Memorable Presidential Inaugurations

As the presidential inauguration fast approaches, let’s take a quick look back at some presidential inaugurations that were “memorable.” Frank Leslie’s Weekly provided unique reporting, complete with graphics and later photographs, of several presidential inaugurations during its publishing run.

Comparing early presidential inaugurations with contemporary ones, was a common feature in Leslie’s Weekly.

Check out the article below, entitled “Some of the Most Memorable Presidential Inaugurations,” and then tune into the upcoming inauguration.

Presidential Theodore Roosevelt Delivering His Inaugural Address, March 4, 1905

Presidential Theodore Roosevelt Delivering His Inaugural Address, March 4, 1905

Some of the Most Memorable Presidential Inaugurations

By Charles M. Harvey

When, on April 30th, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States, the country had only eleven States (for North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify the Constitution or come under the government until many months afterward), all of which were east of the Alleghanies and north of Florida, which was Spanish territory until a third of a century later. New York City, then the national capital, with its 4,000,000 inhabitants in 1905, has 1,000,000 more people and many billions more wealth to-day than the entire United States had at that time. Yet April 30th, 1789, was the proudest day which New York City had seen in the century and two-thirds which had passed since Peter Minuit, representing Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of Holland, bought the island of Manhattan from the Lenni-Lenape Indians for a gift of sixty guilders, or twenty-four dollars, in beads and ribbons, and started the colony of New Amsterdam on its picturesque career.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Just after the Constitution, in 1788, had been ratified by enough States to put it in operation, the Continental Congress selected the first Wednesday of January, 1789, as the day for naming the presidential electors, the first Wednesday in February for the meeting of the electors to choose a President and Vice-President, and the first Wednesday in March (which struck on the fourth day of the month in that year) for the assembling of Congress and the induction of the President and Vice-President into office. Congress, in 1792, enacted that that day of that month should begin the term of President and Congress, and thus March 4th has become a great date-mark in American annals.

On March 4th, 1789, however, neither President nor Congress had reached New York. Travel was slow and laborious on the rough turnpikes of the time, for the steamboat and the railway were far in the future. The House got a quorum and organized on March 30th, and the Senate did this on April 6th, and Vice-President Adams qualified and entered on the duties of his office. After being notified of his election, Washington started from Mount Vernon on April 16th, in his carriage, accompanied by several friends, and, taking the most direct road through Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Trenton, was a week in getting to New York—a journey which Roosevelt could make, by the conveyances of to-day, in fewer hours than Washington consumed days. He was delayed, though, to some extent, by the receptions which were extended to him. His journey was a triumphal parade. The latter part of it—that from Elizabethtown Point, N. J.—was by water.

Sweeping out into New York Bay in a barge built for the occasion, rowed by twelve pilots dressed in white, with the thirteenth acting as coxswain, accompanied by six other barges as an escort, Washington’s flotilla sped between brigs, schooners, sloops, skiffs, yawls, and other sort of craft propelled by sail or paddle, all gay with bunting and throbbing with the enthusiasm of their loads of sight-seers. As it passed the anchorage of the Spanish frigate Galveston , near the entrance to the East River, that ship fired thirteen guns, which was the first salute ever given by a vessel of any nation to a President of the United States. A response was fired by the American sloop-of-war North Carolina. As the barges pulled up at Murray’s wharf, at the foot of Wall Street, Washington disembarked, saluted by thirteen guns from the Battery. Greeted at the wharf by Governor George Clinton, by many members of Congress, and by the ambassadors of several nations, he entered a carriage which formed the head of a procession which conducted him to the Franklin House, at the corner of the present Cherry Street and Franklin Square.

The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, amid intense excitement, in the troubled days of 1861.

The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, amid intense excitement, in the troubled days of 1861.

This was on April 23d. Federal Hall, on the corner of Wall and Broad streets, where the present sub-treasury stands, was undergoing repairs at the time, and the inauguration did not take place until a week later. At noon on April 30th Washington, in a carriage, attended by some government officials and escorted by soldiers, passed through the crowded thoroughfares from Cherry Street to Wall, entered Federal Hall, passed out to the balcony on the Broad Street side, accompanied by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, by Vice-President Adams, by Hamilton, Steuben, Knox, and others. There the oath was administered to him by Livingston, after which the chancellor, turning to the people congregated on all the streets of the vicinity, cried out: “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” The cry was taken up by the thousands on the streets, in the windows, and on the roofs, bells throughout the city rang, the cannon at the Battery fired a salute, and Washington passed into the Senate chamber and read his inaugural address to Congress.

During Washington’s first term the capital was removed to Philadelphia, where his second inauguration took place on March 4th, 1793. There also Adams was inaugurated in 1797. Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801 was historically significant because it took place in Washington, which had been selected as the permanent capital of the United States, and because his election in 1800 marked a political revolution, the Federalist party of Washington and Adams giving way to Jefferson’s Democratic Party (called the Republican party until Jackson’s first presidency).

