Inauguration Day in the United States of America is always a remarkable event, but it is even more so when the incoming president is of the opposite political party from the incumbent president. What makes the day so remarkable is that we make a celebratory occasion about the peaceful and orderly way we accept the will of the people in electing each new president. In so many countries in the world power changes hands in coups or with troops in the streets and clashing armies. It is not that our inaugurations have not been free of anxiety and high drama, or that there haven’t been protestors as part of the day’s events. Protest too is an essential part of democratic societies and the fact that we tolerate and even encourage dissent, sets us apart.
Our first inauguration, held in New York City in April 30, 1789, saw George Washington arriving by boat to proceed up to Federal Hall at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets for his swearing-in ceremony. There was no Supreme Court yet, so he was sworn in by the highest-ranking judge in New York, Chancellor Robert Livingston. It is hard to imagine the special nature of that inauguration, which was part of the launching of the Great Experiment in Self-Government. With the first quorums of the House and Senate earlier that April, and with Washington’s swearing-in, the Constitution went from parchment to reality.