Thursday, March 4, 1897, East Portico, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Although he was hobbled by gout, outgoing President Grover Cleveland was in a wonderful mood for a man who was turning the White House over to a politician from the opposition party. It was bright and sunny, which made the 40-degree weather seem warmer than it was in Washington, and after two non-consecutive terms as President, Cleveland was ready to return home to Princeton, New Jersey.
Despite the fact that he was only two weeks away from his 60th birthday, President Cleveland looked — and felt — older. Heavier than any of his predecessors (and all of his successors besides William Howard Taft), Cleveland had become President for the first time exactly twelve years earlier, in 1885. On the same day in 1889, he watched Benjamin Harrison replace him. But four years later, in 1893, Cleveland reclaimed the White House from President Harrison. During his first term, Grover Cleveland married the 21-year-old daughter of a longtime family friend in the first wedding of a President ever held in the White House. During his second term, Cleveland’s wife, Frances, gave birth to the first child of a President ever born in the White House. However, Cleveland’s second term also featured a secret surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his mouth, a punishing economic depression which lasted the entire four years, and labor strife which sapped Cleveland’s energy and popularity. On this sunny March day, Cleveland was pleased to pack up his happy White House memories with his family’s belongings. And, this time, they had no plans to return.
Throughout our nation’s history of Presidential transitions, the interactions between the outgoing and incoming Presidents have ran the gamut from cordial (most modern transitions) to downright chilly (Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt). Befitting the bright and sunny weather, Inauguration Day 1897 witnessed warm and genial relations between outgoing President Cleveland and President-elect McKinley. As the tradition called for, the President-elect joined President Cleveland at the White House and the two men rode together in an open carriage down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol for the Inaugural ceremonies. As they met up at the Executive Mansion, both men smiling, McKinley said to Cleveland, “Mr. President, you are a happier man than I am.” Without hesitation, Cleveland replied, “I am sure of that, Major.”
Later, Cleveland wrote, “I was glad when Mr. McKinley came to Washington to be inaugurated…and I took a drink of rye whiskey with him in the White House and shook hands with him and put my hat on my head and walked out a private citizen.” The outgoing President’s cordial relations with McKinley didn’t carry over to a Congress that had been troublesome to Cleveland in his second term. At the Capitol, while waiting for the ceremonies to begin, Congress adjourned and a group of Congressional leaders notified the man who was still President for a few more minutes that their work had come to an end. ”Tell them,” Cleveland barked, “that I am damned glad to hear it.”
It was now William McKinley’s time to step forward and take his place as the 25th President of the United States. With Cleveland standing directly behind McKinley, Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller administered the 35-word-long Presidential oath of office to the kind, 54-year-old Civil War veteran nicknamed the “Idol of Ohio” who often wore a red carnation in his lapel so that people that he had to tell “No” didn’t have to leave his office empty-handed.
After the oath was administered, the Marine Band sounded Ruffles and Flourishes before playing “Hail to the Chief” and a 21-gun salute was fired in honor of the new Commander-in-Chief. The Chief Justice and now-former President Cleveland sat down in black leather chairs and Cleveland placed a his top hat on his balding head to shield it from the sun. As Thomas Edison’s motion picture cameras recorded the first-ever moving pictures of a Presidential Inauguration, President McKinley put on his reading glasses and delivered a nearly 4,000-word-long Inaugural Address to the thousands of Americans in attendance.
Throughout the country the next morning, few newspapers reported the Inaugural ceremonies without noting the bright and sunny skies above Washington and President McKinley began his Administration. It was seen as a good omen, a clear sign that a bright future was ahead for Americans as William McKinley led the United States of America into the 20th Century — the “American Century”.
"If good weather for so important an event may be acceptable as a favorable augury," the New York Times declared, “President McKinley has begun an administrative career that should be full of sunshine, good order, good humor, and general satisfaction. Not a cloud cast its shadow over any part of the inaugural proceedings.”
