“I do solemnly swear . . .”

Jan 20, 1937:  Franklin D. Roosevelt, beginning his second term, becomes the first president to be inaugurated on January 20.

Every four years, following a presidential election, the nation holds an inauguration to install the president. The ceremony takes place at noon on January 20, usually outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The highlight comes when the president elect takes the oath of office. Every president since the nation’s founding has taken the exact same oath. The Constitution (Article II, Section 1) states the words that must be recited:

“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.”

George Washington is said to have added the words “So help me God” when he took the oath, and other presidents have done the same.

Thomas Jefferson was the first president to hold his inauguration in Washington, D.C., which did not become the U.S. capital until 1800. After his second inauguration, he rode by horseback from the Capitol building to the President’s House accompanied by well-wishers and band music. That procession began the tradition of the Inaugural Parade, which today proceeds from the Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

During the nation’s early history, Inauguration Day was March 4. In 1933 the Twentieth Amendment changed the date to January 20 to speed the changeover of administrations.

Other countries sometimes suffer bloodshed as governments rise and fall. In America, power flows smoothly from one elected leader to the next. As Ronald Reagan said during his 1981 inaugural address, “Few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

- Bill Bennett, The American Patriot Alamanac

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