Contacts: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940, Jill Brett (202) 707-2905
January 5, 1993
Library of Congress's Inaguration Exhibition Currently on View
"I do solemnly swear...: Presidential Inaugurations, 1789-1993," an exhibition of items related to selected inaugurations, from George Washington's first to the present, is now on display. The exhibition of 65 prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, and other rare documents will be on view in the Madison Foyer, first floor, Madison Building, through February 21.
Says exhibition curator Andrew Cosentino: "This captivating display of articles, all drawn from the Library's collections, points to a special fascination the American people have with Inauguration Day. Every fourth year Americans observe one of their most profound and sacred rituals. It is a very special day."
The exhibition emphasizes the uniqueness of American inaugurations in world history and their extraordinary continuity over 200 years. Additional points of interest are also included, such as the simplicity of the constitutional prescription for the inauguration; the changes in the date (from March 4 to January 20 for FDR's second inaugural in 1937); places (Thomas Jefferson being the first president sworn in in Washington); circumstances of the inauguration; weather conditions; and various "firsts."
As mentioned, "firsts" include James Buchanan as the first bachelor president; Ronald Reagan was the first to be inaugurated on the West Front of the Capitol (1985); James Monroe began the tradition of using the East Portico of the Capitol for the ceremony; William Howard Taft's wife was the first to ride in a car with the president (the seating being exceedingly expansive); the first official inaugural ball was when James Madison became president; the first photographed inauguration was Buchanan's; and the first covered by television was Harry S. Truman's.
An eyewitness to several inaugurations was one of the leading lights of Washington, Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of the editor of the "Washington Intelligencer" newspaper and observer of inaugurations from 1800 to 1840. As she watched the ceremony for Andrew Jackson, after he kissed the Bible and bowed toward the people looking on, she said, "Yes, to the people in all their majesty ... a free people, collective in their might, silent and tranquil, restrained solely by a moral power, without a shadow around of military force, was majesty, rising to sublimity, all far surpassing the majesty of kings and princes, surrounded with armies and glittering gold."
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