Witnessing a slice of American history

Published 12:51 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Politics has always fascinated me.

Perhaps in my later years, say around the age of 70 when I plan to retire, I’ll consider running for public office. I figure by then veteran Hertford County Commissioner DuPont Davis will be in retirement, freeing up a seat on that elected board of leadership.

Who knows where that may lead me…perhaps to the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh and then, maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a President Bryant. Maybe that title will one day belong to my great-niece, McKenzie Bryant.

Today, I’ll settle for the next best thing, taking in all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration of our 44th President – Barack Obama. While I’ll be honest and tell you he didn’t receive my vote, he will, as of today, become my President. I, along with all Americans, will be looking to him for leadership in these tough economic times.

What is so intriguing to me is all the tradition that is seeped within a presidential inauguration. It all dates back to April 30, 1789 when George Washington accepted the very first oath of office to lead this great nation.

Did you know that Washington’s inauguration took place in New York City? There was no Washington, DC in 1789. As a matter of fact, the first elected President to take the oath of office in what is now our nation’s capital was Thomas Jefferson, the third President. Ironically, it was Jefferson who helped map out the plans to move the capital to Washington, DC.

The traditions surrounding the inauguration of a President have remained intact over the centuries. There’s a morning worship service, a processional to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, the swearing-in ceremonies – first of the Vice-President, then the President – the traditional inaugural address, the departure of the out-going President followed by a luncheon at Statuary Hall within the Capitol.

Following lunch, the President and Vice-President will make their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House from where they will position themselves to witness the Inaugural Parade. Ulysses Grant began the tradition of reviewing the Inaugural Parade from the White House in 1873.

Did you know the only Inaugural Parade to be canceled came during Ronald Reagan’s second term in office. That 1985 event was scratched due to dangerously low temperatures.

Here are some other interesting tidbits in the history of Presidential Inaugurations:

The seventh President, Andrew Jackson, was forced to flee through a window after a mob of well-wishers stormed the White House, ruining furniture and breaking china in their eagerness to see him.

President Washington’s first Inaugural Address was only heard by members of Congress. Twenty years later, after James Madison’s swearing-in, his speech was published in the newspaper for all to read. James Polk took the oath of office in 1845 while Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph, sat near him on the platform tapping out the news on his miraculous machine.

The first Inauguration ceremony to be photographed came in 1857, the year James Buchanan took office.

In 1925, Americans gathered around their radios to hear Calvin Coolidge take the oath.

In 1949, Harry Truman became the first President to have his swearing-in ceremony televised.

Today, we will be witness to another slice of presidential history when Barack Obama becomes the first man of color to take the oath.

(Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.)