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Historically Speaking

Courtney Powell, Staff Writer

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In February of 1789 George Washington was selected to become first U.S. president. In March, after the U.S. constitution went into effect, Washington was notified and the first presidential inauguration took place on April 30, 1789. The day began with the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bells. Around noon, Washington made his way to Federal Hall for the swearing-in ceremony. The oath was read by Robert Livingston and as Washington put his right hand on the Bible he recited these words “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. So, help me God.”

Many traditions continue today, including the swearing-in and a speech written for the occasion. The first Inaugural Parade, as well as the Inaugural Open House, both of which are still continued today were a part of Thomas Jefferson’s second Inauguration. President Grover Cleveland began the tradition of a review of troops from a flag-draped stand outside the White House , which is still a part of the Inaugural Parade.

Presidents have celebrated in a variety of ways since Washington danced in the minuet in 1789. James Madison and his wife, Dolley, were guests of honor at the first ever Inaugural Ball, which was held in Long’s Hotel in Washington, D.C. Martin Van Buren held two balls, and William Henry Harrison held three to meet the demands for tickets. Later, inaugurations featured specially built pavilions, balls held at several sites, and inauguration parties. These traditions reflect both the President they honor, and the desire to include many Americans who want to take part in celebrating the transfer of presidential power.

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