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Inaugurations — Washington To Buchanan

( Originally Published 1908 )

THE ceremony of inauguration of a President of the United States begins at the White House, while the vital feature, the oath, has usually been a part of the imposing scene at the Capitol. Nearly every incoming President has first driven to the White House, there to be formally received by the outgoing President, after which ceremony the two Presidents have, as a rule, driven together to the Capitol.

According to the custom long prevailing, on "leaving the White House for the Capitol, the outgoing and incoming Presidents are escorted by the military, the regulars predominating, and on coming from the Capitol, not only by the military, but the thousands of men who comprise the societies and political clubs, thereby emphasizing that all recognize him as President as well as commander-in-chief of the armed force of the Republic, and this procession is reviewed by the newly installed executive."

In this chapter and the one following will be found brief reference to the inauguration and welcome to the White House of each new President, beginning with John Adams, the first President; to live in the President's House, as it was then called, in Washington. George Washington's inauguration took place in New York, and therefore an account of his first day as President' of the United States does not properly belong in this history.

John Adams First to Live in the White House

President John Adams took possession of the White House late in 1800, and on New Year's Day, 1801, held his first public reception, this being what may properly be called the first formal opening of the President's House to the public. Previous to that November day when he first entered the White House, however, President John Adams arrived in Washington and lived first at the Union Tavern in Georgetown, and later at Tunnicliff's Hotel in Washington. This was in the summer of 1800. His first formal appearance in Washington was on June 3, when he entered the city and was met by a large body of citizens on horseback, and was escorted thus to the tavern mentioned. These comprise the principal facts relating to the entrance of John Adams to the White House.

Jefferson First to be Inaugurated in Washington

"Mr. Jefferson had sent to Virginia for a carriage and four horses, but the condition of the roads was such that they had not arrived, and he seems to have made the best of an awkward situation by going alone on horseback, and thereby setting an example of what is still known as `Jeffersonian simplicity"'.

Such is the popular story in relation to Jefferson's movements on the day of inauguration. By many historians this story is said not to be strictly in accordance with the facts, though exactly what the facts were seem to be hazy, and any attempt to discover whether Mr. Jefferson really did ride alone to the Capitol only leads to confusion. It is related that John Davis, the English schoolmaster who first told the unfounded tale of Jefferson's riding alone to the Capitol to be inaugurated as President, and hitching his horse to the palisades, wrote of Washington in 1802, what may well be believed : "There were no objects to catch the eye but a forlorn pilgrim forcing his way through the grass that overruns the streets, or a cow runiinating on a bank." He says the village was surrounded by "end-less and almost impenetrable woods."

One account of Mr. Jefferson's inauguration is found in the National Intelligencer for March 6, 1801, in which these facts are stated :

"At an early hour on Wednesday 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 adjacent districts.

"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 of artillery. On his entry into the Senate Chamber, there were assembled the Senate and the Members of the House of Representatives. The members rose and Mr. Burr left the Chair of the Senate, which Mr. Jefferson took.

"After a few minutes of silence, Mr. Jefferson rose and delivered his address before the largest concourse of citizens ever assembled here. After seating himself for a short period, he again rose and approached the clerk's table, where the oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice; after which he returned to his lodgings, accompanied by the Vice-President, Chief-Justice and heads of Departments, where he was waited upon by a number of distinguished citizens.

"As soon as he withdrew, a discharge of artillery was made. The remainder of the day was devoted to festivity, and at night there was a pretty general illumination."

Madison and Monroe Welcomed in Washington

Mr. Willetts must refer to President Madison's first inauguration here as Mrs. Madison could by no possibility have "begun" her brilliant career at Mr. Monroe's reception. I judge it is the Madison first inauguration as he also describes the gown worn by Mrs. Madison the same as given by Singleton in her story of the White House on page 56, vol. I. He is inaccurate, however, in speaking of this reception at the White House; it was given at Mr. Madison's Washington residence.

President Monroe's welcome to the White House was equally notable in a social way, "the President being the life of the party."

