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Presidential Inaugurations: Swearing in a New Leader

This tradition has led to a series of historical controversies.

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Inauguration Day is the time set to swear in and welcome the new president and vice president of the United States. Although the presidential election takes place in November, there needs to be some time before the elected leader can take control. This in-between session is known as the Lame Duck period, where the outgoing commander in chief has the opportunity to pass bills and offer pardons while the new president puts together his cabinet and administration.

The U.S. is one of the only nations that takes so long after an election to swear in the next in line. Most inaugurate the new leader within a couple of weeks, and Great Britain does so on the following day. However, in America, it can take more than 11 weeks to finish the process.

Historically Speaking

January 20 wasn’t always Inauguration Day. The first inauguration was set for March 4, 1789, by the Congress of the Confederation “for commencing proceedings” of a new government. However, the first president of the United States, George Washington, couldn’t make it to the ceremony in time, and it was in fact eight weeks delayed by a bad winter.

Historically, a four-month lapse between the presidential exchange was necessary because it took quite a bit of time to pack up a house and move to Washington D.C. This was before automobiles and planes, so traveling by horse and wagons took much longer. In the meantime, the current president had little power and this gap in time without the elected commander has caused problems in the past. For example, during the 1860 election, outgoing President James Buchanan didn’t pay heed to the nation’s civil unrest and incoming President Abraham Lincoln was forced to sit idly aside while seven states left the Union in what was called the long “Secession Winter.”

On January 23, 1933, the 20th Amendment was ratified, moving the Inauguration Day to January 20. However, it didn’t take effect until October of that year and once again caused problems for incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had to wait to implement his plans during the height of the Great Depression.

Into the Present

The 2021 Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is fraught with all manners of uncertainty and confusion. After the Capitol Building protest earlier this month, authorities are concerned about more demonstrations that could turn violent. Washington, D.C. has been shut down to prevent people from attending the momentous event, choosing safety and precaution instead.

This day represents a peaceful and smooth transition of power from one leader to the next. The new president will take his oath of office, usually administrated by the chief justice. After a celebration and speeches, the president and his family officially move into the White House.

Traditionally, the former president attends the celebration to help welcome the new leader to his role. This year, however, President Donald Trump will not be attending. This is not as unusual as it may seem. Throughout America’s history, there have been outgoing presidents who have chosen not to attend their successor’s inaugurations. The first two to do so were presidents John Adams in 1801 and his son John Quincy Adams in 1829.

This year will be much different without the former president there to support the new one and the city on lockdown out of fear of riots and protests.

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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