Capitol Building. Because the capital city was not yet built, George Washington was sworn in on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City in 1789, then in the Senate chambers of Congress Hall in Philadelphia for his second inaugural in 1793.

The inauguration also includes an address by the new president, a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, and the playing of "Hail, Columbia" (or "Hail to the Chief") by a military band, who also welcomes the new president with four "ruffles and flourishes" (drums and bugles).

Did you know?

George Washington postponed the very first inaugural in 1789 until April 30 because Congress was delayed by weather and the lack of a reliable system for communicating. His wife did not arrive until after the inauguration.

The shortest inaugural address was 135 words by George Washington in 1793.

The longest inaugural address was by William Henry Harrison at nearly 8,500 words in 1841. Because Harrison, at the time the oldest president, was trying to prove that he was not too old to be president, he declined to wear his hat, gloves, or scarf despite the bitter cold weather. After a roughly two hour-long ceremony, Harrison caught cold and died one month later.

Scholars consider John Kennedy's 1961 address and both of Abraham Lincoln's (1861 and 1865) addresses to be the best inaugural addresses in history.

Some presidents, such as John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A. Arthur, gave no inaugural addresses because they assumed office after the death of their predecessors.

Because of the Second World War, poor weather, and his own declining health, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his fourth inaugural address in 1944 from the White House.

Franklin Pierce in 1853 chose to use the word "affirm" rather than "swear" while repeating the oath of the office. Pierce also delivered his inaugural address without notes.

Thomas Jefferson walked to and from his inaugural, the only president ever to do so. Jimmy Carter walked all the way from the Capitol back to the White House in 1977. Because of security, presidents today cannot walk the entire distance of the parade. However, they stop the presidential motorcade to get out and walk a symbolic distance of the parade.

Ronald Reagan is the only president not to walk in the inaugural parade. In 1985, the weather was too cold to do so.

Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, was the first president to invite blacks to participate in the inauguration. Woodrow Wilson, in 1917, was the first to invite women to participate.