On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz darkened the young American Century and cast shadows on the sunshine and goodwill that William McKinley attempted to bring to the White House. Czolgosz approached the President in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and shot McKinley twice in the abdomen. Czolgosz likely would have fired more bullets at the President if not for the quick action of a nearby citizen. At first, McKinley rallied and looked as if he might survive, but a gangrenous infection set in and the popular, 58-year-old President, beloved to many, died at 2:15 AM on September 14, 1901.
The nuclear “football” is definitely fascinating — it might be the most interesting piece of luggage in the world. That’s partly because of its importance, partly because it goes everywhere that the President goes, and mostly because it has a mystique to it which can lead people with wild imaginations into believing that it contains just about anything.
For those who don’t know, the nuclear “football” is a briefcase carried by a military aide who travels everywhere with the President. It’s not a bad job for the military aide who gets to fly on Air Force One and see the world from within shouting distance of the President, but the aide does have to lug this 50-pound bag every step of the way:
From what past military aides have told us, the football contains communications equipment, instructions for activating the Emergency Broadcast System, and information and options on potential target sites for our nuclear weapons. The procedures and authentication codes for launching nuclear weapons are also included in the football. If I remember correctly, the President also carries authentication codes on something like a credit card that he keeps on his person, as well. During the Cold War, at least, I believe the President received new authentication codes every morning and those were supposed to match up with the codes inside the football in order to launch nuclear weapons. Many Presidents carry the card of authentication codes in their wallet or in the pocket of their shirt or suit jacket. Also, there is most likely a book in the football filled with other classified information in case of a doomsday attack, such as continuity of government procedures, evacuation sites (for the President, his family, his staff, Congress, and top military leaders), and emergency contact information.
There is more than one football. The President, of course, travels with one, but the Vice President travels with a nuclear football, as well. I’m sure there is a foolproof system that prevents the Vice President from launching nuclear weapons on his own, but the VP needs a football with him in case, for example, the President dies in a nuclear strike and the nation (and new President) needs to retaliate immediately. There are probably spare nuclear footballs stashed at undisclosed locations, continuity of government sites, and air force bases around the country. There is a backup football at the White House that can be dispatched to the President or Vice President, if necessary. When he’s at home, obviously, the President doesn’t need to have the military aide following him around with the football because he has the capability to launch nuclear strikes and access the necessary communication systems from within the White House.
As for your question, the answer is actually much simpler than you would think, especially when it comes to our wonderful federal government, which seems to love making things more difficult.
On Inauguration Day, when there is a transition between Presidents like we saw in 2009 when the Presidency passed from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, there are two military aides carrying nuclear footballs — one assigned to the outgoing President and one assigned to the President-elect.
If I were to take a guess on the logistics, I would imagine that the President would receive his authentication codes as usual and be matched up with his military aide and that the President-elect (who has been briefed throughout the transition on logistical issues such as the nuclear football) would also receive authentication codes that morning and be matched up with a military aide. I would think that the authentication codes given to the outgoing President (in this case, George W. Bush) and his military aide would expire upon 12:00 PM when Obama officially became President and Obama’s authentication codes and his military aide would become active from that moment on. I don’t know all of this for a fact, but I believe that’s the way it goes. Basically, President Bush would arrive at the Capitol as President with his military aide and the football nearby and still in control of the nuclear arsenal, but he would leave the Capitol with only his wife at his side. I’m guessing that there aren’t very many feelings in life that measure up to the relief of the “I’m no longer responsible for having to launch retaliatory nuclear strikes that will probably destroy the planet” feeling.
By the way, if I were President, I would immediately get rid of the nuclear football and replace it with this:
Good luck, Mr. President.
As we continue the journey towards Election Day, we also continue our look at the data and statistics from nearly 225 years of Presidential history in order to compare the Presidents and Vice Presidents with each other and see where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would fit in if they happened to win in November.
Today, we look at the Presidents and Vice Presidents organized by their age upon taking office. In most instances, this reflects their age on Inauguration Day when they proudly stood in front of the nation and their fellow Americans and took the oath of office. However, some instances reflect more somber, tragic moments when a Vice President was required to fulfill his Constitutional responsibilities and assume the Presidency upon the assassination, sudden natural death, and, in one case, resignation of the elected leader.
