You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Stories From Inauguration History

From the awkward to the fatal to the drunk, here are some choice moments from inauguration history:

  • John Adams snubbed successor Thomas Jefferson by making a point of not attending Jefferson's 1801 inauguration. Adams' son, John Quincy, did the same to Andrew Jackson in 1829.
  • The White House celebration following Andrew Jackson's 1829 swearing-in devolved into a near-riot as hordes of well-wishers trashed the Executive Mansion, forcing the president to flee.
  • Famously, after delivering his two-hour inaugural address in the rain and cold, improperly dressed William Henry Harrison came down with pneumonia and died on April 4, 1841, exactly one month into his presidency.
  • Lincoln's second vice president, Andrew Johnson, was so drunk on whiskey during the 1865 inauguration that he was unable to swear in the new Senators, as was part of the ceremony then, and had to ask the Senate clerk to do it for him.
  • The blinding sunlight prevented 86 year-old Robert Frost from reading the poem he wrote specifically for Kennedy's 1961 inauguration; Frost simply recited another poem from memory, but in the confusion introduced Kennedy as "Mr. John Finley."
  • Anti-war activists led counter-inaugurations protesting both of Richard Nixon's terms in office. The 1969 protest, which lasted three days, managed to halt the inaugural parade for the first time in history. The presidential limo was pelted with rocks, bottles, and smoke bombs.
  • Perhaps unhappy with the somber mood of most inaugurations, Nixon tried for something more upbeat by selling seats to an "All-American Gala" produced by Ed McMahon (!) and featuring such stately figures as Johnny Carson, James Brown, and Tony Bennett.
  • Ronald Reagan planned to include in his 1981 speech a quote from the diary of Martin Treptow, a pilot killed in World War One. Reagan wanted to gesture towards nearby Arlington cemetery as he explained Treptow was one of many American heroes buried just across the Potomac River. When suspicious aides discovered Treptow was in fact buried in Wisconsin, they begged Reagan to omit the story, but Reagan, ever the dramatist, couldn't resist. Reporters discovered the ruse within hours of the inauguration.

--Daniel Belkin and Max Fisher