Insights for Expats: The U.S. Inauguration

Very soon, a new American president will be sworn in.  President Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. January 20 is the date fixed by the US Constitution for the inauguration.  (Originally the date was March 4 when folks had to ride a horse, or walk.)  The ceremony occurs on the steps of the US Capitol Building, where the House and Senate are located.  Although the ceremony won’t take place until 11.30am, guest will begin arriving from 5am.


It has always been a solemn, public ceremony. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court administers the oath.  The exact words of the oath of office itself are prescribed in Article 2 of the Constitution. It was intended as a civil commitment, in line with the prohibition of any religious test to hold public office.  But, George Washington added “so help me God” – and it stuck.  (It was Washington, after all.)


Among the many anecdotes regarding the inauguration (like William Harrison catching fatal pneumonia when he didn’t wear a hat or coat), 1960 is memorable. The eminent poet, Robert Frost, was invited to read a poem at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The sun was so blinding that the 84 year-old Frost instead recited a moving poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.


After the inauguration ceremony, attended by the outgoing president, living former presidents, members of Congress, the Supreme Court and many dignitaries, there is a parade down Constitution Avenue with bands playing and flags waving. That night, Washington will be a party city with several ritzy galas and three official Inaugural Balls attended by the President. Tickets for the various events are often sold out far in advance; donors who contribute large amounts get special access to exclusive events and the new First Family.


This tradition is now more than 200 years old and shows no sign of losing its appeal. In 1809 Dolly Madison hosted the very first Inaugural Ball, with 400 guests, after her husband, James Madison was inaugurated. The ball was held at Long’s Hotel and tickets were sold for $4 a head. By contrast, in 1997, 14 balls were held to honor President William Jefferson Clinton.