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The History of Inauguration Day, From George Washington to Joe Biden

Looking back at the highs and lows of past presidential inaugurations.

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The United States has seen 58 previous presidential inaugurations, but none like this one. On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President amid a global pandemic and the aftermath of an attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the defeated incumbent, Donald Trump, who became only the fourth president not to attend his successor’s inauguration.

But while 2021's inauguration completed arguably the most tumultuous transfer of power in American history, the drama is not entirely unprecedented. Read on to explore the history of past inaugurations and presidential transitions, including John Adams snubbing Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, the threats against President-elect Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War, and the bitter transition from Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

Lincoln's Greatest Speech

Garry Wills
The Atlantic

Frederick Douglass called it “a sacred effort,” and Lincoln himself thought that his Second Inaugural, which offered a theodicy of the Civil War, was better than the Gettysburg Address.

From That Day Forth

Todd Purdum
Vanity Fair

Washington had never seen anything like it: the tidal wave of glamour, promise, and high spirits that descended on the capital for the 1961 inauguration of the youngest president ever elected, John F. Kennedy.