For those of us who are news and history junkies, today marks the zenith of a four-year cycle. I’m talking about Inauguration Day.
The influence of my formative years living in the Washington, D.C., area (inside the Beltway, as they say) adds to my excitement at this time in the political cycle.
It just doesn’t get any better than this: Pomp, circumstance, parades, nonstop news coverage, political celebrities, history in the making. No matter your political leaning, the period leading up to Inauguration Day and the day itself is so steeped in history that you can’t help but feel patriotic pride. It almost sends shivers up my spine.
But this is not a political column. We can talk national pride, patriotic pride, without talking politics or getting into partisan issues. The day itself, with its parade and festivities, is not usually about partisan politics.
This year marks our nation’s 58th inaugural ceremony. For more than 200 years, Americans have witnessed the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy, though the dates and locations have changed over the years.
George Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789. Then the date moved to March 4, until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term (38th inauguration, in 1937), when it switched to Jan. 20, where it has remained ever since. That change was mandated by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. When the date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremonies are often moved to the next day, although the president may be sworn in privately.
Many of the events taking place on Inauguration Day have deep roots.
Thomas Jefferson was the first president inaugurated in Washington, D.C. The Marine Band played at his inauguration, and it has continued to play at inaugurations ever since. Jefferson’s second inauguration, in 1805, marked the first parade.
James Madison held the first Inaugural Ball (tickets were $4). James Monroe has the distinction of being the first president to take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address outdoors.
Franklin Roosevelt started the tradition of a morning worship service.
Harry S Truman had the first televised inaugural ceremony. Ronald Reagan moved the inauguration from the East Portico to the West Front of the Capitol, facing the National Mall.
Memorable moments are key to this historic day. In addition to the pomp and circumstance, the inauguration speeches themselves have often been memorable – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama – and they are all historic, no matter which party you favor.
So it is with a certain amount of dismay that I watch many around me make plans to be anywhere but in Washington or in front of a screen on Jan. 20, purposely tuning out the changing of the guard in Washington.
Just for a moment, this should not be about taking sides. Can’t we take a one-day time-out to revel in all that makes us the United States of America?
Traditions are important to all of us, not just at home or on holidays, but also for our nation. We could all use a little togetherness now.