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Presidential Inaugurations: About the Collection

"I Do Solemnly Swear . . .": Presidential Inaugurations is a collection of approximately four hundred items or two thousand digital files relating to inaugurations from George Washington's in 1789 to George W. Bush's inauguration of 2001. This presentation includes diaries and letters of presidents and of those who witnessed inaugurations, handwritten drafts of inaugural addresses, broadsides, inaugural tickets and programs, prints, photographs, and sheet music. The selections are drawn from the Presidential Papers in the Manuscript Division and from the Prints and Photographs Division, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Music Division, and General Collections of the Library of Congress. Additional material comes from the photography collections of the Architect of the Capitol, the White House, and the U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms. Some items, from records of early sessions of Congress to early films, that are already online in American Memory have been incorporated. An important component is the collaboration with The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School, which permits the site to offer Yale's online presentations of the inaugural addresses from Presidents Washington to Bush with associated searchable text transcriptions. Most of the addresses are derived from the bicentennial edition of Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States: from George Washington 1789 to George Bush 1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).

The collection is an integration of newly scanned items and items already available in other American Memory collections such as: A Century of Lawmaking, The Papers of George Washington, Music for the Nation, Words and Deeds, Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film, Manuscripts from the Federal Workers' Project, and others. Items from the online exhibition, American Treasures at the Library of Congress, will also be used. Some materials have been drawn from collections scheduled for release in the near future, such as Printed Ephemera. The Library does not have extensive holdings of original presidential manuscripts or photographic materials from President Hoover (1929) onward because of the establishment of presidential libraries. For material not available at the Library, photographs were secured from the collections of the Architect of the Capitol and from several of the Presidential Libraries' online collections. A valuable reference long used at the Library appears as a searchable database: Ruth Freitag's bibliography Presidential Inaugurations: A Selected List of References (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969). The fifteen hundred citations on inaugurations from Presidents Washington to Nixon include general categories such as weather, inaugural balls, Bibles, or music, as well as references to individual inaugurations. There are some primary-source references to items in certain divisions in the Library of Congress but many references are to secondary sources, all of which are in the Library's collections, and most of which are available in public libraries.

This site mainly focuses on fifty-four "formal" inaugurations because of the availability of relevant materials in the Library's collections. Patrons should therefore be aware that they may not find as much material relating to the less formal inaugurations, such as Oaths of Office taken by vice presidents upon the death of a sitting president.

A key objective of this online presentation is to make accessible to the public many of the treasures and other important primary-source materials held by the Library of Congress as well as by other institutions. Presidential Inaugurations evolved into a collaborative effort among the divisions within the Library. In order to provide selections, contributions, and links from other sources on the World Wide Web, this effort extended to several federal agencies and private institutions outside the Library, such as the Architect of the Capitol, the U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms, the U.S. Senate Historical Office, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, the Presidential Libraries (administered by the National Archives), and the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School. Other Web sites of interest have been noted on the Related Web Resources page. This is the first American Memory collection to be assembled which incorporates a significant number of existing Web sources. A discussion of some examples of the materials in this online collection that were selected from various sources within and without the Library is presented below.

Presidential Inaugurations

Presidential inaugurations in the United States represent the transfer of power to a new or re-elected president and are marked with all the gravity and solemnity appropriate to such a momentous occasion. The ceremonies surrounding the investiture of a president take place regardless of weather conditions (Harrison, 1889; Taft, 1909) and are accompanied by grand or modest celebrations as warranted by circumstances--the specter of war (Lincoln, 1861 and 1865), ill health of a president (Roosevelt, 1945), or wishes of a president (Harding, 1921). In times of tragedy, at the death of a president, an inauguration becomes a muted occasion, a simple swearing-in ceremony, when a vice president assumes the presidency (Johnson, 1865; Coolidge, 1923; or Truman, 1945).

Behind the panoply of public display, there is the intimate, human side of every inauguration--the president's inaugural address to be drafted, letters to be written, and thoughts to be entered into diaries--all of which enrich our understanding of a president and his inauguration. The private, "behind-the-scenes" nature of manuscript materials, in particular, provides a different perspective to such a grand and important event as a presidential inauguration, and allows the reader to view and contemplate the event in another dimension--the private realm versus the public arena.

Manuscript Division

The Manuscript Division has many treasures among its Presidential Papers and among the papers of contemporaries of the presidents. A representative selection of papers for each inauguration is presented here to encourage further research and study on the part of those who have a special interest in presidential inaugurations.