PRESIDENTS: AGE AT INAUGURATION
We look first at the ages of our Presidents, from oldest-to-youngest, on the day that they assumed office. The oldest President, Ronald Reagan, was inaugurated just 17 days short of his 70th birthday and was nearly 78 years old when he left office in 1989. He fared much better than the second oldest, William Henry Harrison, who was 68 on Inauguration Day 1841 and dead one month later. The youngest President ever was Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed office upon President McKinley’s assassination and wasn’t elected in his own right until 1904. The youngest person to be ELECTED President was John F. Kennedy.
Age | President | (Term as President)
69 years, 349 days: Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
68 years, 23 days: William Henry Harrison (1841)
65 years, 315 days: James Buchanan (1857-1861)
64 years, 223 days: George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
64 years, 100 days: Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
62 years, 98 days: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
61 years, 354 days: Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
61 years, 125 days: John Adams (1797-1801)
61 years, 26 days: Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
60 years, 339 days: Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
58 years, 310 days: James Monroe (1817-1825)
57 years, 353 days: James Madison (1809-1817)
57 years, 325 days: Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
57 years, 236 days: John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
57 years, 67 days: George Washington (1789-1797)
56 years, 223 days: George H.W. Bush (1981-1989)
56 years, 107 days: Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
56 years, 65 days: Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
56 years, 11 days: Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
55 years, 351 days: Grover Cleveland-2nd term (1893-1897)
55 years, 196 days: Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
55 years, 122 days: Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
55 years, 87 days: Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
54 years, 206 days: Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
54 years, 198 days: George W. Bush (2001-2009)
54 years, 151 days: Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
54 years, 89 days: Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
54 years, 34 days: William McKinley (1897-1901)
52 years, 253 days: Jefferson Davis (1861-1865) [Confederate President]
52 years, 111 days: Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
52 years, 20 days: Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
51 years, 350 days: Chester Alan Arthur (1881-1885)
51 years, 170 days: William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
51 years, 33 days: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
51 years, 30 days: Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
51 years, 8 days: John Tyler (1841-1845)
50 years, 184 days: Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
49 years, 304 days: James Garfield (1881)
49 years, 122 days: James K. Polk (1845-1849)
48 years, 101 days: Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
47 years, 351 days: Grover Cleveland-1st term (1885-1889)
47 years, 169 days: Barack Obama (2009- )
46 years, 311 days: Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
46 years, 149 days: Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
43 years, 236 days: John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
42 years, 322 days: Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
2012 NOTE: If elected, Mitt Romney will be 65 years, 314 days old on Inauguration Day (January 20, 2013). Somewhat surprisingly, that would actually make Romney the 4th OLDEST President in American history. In fact, he’d very nearly be among the top three oldest Presidents since Romney would be just one day younger than the third oldest President, James Buchanan, was when he was inaugurated in 1857.
VICE PRESIDENTS: AGE AT INAUGURATION
The Vice Presidency seems to favor youth more than the Presidency. Including Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, we have had 13 Vice Presidents under the age of 50, including the youngest person ever elected to national office, 36-year-old John C. Breckinridge, as well as Richard Nixon, who was elected VP before his 40th birthday. Yet the oldest man elected to national office (outside of Reagan’s second term) was 71-year-old Vice President Alben W. Barkley, and the two longest-living men ever elected to national office were Vice President John Nance Garner (died two weeks shy of his 99th birthday) and Vice President Levi P. Morton (died on his 96th birthday). Also, despite the Vice Presidency’s youthful history, a whopping SEVEN Vice Presidents have died in office — all of natural causes.
