Editor’s note: We’re continuing our series on Presidential Inaugurations. Click on the category listing above to see the other posts in the series.
–by Don Kennon
The inauguration of Jefferson’s successor, James Madison, moved to the larger House Chamber in 1809, which continued to be the site until 1829, with the exception of Monroe’s inaugural in 1817, which was held in front of the temporary Old Brick Capitol because the restoration of the Capitol had not been completed following the fire set by British troops in 1814.
In 1829, however, the inauguration of Andrew Jackson as the seventh President of the United States moved the ceremony outside the building to the East Portico of the Capitol. Outgoing President John Quincy Adams, Jackson’s bitter political enemy, decided to boycott the ceremony, just as his father had left town before Jefferson’s inaugural in 1801. Quincy Adams vacated the White House and chose to go horseback riding on the inaugural day. Jackson, who was in mourning following the death of his beloved wife Rachel, wore a plain black cloth suit and a black mourning band on his hat. He walked from his room at Gadsby’s Hotel to the Capitol accompanied by fifteen Revolutionary War veterans.
Because of the large crowd gathered at the Capitol’s east front, Jackson entered the building through the west front basement door. A ship’s cable had been stretched across the east front steps to keep the crowd back. As spectator Margaret Bayard Smith reported:
“Thousands and thousands of people, without distinction of rank, collected in an immense mass round the Capitol, silent, orderly and tranquil, with their eyes fixed on the front of that edifice, waiting the appearance of the President in the portico.
The door from the Rotunda opens, preceded by the marshals, surrounded by the Judges of the Supreme Court, the old man with his grey locks, that crown of glory, advances, bows to the people, who greet him with a shout that rends the air, the Cannons, from the heights around, from Alexandria and Fort Warburton proclaim the oath he has taken and the hills reverberate the sound. It was grand,—it was sublime!
An almost breathless silence, succeeded and the multitude was still, — listening to catch the sound of his voice, tho’ it was so low, as to be heard only by those nearest to him. After reading his speech, the oath was administered to him by the Chief Justice. The Marshal presented the Bible. The President took it from his hands, pressed his lips to it, laid it reverently down, then bowed again to the people —Yes, to the people in all their majesty. . . .”
At the close of the ceremony, the crowd pressed forward to greet Jackson, the cable broke and the President had to retreat back into the Capitol and leave by the west door where he mounted a horse and rode to the White House. The reception at the White House has become notorious in American history. Mobs of ill-mannered well-wishers trashed the furniture, carpeting and draperies, forcing the President to flee back to Gadsby’s and the servants to cart tubs of punch out to the south lawn to swill a mob of revelers estimated at 20,000. It may have been an undignified ending, but as Margaret Bayard Smith concluded, “it was the People’s day, and the People’s President and the People would rule.”
David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, “’Not a Ragged Mob’: The Inauguration of 1829,” White House History, No. 15 (Fall 2004): 15-23
Eyewitness to History: The Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, 1829
Library of Congress, “Andrew Jackson: First Inauguration, March 4, 1829”
Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society