Friday, January 16, 2009
By Professor David Reynolds
You might think it strange that a country that seems so anti-traditional should be enthralled by this four-year ritual but the inauguration is America's version of a coronation - a democratic crowning, of a leader chosen by the votes of the people.
You can see this in the very first inauguration, of George Washington, in April 1789.
The infant United States didn't yet have its own capital, so the event took place in New York City on the balcony of Federal Hall in the heart of Wall Street.
Washington, America's victorious general in the War of Independence, was rowed across the Hudson River in a 50-foot barge, manned by 13 oarsmen in white smocks - symbolising the 13 states of the new nation.
Cannon fired a 13-gun salute and the band played God Save the King.
Yet the words were very different from Britain's national anthem: "Thrice welcome to this shore, Our Leader now no more, But Ruler thou..."
And Washington was dressed not in sumptuous robes but in "superfine American broad cloths" that had been made up into a suit for the occasion.
Clothed in New World simplicity he took the oath of office to support and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, whereupon New York dissolved in a week of parties, festivities and crass commercialism - with every huckster cashing on the market for GW souvenirs....(Click for remainder).