“At an early hour on Wednesday, March 4th,” said the Philadelphia Aurora, of March 11th, 1801, the leading Democratic paper of the United States of that day, “the city of Washington presented a spectacle of uncommon animation, occasioned by the addition to its usual population of a large body of citizens from the adjoining districts. A discharge from the company of Washington artillery ushered in the day; and about ten o’clock the Alexandria company of riflemen, with the company of artillery, paraded in front of the President’s lodgings. At twelve o’clock Thomas Jefferson, attended by a number of his fellow-citizens, among whom were many members of Congress, repaired to the Capitol. His dress was, as usual, that of a plain citizen without any distinctive badge of office. He entered the Capitol under a discharge from the artillery.” After describing the inaugural ceremonies the Aurora goes on to say that as soon “as he withdrew a discharge of artillery was made. The remainder of the day was devoted to purposes of festivity, and at night there was a pretty general illumination.”

The myth that Jefferson rode unattended to the Capitol, hitched his horse to a post, and went in all alone, took the oath of office, and began his duties as President did not appear until many years afterward, and was in a book of travels in the United States— largely apocryphal—written by an Englishman named John Davis.

Washington taking the oath of office administered by Chancellor Livingston, on April 30th, 1789, at Federal Hall, site of the sub-Treasury in New York.

Washington taking the oath of office administered by Chancellor Livingston, on April 30th, 1789, at Federal Hall, site of the sub-Treasury in New York.

The 3,000,000 population of the United States at the beginning of Washington’s presidency had increased to 5,000,000 at the opening of Jefferson’s. Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, admitted in the interval, brought the number of States up to sixteen, but the country’s western boundary was still at the Mississippi, and still Spain’s territory of east and west Florida shut out the United States from access to the Gulf of Mexico. With Jefferson’s entrance into office in 1801 began that Democratic control of the government which lasted till Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, except during two short intervals of Whig sway.

“To-day we have had the inauguration,” wrote Webster on March 4th, 1829, at the induction of Jackson into office. “A monstrous crowd of people is in the city. I never saw anything like it before. Persons have come 500 miles to see General Jackson, and they really seem to think the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.” Justice Joseph Story, of the Supreme Court, writing on the same day, said that after Jackson, at the conclusion of the ceremonies at the Capitol, went to the White House, he was inundated by “immense crowds of all sorts of people, from the highest and most polished down to the most vulgar and gross in the nation. I never saw such a mixture before. The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant.”

Theoretically Jackson was of the same party as Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, but his election marked a revolution in the government more distinctive than Jefferson’s did. He represented the radical spirit of the populace of the South and of the new States beyond the Alleghanies. As the West’s favorite son, he stood for the section which, even at that early day, was beginning to have a large influence in politics, and which was destined, not many decades later, to attain a decisive sway. Jefferson represented the conservatism of the Atlantic seaboard and the rule of the educated and the aristocratic. Jackson stood for the expansive, optimistic, nationalistic, and democratic West, already determined to show the power which it had gained, and seeing prophetically the political and social conquests in store for it in the coming time.

Eight States—Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri—had been added to the Union since Jefferson entered office. The steamboat had appeared on the great lakes, the Mississippi, and the Ohio. The country’s population centre, which in Washington’s days was east of Baltimore, had crossed the Alleghanies into the present State of West Virginia by Jackson’s time. The 5,000,000 people which were in the country when Jefferson entered office had grown to 12,000,000 in Jackson’s days. On the west the country’s boundary had been extended from the Mississippi to the Sabine and the Rocky Mountains, while in the south it was pushed on to the Gulf of Mexico. The West had become a decidedly important section, and it brought government of the people, by the people, and for the people, when Jackson, beating John Quincy Adams, and likewise beating the conservative element of his own party in the East, which distrusted him, became the nation’s head.

Said ex-President John Quincy Adams, in his “Memoirs,” the “inauguration of William Henry Harrison as President was celebrated with demonstrations of popular feeling unexampled since that of Washington in 1789.” This was on March 4th, 1841, and Harrison’s triumph (he was a Whig) was the first defeat which the seemingly invincible Democracy had sustained since Jefferson brought that party into power forty years earlier. No previous inauguration brought to Washington anything like the swarms of people, largely office-seekers, which the entrance of old “Tippecanoe” into office attracted. The 12,000,000 inhabitants of the United States at Jackson’s inauguration had expanded into 17,000,000 at the induction of the hero of the battle of the Thames into office. The railroad, too, had appeared, adding to the convenience and the cheapness of travel. Arkansas and Michigan were the only States which were admitted in the interval, but the West’s area of settlement was rapidly extending, and it was destined a few years later to receive a vast accession by annexation.

The rush of visitors to Washington began several weeks before Harrison’s inauguration. John Bell, who was to be Secretary of War under old “Tippecanoe,” writing to Governor Letcher, of Virginia, just before Harrison’s arrival in Washington, said: “I am growing pretty sick of this thing already of office in my own case, and the increasing tide of application from new quarters that daily beats against my ears gives me spasms. In truth, I begin to fear that we are at last—or rather that our leading politicians are in the several States—chiefly swayed by the thirst for power and plunder. Would you think that Senator Talmadge is willing to descend from the Senate to the New York custom-house? This is yet a secret, but it is true.”