Multiple drafts of inaugural addresses provide a glimpse into the thinking process of a president as he composes his thoughts (Jefferson, 1805, Garfield, 1881, or Cleveland, 1885).

Reading copies of inaugural addresses, in a president's hand, are awe-inspiring documents that convey a tangible sense of history (Washington, 1789, Jefferson, 1801, Lincoln, 1865, and Theodore Roosevelt, 1905).

Diary entries of presidents sometimes describe their own inaugurations (Garfield, 1881 describes writing his address in the early morning hours the day of his inauguration), or may mention inaugurations of other presidents (Polk describes Taylor's in 1849; Garfield describes Grant's in 1873 as well as that of Hayes in 1877).

Diaries of contemporaries of presidents often describe events surrounding inaugurations and the styles of writing reflect the personalities of the individual diarists. The tone of some entries may be cynical, charmingly youthful, poignant, solemn, or humorous (William Maclay on Washington's inauguration, 1789; Sarah Ridg on Madison's, 1809; Montgomery Meigs on Buchanan's, 1857, which includes the first known photograph of a presidential inauguration by John Wood, as well as Meigs's description of his farewell to outgoing President Pierce; Fred W. Carpenter on Taft's, 1909; and Irwin Hoover on Taft's last day at the White House as well as Wilson's inauguration day in 1913).

Correspondence dating to the time of presidential inaugurations may be reflective (Washington to Henry Knox, 1797 describes his own leaving office and his intention to witness the inauguration of John Adams on March 4, 1797); may make a formal request (Jefferson to John Marshall, 1801); or may present comments on an inauguration (Madison to Edmund Randolph explains the delay in the electoral process for Washington's first inauguration in 1789; Jackson to Van Buren remarks on Harrison's "undignified" campaign in 1841). Other letters offer advice to new presidents (Jefferson to Madison, 1809, George T. Curtis to President-elect Cleveland, 1884); and many offer congratulations to a president on his recent election (Hayes to Harrison, 1889; William Jennings Bryan to Cleveland, 1893, or John Hay to McKinley, 1897). Occasionally, one discovers a letter that is heart-stoppingly dramatic (Benjamin Brown French writing to his son in 1865 recalls that John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd on the day of Lincoln's second inauguration, March 4, 1865).

Newspaper clippings in some of the personal scrapbooks of the presidents recount days leading up to and after inaugural events (Garfield, 1881 and Cleveland, 1885).

Souvenirs of inaugural ceremonies and inaugural balls are found among the papers of the presidents or their contemporaries in the form of invitations, programs, and tickets--each uniquely suited to its era with attributes such as delicate coloring in lithographic portraits, refined printing on heavy paper stock, gold embellishments, or perhaps finished with ribbons and tassels (Garfield, 1881, Roosevelt, 1945).

Prints and Photographs Division

Prints and photographs document the ceremonial aspects of a presidential inauguration. Images of the swearing-in ceremony and the president's delivery of his inaugural address evoke all the solemnity and dignity of the occasion, while scenes of crowds, parades, and inaugural balls offer visual testimony to the celebratory nature of the election of a new president. Scenes of presidential inaugurations in the Prints and Photographs Division range in media from engravings by Doolittle, Sokolnicki, or Sartain; wood engravings from early periodicals such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper or Harper's Weekly; lithographs by Newsam, Fenderich, and Hohenstein; a watercolor by Birch; to stereographs and photographs by Jarvis, Prince, and Brady.

Views depicting sites of the earliest inaugurations include a very rare print from a private collection of Federal Hall in New York, the site of Washington's first inauguration in 1789. Images of the recently established federal enclave of the District of Columbia are also represented. Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in the new Capitol which in 1801 consisted of only the north wing for the Senate. There is also an engraving of the House of Representatives Chamber from 1831, which is probably an accurate rendition of how it appeared during Monroe's second inauguration there in 1821.

Early wood engravings from periodicals and, later, photographs document the following scenes from presidential inaugurations:

The President-elect on way to his inauguration: Pierce on his way from the Willard Hotel in 1853; Lincoln's carriage circling the west grounds of the Capitol on his way to the East Front in 1861; Roosevelt escorted by his Rough Riders in 1905; Taft's coach in a blizzard in 1909; President-elect Wilson and Mrs. Wilson in their carriage in 1917; Harding in the first automobile used during an inauguration in 1921; and Eisenhower leaving the White House on his way to the Capitol in 1953.