Age | Vice President | (Term as Vice President)
71 years, 57 days: Alben William Barkley (1949-1953)
69 years, 38 days: Charles Curtis (1929-1933)
68 years, 230 days: Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814)
66 years, 331 days: William Rufus DeVane King (1853)
66 years, 165 days: Nelson Rockefeller (1974-1977)
66 years, 61 days: Joe Biden (2009- )
65 years, 221 days: George Clinton (1805-1812)
65 years, 178 days: Thomas Andrews Hendricks (1885)
64 years, 292 days: Levi P. Morton (1889-1893)
64 years, 102 days: John Nance Garner (1933-1941)
61 years, 16 days: Henry Wilson (1873-1875)
60 years, 257 days: Harry S. Truman (1945)
60 years, 145 days: Gerald Ford (1973-1974)
59 years, 356 days: Dick Cheney (2001-2009)
59 years, 189 days: Charles Gates Dawes (1925-1929)
58 years, 355 days: Thomas Riley Marshall (1913-1921)
57 years, 247 days: William Almon Wheeler (1877-1881)
57 years, 132 days: Adlai E. Stevenson (1893-1897)
56 years, 138 days: Richard Mentor Johnson (1837-1841)
56 years, 65 days: Andrew Johnson (1865)
53 years, 325 days: Thomas Jefferson (1797-1801)
53 years, 238 days: Hubert H. Humphrey (1965-1969)
53 years, 173 days: John Adams (1789-1797)
53 years, 131 days: James Schoolcraft Sherman (1909-1912)
52 years, 297 days: Charles Warren Fairbanks (1905-1909)
52 years, 274 days: Garret A. Hobart (1897-1899)
52 years, 237 days: George Mifflin Dallas (1845-1849)
52 years, 146 days: Lyndon B. Johnson (1961-1963)
52 years, 105 days: Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945)
51 years, 189 days: Hannibal Hamlin (1861-1865)
51 years, 72 days: Spiro Agnew (1969-1974)
50 years, 340 days: John Tyler (1841)
50 years, 150 days: Chester Alan Arthur (1881)
50 years, 89 days: Martin Van Buren (1833-1837)
49 years, 56 days: Millard Fillmore (1849-1850)
49 years, 15 days: Walter Mondale (1977-1981)
49 years, 0 days: Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1861-1865) [Confederate VP]
48 years, 243 days: Calvin Coolidge (1921-1923)
45 years, 346 days: Schuyler Colfax (1869-1873)
45 years, 26 days: Aaron Burr (1801-1805)
44 years, 295 days: Al Gore (1993-2001)
42 years, 351 days: John C. Calhoun (1825-1832)
42 years, 256 days: Daniel D. Tompkins (1817-1825)
42 years, 128 days: Theodore Roosevelt (1901)
41 years, 351 days: Dan Quayle (1989-1993)
40 years, 11 days: Richard Nixon (1953-1961)
36 years, 42 days: John C. Breckinridge (1857-1861)
2012 NOTE: If elected, Paul Ryan will be 42 years, 356 days old on Inauguration Day (January 20, 2013), which is nine days before his 43rd birthday. That would make Ryan the 7th youngest Vice President in American history — a few days older than John C. Calhoun, but nearly a year younger than Al Gore.
March 4, 1865
All dreaded it
All sought to avert it
Both parties deprecated war
One would make war
Rather than let the nation survive
One would accept war
Rather than let it perish
And the war came
Neither party anticipated
That the cause of the conflict might cease
With or even before
The conflict itself should cease
Both read the same Bible
Pray to the same God
His aid against the other
It may seem strange
That any men should dare to ask
A just God’s assistance
In wringing their bread from the sweat
Of other men’s faces
Let us judge not
That we be not judged
Woe unto the world because of offenses!
For it must needs be that offenses come
Woe to that man by whom the offense cometh
American slavery is one of the offenses
Which must needs come
Fondly do we hope
Fervently do we pray
That this mighty scourge of war
May speedily pass away
If two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil
Shall be sunk
Until every drop of blood drawn with the lash
Shall be paid
By another drawn with the sword
It must be said:
The judgments are true and righteous
With malice toward none
With charity for all
With firmness in the right
As God gives us to see the right
Let us strive
Finish the work we are in
Let us strive
Bind up the nation’s wounds
Let us strive
Care for him who born the battle
For his widow
For his orphan
Let us strive to do all
Let us strive to achieve
Let us cherish
A just and lasting peace
Among ourselves and with all nations.
