Obama’s Second Inauguration Blends Law and Tradition
Explaining the Difference Between the Two
Barack Obama took his second term oath of office twice. The first occurred on Sunday, January 20, at a small private service in the White House. The second ceremony was for the public at the Capitol on Monday, January 21. Lunch, the parade, and dozens of parties followed. It was not a plot, or a secret, or new. As usual, the media did a poor job of explaining the events.
George Washington’s first inauguration was April 30, 1789. All formal inaugurals were on March 4 after that, until the Twentieth Constitutional Amendment changed the date to January 20. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second inaugural in 1937 was the first held in January. The 20th amendment says:
The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and . . . the terms of their successors shall then begin.
Every seven years, January 20 falls on a Sunday. Occasionally that day coincides with a presidential inauguration. Obama’s first swearing, at 11:55 AM on Sunday, was the official one. The second, on Monday, was the traditional one.
When January 20 is a Sunday, the politicians don’t want to upset the religious folk, so they hold a public oath and the festivities the following day. This also happened three times in the past, with Presidents Woodrow Wilson (1917), Dwight Eisenhower (1957), and Ronald Reagan (1985). It is not because government offices are closed on Sunday, as the media so erroneously reported. All federal offices are closed on every Presidential Inauguration Day, too.
For unexplained reasons, the Inaugural Committee and the media billed this as “the 57th presidential inauguration”. It was not. It was the 66th. Twenty-two presidents spoke the oath of office once. Twenty said it twice. One, Franklin Roosevelt, did it four times.
THE OATH OF OFFICE
Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution says:
“ Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: —“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
That’s all. There is no “So help me god”. George Washington added the phrase at his first inaugural. It became tradition but is not required. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is not required to administer the oath. The president can ask anyone to do it, or he can just speak the words on his own, without help.
The media always fixate on each president’s bible. Where did it come from? Whose is it? How many people have used it? That, too, is a tradition. The Constitution does not require a bible. The president can use one, or not. He can hold any object he wants, or none at all.
- John Quincy Adams took his oath while holding a law book.
- Franklin Pierce was the only president to affirm the oath rather than swear it. A sworn oath acknowledges religious principles. An affirmed oath does not. Both accomplish the same thing.
- Theodore Roosevelt did not use any object when he took his first oath in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley.
- Lyndon Johnson used a Catholic missal (prayer book) when he took his oath aboard Air Force One, after President John Kennedy’s assassination, because no one had a bible at the moment.
- It is unknown whether Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan used bibles or not.
PARADES AND BALLS
The pomp and ceremony of Inauguration Day have evolved and become more elaborate over the years. Events include a morning worship service, procession to the capitol, swearing-in ceremonies, inaugural address, music, prayers, poetry, a luncheon hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inauguration Ceremonies, the parade, and the balls. It’s all tradition; none of it is required.
This is how the United States of America transfers power. Regardless of our political animosities, the United States still has one of the most peaceful and respectful transfers of power in the world.
Teach your children.