Swearing-in ceremonies: Johnson in a private ceremony at the Kirkwood Hotel in 1865; Hayes on his flag-draped inaugural stand before a tightly packed crowd in 1877; Harrison surrounded by a sea of umbrellas in a downpour in 1889; Coolidge in a lamp-lit night scene at his father's farm in Vermont in 1923; and close-up views of the chief justices administering the oath of office to Roosevelt in 1941, Eisenhower in 1953, and Johnson in 1965.

The President delivering his inaugural address: Grant as seen in a Brady photograph in 1873; McKinley with former President Cleveland seated near him on the inaugural stand in 1897; Theodore Roosevelt, leaning forward in his typical stance, surmounted by the shadow of the Capitol dome with its Statue of Freedom in 1905; and Harding, seen in a majestic inaugural stand, looking over the crowd in 1921.

Parades and presidential review stands: Buchanan's parade that included a replica of the U.S.S. Constitution in 1857; Garfield's fantastical-looking review stand in 1881; Cleveland beneath a flag-draped canopy at the White House in 1885; Taft in his review stand during a lull in the snowstorm in 1909; and Coolidge's parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925.

Inaugural balls and receptions: Pierce's reception in a drawing room at the White House in 1853; Lincoln's second inaugural reception at the White House in 1865; Grant's second inauguration at a temporary building at Judiciary Square in 1873, which was so cold that canaries froze in their cages suspended from the ceiling of the ballroom; and President and Mrs. Johnson in the crush of their inaugural ball at the Armory in 1965.

Inaugural crowds: Lincoln's inauguration in 1865 shows crowds on the east grounds of the Capitol and the wet grounds after a recent shower; in Hayes's inauguration in 1877, two carriages drawn by pairs of white horses, make their way through the dense crowd before Horatio Greenough's statue of George Washington; crowds fill the Capitol dome during McKinley's inauguration in 1901; and people stand in the snow on the grounds of the White House during Roosevelt's fourth inauguration in 1945.

Portraits of presidents dating to about the time of an inauguration are represented by engravings, lithographs, and photographs: Adams, 1797; Jefferson, 1801; Madison, 1809; Monroe, 1817; Adams, 1825; Van Buren 1837; Harrison, 1841; Polk, 1845; Fillmore, 1850; Pierce, 1853; and Roosevelt, 1902.

Additional inaugural and presidential image selections may be found online through the Prints and Photographs Division.

Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Items from this division include an illustration of preparations for a triumphal entry into Philadelphia for George Washington in 1789 from an early periodical, Columbian Magazine; a pen-and-ink drawing attributed to Benjamin Latrobe showing the Capitol as it would have appeared about the time of Madison's second inauguration in 1813; and a Cruikshank aquatint of President Jackson's infamously rowdy levee. Two inaugural programs from President Reagan's second inauguration in 1985 are also included.

There are also about fifteen selections--tickets, invitations, broadsides--from Printed Ephemera. Examples include Jackson's 1829 inaugural address, printed on satin; a William Henry Harrison inaugural ball invitation from 1841; an 1857 inaugural poem in honor of Buchanan; a small yellow entrance ticket to the Gallery of the U.S. Senate for Grant's first inauguration in 1869; and the inaugural prayer read by Eisenhower in 1953.

Music Division and General Collections

Sheet music of President Madison's inaugural march in 1809 comes from the Music Division.

The General Collections are represented by an illustration from an 1880 book on the Lives of the Presidents which depicts Tyler, the first vice president to assume the presidency on the death of a president, receiving the news of President Harrison's death in 1841 and by an article from the Illustrated London News that describes Polk's inauguration in 1845, at which Samuel Morse brought his "Magnetic Telegraph" to the inaugural platform in order to transmit the actual words of the inaugural ceremonies to Baltimore. This article also includes two wood engravings of Polk's inauguration--his oath of office and the crowd on the east front of the Capitol.

American Memory and American Treasures of the Library of Congress

A number of selections for Presidential Inaugurations have been presented previously in the American Memory and American Treasures of the Library of Congress online collections.

In American Treasures, Lincoln's Bible and inaugural address from his first inauguration in 1861 come from the Rare Book and Manuscript Divisions respectively.