John Quincy Adams Takes His Fathers Place

John Quincy Adams, eldest son of John Adams, came to the White House to continue his remarkably systematic mode of life and to leave the mansion finally with great reluctance, all according to this entry in his diary :

"My rising hour has ranged from four to quarter past seven, the average being about half-past five, and the changes regulated by the time of my retirement to bed, which has varied from half-past ten to one A.M., which happened only once the day of the last drawing-room. My usual time of retirement is half past eleven ; giving six hours to the bed. On rising, I light my lamp by the remnant of fire in the bed-chamber, dress and repair to my cabinet, where I make my fire, and sit down to writing till between nine and ten. After breakfast I read the morning National Intelligencer and Journal, and from eleven A.M. to four P.M. receive visitors, transact business with the heads of Departments, and send messages to one or both Houses of Congress. My riding on horseback has been interrupted almost the whole month by the weather and the snow and ice. From four, I walk an hour and a quarter, till half-past five; dine and pass one or two hours in the bed-chamber or nursery ; then write again in my cabinet till the time for repose. This routine has now become so habitual to me that it forms part of the comfort of my existence, and I look forward with great solicitude to the time when it must be totally changed. I never go abroad, unless to visit a sick friend. But a large dinner-party once a week, a drawing-room once a fortnight, and the daily visitors, eight or ten, sometimes twelve or fifteen, keep me in consant intercourse with the world, and furnish constant employment, the oppressiveness of which is much relieved by its variety. This is a happy condition of life, which within five weeks or more must close.

Andrew Jackson Moves In

It is recorded of the rough and ready Andrew Jackson that, before his nomination for the Presidency, and while having in mind the culture of the Presidents who had up to that time occupied the White House, made this impulsive remark:

"Do you people suppose I'm such a fool as to think myself fit to be President of the United States? No, sir! I know what I'm fit for. I can lead a body of men in a rough way. But I'm not the man for President."

Yet so popular was "Old Hickory," the newly elected President that, men "came on horseback for hundreds of miles, horsemen galloped up and down Pennsylvania Avenue with hickory bark bridles, hickory stirrups, and carrying hickory clubs; women wore necklaces of hickory nuts and carried hickory brooms." As Jackson's carriage passed, men yelled "Go it Andy, we put you there!" and similar greetings, and cheered for "Old Hickory." Jackson seemed pleased, and smiled and bowed to right and left.

Jackson was known as the "People's President," and the day of his inauguration was known as "People's Day." At the reception at the White House the crowd was dense, and so greatly were the guests in one another's way that "they broke much of the crockery in the house. Fully twenty thousand persons assembled in and around the White House. One of the best newspaper accounts of this welcome of President Jackson to his official home, says :

"The rush of people to this place (Washington) is unprecedented. Where the multitude slumbered last night is inconceivable, unless it were on their mother earth, curtained by the unbroken sky. The morning was ushered in by a salute of thirteen guns. At eleven, the breathing mass were around the Capitol, dense and wide. At about twelve, a rending shout announced the presence of the General. He appeared in the eastern portico, which, from its elevation, rendered the ceremony extremely conspicuous and imposing. Order being reclaimed, the oath was administered, when another shout went up from the multitude. After a dignified bow, the President commenced his address. His manner was simple and emphatic. His voice was distinct and audible at a considerable distance.

The address being finished, another, acclamation rent the air. There was now a general rush among the foremost to reach the President's hand. But his excellency withdrawing into the Capitol with his suite, the crowd was soon seen moving down the avenue towards the President's house. Here followed a scene of the most nondescript character. High and low, old and young, black and white, poured in one solid column into this spacious mansion. Here was the corpulent epicure grunting and sweating for breath the dandy wishing he had no toes the miser hunting for his pocketbook the courtier looking for his watch—and the office seeker."

Van Buren and the Two Harrison

Martin Van Buren, of New York, the eighth President, was received in Washington with honors no less great than those which were heaped upon his predecessor, Mr. Andrew Jackson. Yet the crowd at the White House numbered fewer persons and was, orderly.

A more spectacular scene occurred, however, when Mr. Van Buren's successor, William Henry Harrison, came to the White House in 1841. Mr. Harrison had been elected over Van Buren after a stirring campaign in which he owed much of his success to having been lauded as the hero of Tippecanoe, where he had defeated the Indians in a severe battle. "President Harrison, on the day of his welcome to the White House, rode in the midst of a hollow square of his friends, mounted on a white horse, and followed by a motley procession, in which men wearing coon-skin caps and hauling wagons on which were displayed log cabins."