This deluge of office-seekers, Harrison’s advanced age (he was sixty-eight, the oldest of any of the Presidents before or since on taking the oath of office), his feeble health, his exposure to the cold lightly clothed on inauguration day, and the demands of all sorts which were made on his time and strength, proved fatal, and he died a month after entering office, leaving the presidency to Tyler through three years and eleven months of the term. Tyler helped to split the Whig party, and to make victory for the Democrats in 1844, when Polk entered on the scene. Polk was followed by Taylor, Whig, who died a year and a third after entering office, and he was succeeded by Fillmore. The Democrats under Pierce came in in 1852 and under Buchanan in 1856. Then the Republicans, with Lincoln, entered into control of the government, and a new era set in.

Clouds, which dispersed about noon, and raw, harsh winds, which lasted till night, ushered in the most fateful presidential inauguration day which the country was to see, March 4th, 1861. which placed Lincoln at the nation’s head and precipitated the tragedy of secession and civil war. Tens of thousands of visitors had flocked to the national capital, chiefly from the North and West. The 3,000,000 inhabitants of Washington’s days and the 12,000,000 of Jackson’s had grown to 32,000,000. Thirty-four States were in the Union, two of which were on the Pacific, in a vast tract which, with Texas, had been gained since Harrison’s induction into office. The railways, which were not thought of in Washington’s time, and which were just beginning to be built in Jackson’s, had 31,000 miles of track in 1861. The population centre had passed into Ohio. Seven of the cotton States—South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—had cast their fortunes into a coalition, under Jefferson Davis, which was to resist the national authority in those States, and they were to be joined later on by Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

The military feature of Lincoln’s inauguration was more prominent than it had been in previous installations of Presidents, and this time it was not intended altogether for decorative purposes. A squadron of cavalry rode in double files on each side of the carriage in which Buchanan, the retiring President, and Lincoln were seated in the journey from the White House to the Capitol, and infantry and riflemen marched in the front and in the rear. Riflemen were stationed on house-tops also, and cavalry and artillery on street crossings all along the line of march, to guard against possible attack on the incoming President. This is how General Scott, the commander of the army, answered the threats against the life of Lincoln. Chief Justice Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln. Douglas, one of his unsuccessful rivals in the presidential canvass of 1860, held Lincoln’s hat while he delivered his inaugural. After the ceremonies Buchanan rode with Lincoln to the White House, with the military escort as before. There both the outgoing President and the soldiers departed, and Republican sway, which has lasted ever since, except in Mr. Cleveland’s two separated terms, set in.



Nobody will need to be told that March 4th, 1885, was a memorable day in Washington’s social and political annals. On that day Grover Cleveland, the first Democratic President whom the country had seen since Buchanan, was installed in office. Naturally an immense concourse of people gathered in the city, and this time the South was conspicuous among the sight-seers. After an exclusion of a quarter of a century from office, the Democracy had been reinstated in the popular regard. For the moment the great party of Lincoln and Grant was in eclipse. The 32,000,000 population of the country in Lincoln’s time had swelled to 55,000,000 at the beginning of Cleveland’s, and the 31,000 miles of railway had grown to 128,000. Four States had been added to the Lincoln total. Cleveland himself was a statesman who was unknown in the Lincoln, Grant, and Hayes era of war, reconstruction, and restoration.

The new President, though conspicuously devoid of all the qualities which captivate the imagination of the populace, was interesting not only because his victory represented a political revolution in the nation, but because he won the votes of thousands of his party’s enemies, and also because he had beaten the most picturesque and brilliant political leader which the country had seen since Clay. Naturally, his inauguration attracted great attention from all parties, and his address was read by a larger proportion of the American people than had read any other inaugural since Lincoln’s two. The military procession was notably large.

No presidential inauguration of prime historic importance has taken place since Cleveland’s first, although, of course, Harrison’s in 1889, Cleveland’s second in 1893, and McKinley’s in 1897 and 1901 attracted much attention. McKinley’s in 1897 followed the most exciting and important presidential canvass which the country had seen since 1860, and caused not only rejoicing among the millions of Republicans whose standard-bearer he had been, but likewise among the hundreds of thousands of gold Democrats who supported him against their own party, and attracted to Washington a larger number of visitors than the capital had yet seen on the induction of a President into office.

But the inauguration of March 4th, 1905, promises to be a far more spectacular occasion than the country has yet seen on the induction of a chief magistrate into office. The man who is to be honored on that day is the most magnetic and potent President whom the country has seen since Jackson, the United States has a larger place in the world’s councils than ever before, and he will be backed by a larger majority of his countrymen than any other President whom the American people have chosen.

Collection: Frank Leslies Weekly, March 2, 1905

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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