President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States under unusual circumstances amid a pandemic and after an attack on the U.S. Capitol, where the events are traditionally hosted, left five people dead.
Both the U.S. Capitol Police and National Guard expect that tens of thousands of protesters could make their way to Washington for the event. Defense officials said the Pentagon has authorized up to 15,000 guardsmen to support law enforcement before and throughout the inauguration, with nearly half that number already deployed. Guardsmen providing security during an inauguration is not unusual, but officials are still determining if individuals will be armed or dressed in riot gear.
President Trump will become the first president since 1869 to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration. The last was Andrew Johnson, who balked at attending the swearing-in of Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, was a one-term president and the first ever to be impeached by the House.
There are others. In 1801, John Adams left Washington in the middle of the night, hours before Thomas Jefferson was set to take the oath of office. His son, John Quincy Adams, left town one day before Andrew Jackson was sworn in.
With the nation in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the 59th presidential inauguration this year was already going to be a slimmed-down affair, with scaled-back festivities planned largely online.
But it won’t be the first unconventional inauguration. Here are six others.
ANDREW JACKSON, 1829
In 1829, Jackson determined that he would open access to the White House for his first inauguration and invited people to celebrate the occasion in person. America’s frontier president welcomed 10,000 people to the ceremony on the East Portico of the Capitol, held for the first time there. Following the address, the crowds descended on Jackson’s new White House “palace,” surging with the new president’s arrival in a bid to greet him, while they “they collided with fragile furniture and shoved servants laden with punch bowls and trays of food,” according to several accounts compiled by the White House Historical Association.
“Tens of thousands of people went to the White House and rampaged through the White House, and he had to sort of sneak out to get away,” historian Joanne Freeman told WBUR’s Here & Now. “And they broke a lot of china and messed up some rugs.”
Four years ago, Trump likened his Make America Great Again movement to support for Jackson, with an organizer for his inauguration even suggesting that, like Jackson, he would have liked to open the White House to the public. “Unfortunately, security concerns are different than they were in 1829,” Trump adviser Tom Barrack later said of the plan.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 1861
On the way to his first inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled through the dead of night to bypass threats from a group of slaveholders who wanted him dead. One plan was intercepted by detective Allan Pinkerton, who warned Lincoln about the plot and helped to devise an escape plan out of Philadelphia, where he had stopped en route from Illinois, involving a disguise and a speeding midnight train. The country was on the verge of civil war at the time, and Lincoln was heavily protected as he made his way to the Capitol. His safe arrival split the country, with half praising his possibly lifesaving efforts and the other half assailing him as a coward.
BILL CLINTON, 1993
Bill Clinton swapped the typical military cadet and equestrian parade for a reggae band, lawn-chair drill team, and two Elvis impersonators for his 1993 event. Photographs from the day show a crowd stretched to the horizon.
RONALD REAGAN, 1985
Due to extreme weather, Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural inside the Senate in 1985. It was the coldest inauguration day on record at the time, with a midday temperature of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, while Reagan’s first inauguration experienced the warmest weather, according to Library of Congress records. Many of the events were canceled due to the cold, including the parade.
RICHARD NIXON, 1973
In 1973, Richard Nixon wanted to halt the possibility that feathered friends could interfere in the events kicking off his second term. Officials blasted a chemical bird repellent, Roost No More, along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, at a cost of $13,000. The result? A path to his second inauguration littered with dead pigeons and flanked by anti-war protesters.
CALVIN COOLIDGE, 1923
Calvin Coolidge inaugurated his presidency on Aug. 3, 1923, at the Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. This was the sixth unplanned inauguration at the time and occurred after President Warren Harding died unexpectedly the night before. Coolidge’s father administered the oath of office, which Coolidge repeated approximately three weeks later before Justice Adolph Hoehling at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.