If we had lost the American Revolution, this entry would be very different. It might address the crowning of different monarchs and an overview of their reigns. Through fateful events, the application of great minds and blind luck, we won our independence. We forged a new republic, we established a democracy and we set in place a system for electing our leaders. It’s easy to forget what an astonishing accomplishment this is.
The President of the United States takes the Oath of Office on January 20. We bestow upon him or her the privilege and power of that office, and we reconsider our decision every four years. Inauguration Day marks a uniquely American tradition that belongs to each one of us.
The swearing-in ceremonies have had their ups and downs.
George Washington’s second acceptance speech marked the first eight years of our nation’s history, yet it remains the shortest on record. James Madison’s inauguration was routine. We remember it because his vivacious wife, Dolley, threw the first elegant ball to mark the occasion. The celebrants at Andrew Jackson’s party almost redefined that tradition. Their drunken revelry nearly destroyed the White House. William Henry Harrison gave a two-hour speech in freezing weather and developed a fatal case of pneumonia. Perhaps he should have followed Washington’s example of 135 perfectly chosen words.
As festive or somber as the occasion might be, January 20 marks the end of campaigns and the beginning of a new presidency. Whether our candidate gives the concession speech or takes the oath, we are all winners. This day could easily have been called Democracy Eve. It happens because we have examined our choices, made up our minds and cast our ballots.
America isn’t the only nation that bases its government on the vote of its citizens. However, with all its flaws and all its beauty, our system is unique. We allow our newly-elected President one special afternoon of pomp and circumstance, followed by four years in the White House. We, the people, make it possible. Inauguration Day really does belong to us.