Life around the world

Friday, 25 January, 2013 - 10:07

Inauguration Day

by Rik Glauert

In case you hadn’t noticed, after nearly four years of build-up, the United States of America has just officially sworn in (or inaugurated) its president. Barack Obama has just begun his second (and last) term in at the head of one of the of the world’s most powerful nations. Inauguration Day is the US’s largest display of pomp, pageantry and patriotism.

The event sees hundreds of thousands of Americans flooding to Washington DC’s Capitol to wave their flags and witness the USA’s leader pledge his services to the country. The celebrations also include the President’s address in which he gives a speech outlining his plans and dreams for his time in office, a grand parade from the Capitol to the White House and a host of glitzy and glamorous Inaugural Balls.

This year’s ceremony cost a whopping total of US $1.236 million and saw 700,000 people brave the chilly January weather to view the occasion. Both these numbers are dwarfed by Obama’s first inauguration four years ago. The 2009 inauguration saw records smashed as American’s celebrated their first ever African American president. These included the largest ever attendance of a Presidential inauguration in U.S. history, the most expensive inauguration and the most viewed online.

This year, however, Obama can boast to taking the oath of office using an impressive three different Bibles. As the US constitution states that the presidential term starts on January 20, which fell on a Sunday this year, Obama was officially sworn in at a private ceremony at the White House. Here, he placed his hand on his wife’s family bible to make the oath.

At the far grander public ceremony on Monday, Obama placed his hand on two bibles at the same time: one belonging to Abraham Lincoln and one to Martin Luther King. It is tradition for Presidents to take the oath on bibles with significance. Obama showed the importance of his African American roots by choosing Bible’s belonging to the President who abolished slavery in 1863 and one of America’s most important campaigners in the Civil Rights’ Movement.

In the actual swearing in ceremony the President repeats an oath to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States“. This did not run smoothly in 2009, however, and the word “faithfully” was spoken in the wrong place. To make sure Obama had been properly sworn in the oath was repeated at the White House the next day. This means that Obama was actually sworn in twice for both his terms.

A number of other records are still held by former presidents who have had interesting inaugurations. The coldest inauguration on record was in 1985 when temperatures in Washington DC plunged to a frosty -14 degrees centigrade with strong arctic winds, forcing President Reagan to abandon the traditional parade. The record for the longest inaugural speech goes to William Henry Harrison, who spent 100 minutes delivering 8,495 words. He presented the speech in a snowstorm without wearing a hat or coat. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, he died from pneumonia a month later.

The shock assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963 meant that Lyndon Baines Johnson was inaugurated rather hastily. The rush meant that two records for inauguration were broken; the first inauguration on an airplane and the first to be conducted by a woman. Bill and Hilary Clinton achieved an interesting record in 1985 by attending the most Inaugural Balls in one night. These lavish balls are put on across the city and allow wealthy donors the chance to see President on the special day. Bill and Hilary danced their way to a total of 14.

Above all, the inauguration reminds us just how much Americans adore and respect their president. This is interesting as the USA is a country that strongly rejected the constitutional monarchy and the “imperial chains” of Britain to create a land where “all men are created equal”. Although the president is still a member of ‘the people’ and holds no greater a title than Mr., he is revered wherever he goes and afforded the highest security bill in the world to keep him safe. Why is it that Americans can’t help but idolize their presidents?

Language level

Would you like to be the President or Prime Minister of your country one day? Why or why not?

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