Marking the Peaceful Transfer of Power: US Presidential Inauguration

This year, during the 57th quadrennial presidential inauguration, there wasn’t be a transfer of power from one president to another. President Barack Obama was re-elected, so his inauguration for a second term just stood for the continuation of the government following a hard-fought election.

One of the hallmarks of the US presidential inaugurations, though, has been the peaceful transfer of power. While there might be protestors near the site, and while not everyone is always happy about the person being sworn in, the United States has a long history of peaceful government since the first inauguration, held in April 1789 for George Washington, until now.

History of the Presidential Inauguration

Previously, the presidential inauguration took place on March 4. This is the day, in 1789, that the Constitution first took effect. However, the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed the date. In the Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, the only reference to the president’s inauguration is that the president must take an Oath or Affirmation before entering into the duties of the office. The Constitution sets forth the words of the Oath, and the president must say them.

In general, Inauguration Day falls on January 20th now. On years that the 20th falls on a Sunday (like this year), many presidents have the Oath administered privately on the 20th, and then take the oath again publicly on Monday the 21st. This happened this year, when Barack Obama took the oath privately on Sunday, and then had a public swearing-in on Monday.

In most cases, previous presidents attend the inauguration, showing support and continuity. However, sometimes there have been high tensions, and a former president decided not to attend. One case was when Thomas Jefferson was sworn in in 1801. The election contest between outgoing president John Adams and Jefferson was extremely bitter. This was after the two founding fathers has a falling out, but before the reconciliation that made them friends for life. Adam didn’t attend. Likewise, Adams’ son John Quincy Adams refused to attend Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 because he didn’t think that Jackson had a good character.

There have been other instances in which it is clear there has been strife between outgoing and income administrations. However, even with the disapproval and the bickering that sometimes takes place, most inaugurations have been peaceful, and remind us that there is the ability to change over governments peacefully.

Change and Consistency at Once

The presidential inauguration represents change and consistency. An inauguration is expected every four years. It also provides those who saw their candidate lose with hope that, perhaps next time, a candidate more in line with their own ideals will be elected. This consistency comes side by side with change. Even when a president is sworn in for a second term, there is the expectation of change. Presidents in their second terms are expected to be a little more aggressive with their agendas, and that can mean change.

In the end, the orderly and peaceful transfer of power that has taken place for more than 200 years is one of our country’s accomplishments.



Washington Post



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