Forty-eight years later, the grandson of William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, entered the doors of the White House to perform the duties of Chief Executive with ability as great as those displayed by his grandfather during the latter's short period in office.

One interesting incident of President Benjamin Harrison's incumbency occurred at the time he was notified of his nomina tion to serve a second term as President. The Committee called upon the President at the White House, and the scene, as described in the press of the day, was one of gayety, if not hilarity:

"On this occasion the crowd was democratic. Mrs. Harrison's illness prevented her attendance, but everybody else was there. Baby McKee, wearing a white flannel suit with blue stockings, with his German nurse, stood within reaching distance of, the file of Cabinet officers. The steward was near by, members of both houses of Congress were scattered just outside the horseshoe formed by the notification committee, and several hundred invited guests crowded about.

"When the speeches were ended, things, went wild—for the White House. The President shook hands with all, while Elliott F. Shepard gave three cheers, standing with both feet on one of the elegant chairs. Members of the Cabinet then took turns passing lemonade and salad in the State Dining-room, while Senators, Supreme Court judges, and pretty young ladies kept up a cross-fire of jokes and good-natured repartee'.

"President Harrison was as easy going as anyone. He danced Baby McKee in the air, and came out into the corridor, and personally invited some of the loiterers to come in and have some luncheon. It was a general jollification.

"Afterward the inevitable man with a camera came along. No one interfered, and he planted his apparatus just in front of the mansion and insisted on photographing everybody. In the general joy that filled the Presidential mansion, no objection was made, and the entire party lined up on the porch and had their pictures taken."

From Tyler to Pierce

The inaugurations of Presidents Tyler and Fillmore were very sorrowful events, of course, owing to the death of Presidents Harrison and Taylor, by which the two Vice-Presidents became, each in turn, suddenly the official head of the nation.

President Polk's inauguration and the reception following passed off without the occurrence of anything extraordinary.

President Taylor was not at all fond of pomp or show or of the lighter features of social life, yet he was obliged to attend the Inaugural Ball held in his honor, a picturesque account of which in the press, reads :

"Night is come and `the moon looks with a watery eye upon the world'. There is a small staircase, like a hencoop on an angle of sixty degrees, into which loads of living beauty are tumbled with great want of ceremony. There is no regular place, shelves, partitions, or tickets, for overcoats or dresses. You crowd on, descend a staircase of some twenty steps into a saloon which has been built of wood for the occasion spacious and elegant, but somewhat too crowded by the great mass rushing through it. The walls are ornamented with various designs, draped with flags, etc., and large chandeliers suspended from the canvas ceiling, keep up perpetual showers of falling tallow as the candles grow awkwardly wicked.

"General Taylor entered about eleven, and was received with considerable enthusiasm, though not as much as I had expected. He marched through the centre the whole length of the saloon, bowing on each side. He was leaning on the arm of Mayor Seaton and Speaker Winthrop. He afterward went round the outside of the saloon, shaking hands with the ladies."

Buchanan Wears His Lancaster Suit

When James Buchanan was called to the Presidency, he was living at Wheatlands, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With him, when he arrived at the White House, was his nephew, Colonel Lane, who also acted as his private secretary ; and Miss Harriet Lane, his beautiful niece, who was destined to make a great name for herself as mistress of the White House.

After the ceremonies at the Capitol, on the day of Mr. Buchanan's inauguration, the outgoing Chief Executive, Mr. Pierce, accompanied President Buchanan back to the White House, where they bade each other farewell. Then, all during the remainder of the day, a great concourse of people gathered at the White House, where the Mayor of Washington delivered an address of welcome, to which the President replied in hearty vein.

At the Inaugural Ball held in the evening of this great day in his life, President Buchanan patriotically wore the suit made by a tailor of his home town, a suit that has become famous through frequent mention in history as the "Lancaster Suit."

The President's clothes are described in a newspaper of Buchanan's time, thus :

"When Mr. Buchanan delivers his address, he will be dressed in a coat made by Mr. Metzger, of Lancaster, lined with black satin, the stitching of which is somehow to represent the thirty-one States, with the `Keystone' in the centre."

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