On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump will kick off an event that’s over 200 years old—the Presidential Inauguration, in which he will become the 45th president of the United States.
Riding a wave of malcontent after winning a divisive presidential race, Trump’s inauguration is set to be one of the most controversial events in recent American history. Hundreds of thousands are pouring into DC, set to protest, cheer, grieve, and revel as Barack Obama hands over the baton to Donald Trump.
Trump’s team faces a number of unique challenges in making his inauguration day successful. Spurned by the majority of artists and performers that were invited, Trump’s entertainment offerings on the 20th are slim, their roster filled mostly with unknown names. And protestors—who may show up in unprecedented numbers—threaten to upend the entire affair.
It is entirely possible that Trump’s inauguration may go down in history as one of America’s worst.
But the 2017 inauguration isn’t the first time America has experienced a tumultuous inauguration as national leadership has changed hands. In fact, as you are about to discover, it’s not unusual at all.
The Chair War of 1817 Inauguration
The very first outdoor inaugural address was, in fact, sparked by a petty squabble over chairs.
Before 1817, all inaugurations were held indoors, but because of fire damage, the Capitol was under reconstruction at the time President-elect Monroe was to take his oath of office. His inauguration was scheduled to be held within the House chamber, but after a bitter scuffle about which chairs should be used—the “fine red chairs” of the Senate, or the “plain democratic chairs,” of the House of Representatives, Monroe decided to simply circumvent the entire squabble and proceed outdoors.
Except in cases of extreme weather, all subsequent Inauguration Days have since been conducted outside.
The Drunken Inauguration
The inauguration of Andrew Jackson took place in 1829, as he stood upon the East Portico of the Capitol, before a crowd of over 20,000 people.
Most of them were drunk. It did not end well.
When the excited crowd broke through the cable that held them back and began climbing into the windows of the White House—which had been officially opened to all for a post-inaugural reception—America’s most drunken Inaugural Day began.
The White House, which was filled to capacity, suffered thousands of dollars worth of damage through looting and wanton destruction by revelers.
It was only when White House officials brought out tubs of whiskey and set them far away on the lawn that the crowd was coaxed out.
Some historians, however, believe that the details of this incident might have been exaggerated by enemies of Jackson, who feared his lower-class supporters.
The Unsanitary Inauguration
When president-elect James Buchanan arrived at the National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue over 150 years ago, all was set for a lavish Inauguration Day. No one, however, expected the day to end in sickness and death.
The National Hotel was the finest hotel in the city, and so many of the wealthiest guests of the 1857 Inauguration settled in, attending opulent banquets and imbibing vast quantities of alcohol.
But something went terribly wrong. Guests were suddenly stricken with nausea, vomiting, and terrible diarrhea. Their tongues swelled within their mouths, blocking airways. This sickness affected dozens, including Buchanan, himself.
36 people would go on to die from this unknown illness, making Buchanan’s inauguration the deadliest in history.
News of possible foul play spread rapidly, as the 1857 election was a contentious one, rife with radical politics—rumors spread quickly in such an environment.
But because the National Hotel was owned by a friend of Buchanan, he tried again after recovering to prove that the hotel was safe, and the same thing happened again. Buchanan went on to make his speech while suffering from dysentery-like symptoms, giving a long-winded speech in which he called slavery “a matter of but little practical importance”.
The Second Drunken Inauguration
Abraham Lincoln will forever be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, but few know just how bad his inauguration was.
To be fair, it wasn’t his fault—it was the fault of Vice President-elect Andrew Johnson, who gave his address absolutely hammered.
Recovering from a bout of typhoid fever, Johnson drank profusely at the inauguration-eve festivities. The next morning, and just before the inauguration, he drank three shots of “medicinal” whiskey in quick succession.