Best moment? I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one best moment. Because of the emotionally-charged atmosphere after 9/11, there will always be something immensely powerful about President Bush on top of the rubble at Ground Zero speaking through a megaphone after the rescue workers said “We can’t hear you!” and the President said “Well, I can hear you! And the people who knocked down these towers will hear from ALL of us soon!”, followed by the “USA! USA!” chant. Another great (somewhat related) moment was when President Bush threw out the first pitch of the World Series at Yankee Stadium a few weeks after 9/11 and fired a perfect strike despite the fact that he was wearing a bulletproof vest (and despite the pressure that Derek Jeter put on him by saying “Don’t bounce it. They’ll boo you.”)
Those two examples, of course, are just symbolic things, but they were very powerful in the wake of 9/11.
What I find to be the best about our Presidents and Presidency, though, is that on Inauguration Day, we always have a smooth, peaceful transition. It’s a very remarkable thing that we almost take for granted. Yet, every four or eight years, a new President takes over and, no matter how nasty the campaign might have been, there is never a hitch in the proceedings. The peaceful transition between Presidential Administrations is constantly extraordinary.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last President to be inaugurated on March 4th as his first Inauguration (pictured above in 1933) was the final March 4th inaugural before the Constitution switched the date of the President’s installation to January 20th.
March 4th was the official Presidential Inauguration Day from 1793 until 1937, but the very first Presidential Inauguration actually took place on a different date. George Washington became the first President on April 30, 1789 when he was administered the oath of office by the Chancellor of New York, Robert R. Livingston, on the balcony of Federal Hall in the then-capital of the United States, New York City.
Congress passed legislation in 1792 which made March 4th Inauguration Day (a change which was officially codified in the Constitution in 1804 when the Twelfth Amendment was ratified). When President Washington took the oath of office for a second time in 1793, it was on this new date and in the nation’s new capital — Philadelphia.
The Constitution’s Twentieth Amendment, ratified after FDR took his first oath of office in 1933, changed Inauguration Day once again — this time to January 20th (in 1937 FDR became the first President sworn in on January 20th). Some people have mistakenly claimed that Inauguration Day was changed due to the bitterly cold weather that sometimes affected the March ceremonies. This argument, however, doesn’t make much sense as Washington, D.C. (which became the permanent national capital in 1800) is just as frigid, if not more so, in January as it is in March. If it good weather was the goal, George Washington’s initial Inauguration Day of April 30th would have been a better choice. Then again, if good weather was the goal, a better national capital would have been Miami.
But the reason for the change of date was not weather — it was time. Inauguration Day was moved from March to January to shorten the interval between a President’s election and his installation in office. Election Day is and always has been in November, and things move much more quickly today than they did in the time of Washington. Now, it doesn’t take nearly as long for votes to be counted, the Electoral College to meet, the winning candidate to be officially notified, and the President-elect to travel from his home to the national capital.
For decades, one of the biggest reasons for the long interval between election and inauguration was preparation time for the President-elect’s frequently lengthy and sometimes difficult trip from their home to Washington. Today, the President-elect can make it to Washington from anywhere in the country in just a few hours and his interval between election and inauguration is used to build his staff, select his Cabinet, and work with the outgoing Administration on transition.
No matter what the date of Inauguration Day is — whether it’s March 4th or January 20th — almost everyone agrees on one thing: it’s usually too damn cold.
As you might have seen elsewhere today, this is the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration.
January 20th has been the date of the quadrennial Presidential inauguration, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second Inauguration on January 20, 1937. Previously, the Presidential Inauguration Day was March 4th. George Washington’s first Inauguration, however, was on April 30, 1789.
In an odd, personal coincidence — your humble author of all the posts on Dead Presidents (that would be me) — was born on January 20th. Technically, I wasn’t born on Inauguration Day as 1980 featured no transition or renewal of a Presidential term. However, I was born during a Super Bowl, so that’s pretty cool.