The poems Robert Frost chose for Kennedy's inauguration in 1961, the "Gift Outright," written in 1942 and "Dedication," 1961, both from the Manuscript Division, are drawn from American Treasures and the American Memory collection Words and Deeds.

Four early films of presidential inaugurations, two each for McKinley in 1901 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, from the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, have already been presented in the American Memory collections Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies, and Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film.

Conservation treatment of George Washington's first inaugural address of 1789 was completed in the fall of 1999 and it was rescanned in color, replacing the black-and-white images in Words and Deeds.

Links are also provided to a few George Washington letters from the American Memory collection George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress (Washington to Henry Knox in 1789 and 1797), while A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation provides a sampling of texts of sessions of Congress which often included information on inaugural arrangements or reprintings of inaugural addresses (Washington, 1793; Adams, 1797; Madison, 1809; Monroe, 1817 and 1821; and Adams, 1825).

A photograph of McKinley delivering his inaugural address in 1901 comes from By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present. Similarly, a photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivering his third inaugural address in 1941 appears in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945.

An interview with former Rough Rider Charles Ballard, who describes Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration in 1905, is provided from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

Architect of the Capitol and U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms

From the photographic collections of the Architect of the Capitol, there is an image of a mural representing Jackson's oath of office in 1829; a photograph of Lincoln delivering his inaugural address at his second inauguration in 1865, in which John Wilkes Booth is present in the crowd; and a stereograph of the crowd before the Senate wing of the Capitol for Hayes's inauguration of 1877.

From President Hoover's administration on, Presidential Libraries were established and the photographic collections in the Prints and Photographs Division (as well as manuscript materials in the Manuscript Division) are not as rich for twentieth-century presidents as they are for those before 1929. Many photographs from twentieth century-inaugurations, particularly from 1933 onward, in this online collection come from the collections of the Architect of the Capitol (Roosevelt, 1933; Eisenhower, 1957; Johnson, 1965; Nixon, 1969 and 1973; Carter, 1977; Reagan, 1981 and 1985; Bush, 1989; and Clinton, 1993 and 1997).

An image of President Reagan's swearing in ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol in 1985 comes from the U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms.

Presidential Libraries (NARA)

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) administers the presidential libraries, which currently include Presidents Hoover to Bush. Each of these Presidential Libraries offers a portion of its holdings online. These Web sites may be explored more fully through NARA. A few selections of inaugural materials from several of the Presidential Libraries are included in Presidential Inaugurations.

Photographs: President and Mrs. Roosevelt in an open automobile in 1941; President Truman and Vice President Barkley at Truman's inaugural parade in 1949; President Nixon waving to the crowds from his limousine in 1969; Vice President Ford's presidential oath of office in 1974; President and Mrs. Carter walking along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1977; and President and Mrs. Reagan in his inaugural parade in 1981.

Sound clips or full recordings: President Roosevelt's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" speech, 1933; President Kennedy's "Ask not …" inaugural address in 1961; Vice President Johnson's presidential oath on Air Force One in 1963; Vice President Ford's remarks after taking the presidential oath of office after President Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Draft of inaugural address: President Kennedy's "Ask not…" inaugural address in 1961, in his handwriting on yellow foolscap paper.

The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School

Searchable text transcriptions of each inaugural address from President Washington's in 1789 through President Bush's in 1989 are provided through The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School and its Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents. The inaugural addresses were digitized from The Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George Washington 1789 to George Bush 1989 (Bicentennial edition, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).

The White House

Two color photographs of President Clinton's 1993 inauguration--his oath of office and President and Mrs. Clinton dancing at the inaugural ball--were given to the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and are reproduced in this Web site courtesy of The White House.

U.S. Senate Historical Office

Transcriptions for the shorthand diary entries of Montgomery C. Meigs for February 17, 1857, March 4-6, 1857, and March 4, 1861, were provided by the U.S. Senate Historical Office. The transcriptions were originally commissioned for a book on Montgomery Meigs by the Senate Historian, Richard Baker, Capitol Builder: The Shorthand Journals of Montgomery C. Meigs 1853-1859, 1861, to be published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in the fall of 2000.

New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire

Photostats of President Pierce's papers, including his 1853 inaugural address, were acquired by gift and purchase by the Library of Congress Manuscript Division in 1926 and 1927 from the New Hampshire Historical Society and the Society has granted permission to reproduce Pierce's address in Presidential Inaugurations.

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