2019-02-20
Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com

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.

Sound familiar?

"The White House, which was filled to capacity, suffered thousands of dollars worth of damage through looting and wanton destruction by revelers."

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.

His speech, of course, was long, rambling, and borderline-nonsensical, and despite his friends pulling at his coat and begging him to sit, he went on and on.

But that’s not the worst part.

On this miserable, rainy, muddy day in 1865, Johnson stumbled and slurred his way through the oath of office, and as he did so, he put his hand on the Bible and bellowed, “I kiss this Book in the face of my nation the United States”.

He then gave the Bible a big, sloppy, drunken kiss.

As the new vice-president, Johnson was supposed to swear in new senators, but was too drunk to do so, and so a Senate clerk had to complete the ceremony.

Later, as suggestions of immediate impeachment arose, Lincoln—who was Johnson’s friend—explained that “I have known Andrew Johnson for many years. He made a slip the other day, but you need not be scared; Andy ain’t a drunkard.”

This is one matter in which Lincoln would prove to be gravely wrong.

The Angry Inauguration

In a shadow of what may be to come for the Trump inauguration, the 2001 Inauguration Day of former president George W. Bush was disrupted by protestors.

Tens of thousands of protestors lined up along the parade route taken by the presidential limo—more protestors than Richard Nixon drew during the height of the Vietnam War.

On a miserably cold and rainy Saturday, these crowds chanted and waved signs that bore crude caricatures, as well as such inscriptions as “Bush Cheated” and “Hail to the Thief”. These protestors included environmentalists, feminists, anti-death penalty protestors, and pro-choice activists.

The negativity of the crowd was palpable, creating an inauguration that was not only physically overcast and dreary, but emotionally so as well. So angry were the masses that Bush was unable to walk any stretch of the parade, as his father and Bill Clinton had done.

At one point, protestors began to throw items at Bush’s limo, including an egg and a tennis ball, putting a decidedly morose cap on a Bush’s cold, gray inaugural day.

It also didn’t help that the Clinton administration left a variety of practical jokes behind as they left, which the Bush administration claimed cost over 13 thousand dollars to repair—including the replacement of computer keyboards, from which the letter “W” was removed.

More of the Same

As you can see, inaugurations have been going badly for the America’s entire history—from drunkenness, to looting the White House, to twofold rampant sickness, things have been going bad for almost two hundred years.

Issues of presidency aside, the Inauguration of Donald Trump isn’t likely to top these disasters. But whatever happens, be sure to participate in your country’s history and watch the ceremony as it kicks off at 11:30 a.m. on January 20th.

more from beliefnet and our partners