Magazine article Humanities

Editor's Note: The Presidency

Magazine article Humanities

Editor's Note: The Presidency

Article excerpt

Every four years brings a familiar ritual: "Ruffles and Flourishes," a swearing-in, a speech, a longish parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and as dusk falls, a thinning in the grandstands as many slip away to dress for a round of parties that night.

The inaugural of a president has never been simple.

For George Washington, the term "strenuous" might be more apt. For his 1789 inaugural he traveled eight days from Mount Vernon to New York City. It was muddy that spring, historians report, but Washington's trip was triumphal-he was greeted by banners, flowers, and his soldiers from the Continental Army and their wives and children.

No capital had been settled upon. Eventually Washington, D.C. was chosen. John Adams succeeded Washington; then power shifted and Thomas Jefferson was sworn in, on March 4,1801, at a ceremony in the Senate chamber. "Since the House of Representatives did not elect him until February 17," biographer Dumas Malone notes, "Jefferson had only a little more than two weeks in which to prepare his inaugural address. This was somewhat less time than he had to write the Declaration of Independence." For two weeks after the ceremony, Malone continues, Jefferson remained at a boardinghouse near the Capitol before moving into "the big box of a President's House a mile away." Jefferson had already selected his secretary, the young Captain Meriwether Lewis. As fate would have it, Lewis would become the man who would carry out Jefferson's vision of finding a way west across the American continent.

The minutiae of life-what these presidents thought, how they acted and reacted in offstage moments-is the stuff of history. …

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