When President-elect Joe Biden arrives at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington to take the presidential oath of office and begin his presidency, he will be following a tradition that might not be as old as you think. That’s because the presidential inauguration — including the oath of office — has not always been held at the Capitol’s West Front.
The first time a presidential inauguration was held there was for Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981, explains the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). Reagan’s second inauguration, on January 21, 1985, ended up being held inside the Capitol Rotunda because the weather was too cold for an outdoor ceremony. However, since then, the inaugurations of George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all been held at the West Front.
Let’s take a look at a few of the places — some quite unusual — where U.S. presidents have taken the oath of office.
1. East Front of the Capitol
The place where the most U.S. presidents took their oath of office is the East Front of the Capitol. Indeed, 35 presidential inaugurations were held at the East Front — beginning with Andrew Jackson, on March 4, 1829. Jackson’s second inauguration — March 4, 1833 — was held in the House Chamber because the weather was bad and Jackson’s health was poor. After that, however, presidents from Martin Van Buren (March 4, 1837) to Theodore Roosevelt (March 4, 1905) were sworn into office on the Capitol’s East Front.
Fun fact: You may wonder why the inaugurations for Jackson, Van Buren, and Roosevelt were all held on March 4 rather than January. That’s because at the time, the U.S. Constitution set March 4 as Presidential Inauguration Day. The 20th Amendment — passed by Congress on March 2, 1932, and ratified January 23 of the following year — established that the terms of both the president and the vice president end at noon on January 20, Constitution Center explains.
2. Hall Of The House Of Representatives
Several presidents have taken their oath of office in previous versions of the Hall of the House of Representatives. James Madison did so in the original hall, known as “the Oven,” on March 4, 1809; that hall was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. The day after President Zachary Taylor died in office, Millard Fillmore took the oath of office in the rebuilt hall (now the Old Hall of the House) on July 10, 1850, the Library of Congress explains.
Interestingly, on March 4, 1797, John Adams was inaugurated in the House of Representatives Chamber — but not in Washington. Instead, his inauguration took place in the Hall of the House of Representatives in Philadelphia’s Federal Hall.
Why Philadelphia? It was an early capital of the U.S. after the Constitution was ratified. The capital didn’t move to Washington, DC, until May 14, 1800.
3. The White House
As you might expect, numerous presidents have taken the oath of office in the White House itself. The first was Rutherford B. Hayes, on March 3, 1877, in the White House Red Room. Since Inauguration Day fell on Sunday, Hayes privately took the oath of office on Saturday at the White House to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, according to JCCIC. He then retook the oath publicly on Monday, March 5.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was also sworn into office at the White House to begin his fourth term on January 20, 1945. After years of World War II, and with the country still at war, Roosevelt thought a simple ceremony would be best, according to JCCIC.
Given the urgency of the matter, it’s easy to understand why Harry S. Truman was sworn into office at the White House. On April 12, 1945, at 7 p.m., Truman took the presidential oath in the Cabinet Room at the White House, shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in office, according to the Library of Congress.
Another quiet ceremony that was considered best for the country’s interest took place when Gerald Ford was sworn into office in the White House’s East Room on August 9, 1974, after Richard Nixon resigned, Architect of the Capitol explains.
4. New York City
George Washington’s first inauguration — April 30, 1789 — was held in New York City on Federal Hall’s balcony, which overlooks Wall Street, the New York Times reports. At that time, New York City was the nation’s capital.
While a permanent capital was being built along the Potomac River, the nation’s capital was moved from New York City to Philadelphia. The inauguration for Washington’s second term, therefore, was held in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia, according to JCCIC. John Adams, as mentioned before, also took his oath of office in Philadelphia.
Fun Fact: George Washington is the only president to have been inaugurated in two different cities — and neither one was Washington, DC.
6. Private Homes
Several presidents died while in office, and four were assassinated, which forced numerous vice presidents to take the presidential oath of office quickly — regardless of where they were — to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
For example, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson took the presidential oath of office on April 15, 1865. The oath was administered in Kirkwood House, where he lived, in Washington, DC, the New York Times reported.
When President William McKinley died of wounds he suffered after being shot, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president on September 14, 1901. That ceremony took place at the home of Roosevelt’s friend he was visiting while on vacation, according to JCCIC.
7. Air Force One
Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on November 22, 1963. Held aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, the ceremony ensured the transfer of power.
Cities mentioned in this article: