President Obama kicked off his second and final term officially Jan. 20, followed by a formal ceremony the next day where an estimated 700,000 gathered at the National Mall to witness the swearing in of our commander-in-chief by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution dictates that the official ceremony must take place at noon on Jan. 20., though it makes an exception for when the date falls on a Sunday, as was the case this year as well as with Presidents Eisenhower in 1957 and Reagan in 1985.
Why hold a massive outdoor ceremony in Washington D.C. in the middle of January? Prior to 1933 when the 20th Amendment was ratified, the president would take the oath of office on March 4. During a time in history prior to quick and convenient cross-continental travel and getting from point A to point B was done on horseback, it was only logical that any newly elected president be given four months to travel to the capitol. This 120-day lame duck period proved to be problematic when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected and had to wait four months to begin dealing with The Great Depression.
Though many traditions have come and gone, the history of inaugural fanfare is rich. This year, the pageantry kicked off at 9 a.m. and included renditions of the national anthem and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” sung by Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson, followed by the Inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.
With greyer hair than four years ago and a smaller crowd (The 2009 ceremony drew 1.8 million to the capital), Obama gave his second inaugural address to the nation, heavily emphasizing unity and equality as essential to our country’s success while recognizing the bleak economic unbalance (“…a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.”) that negates the notion that dreams and hard work will bring prosperity, one that used to be internationally identified as an American ideal. He called out in support of immigration reform and strength in tolerance.
The inaugural address is historically the speech in which the president makes known where he would like to take the nation during his term, focusing on the country’s emotions rather than presenting specific policies and reform.
“The message on inauguration day is really more philosophical,” said Keith St. Clair, GRCC political science professor.
It was during John F. Kennedy’s address in 1961 that he gave the infamous “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” speech that inspired a generation.