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Cokie Roberts Answers Listeners' Inauguration Questions


And I'm Steve Inskeep with your chance to ask Cokie about the presidential inauguration. Cokie Roberts is here, as she is most Wednesdays, to take questions from our audience. Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: So there's one huge story coming up on Friday morning. And we have some questions from the audience, including this.

TRACY CLEVELAND: My name is Tracy Cleveland. I'm from Commerce Township, Mich. Aside from those presidents who were deceased, has the outgoing president ever skipped the inauguration?

ROBERTS: Well, the Adams father and son were not very gracious about the men who defeated them.

INSKEEP: John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

ROBERTS: Exactly. But John Adams, it is fair to say, there had never been a transfer of power from one party to another. So there was no ritual in place. And even so, there were 36 ballots to get Thomas Jefferson elected. It was a very tough inauguration.

INSKEEP: Oh, that was one where it actually went into the House of Representatives, in 1800.

ROBERTS: Right, right.


ROBERTS: And a very perceptive reporter, Margaret Bayard Smith, wrote at the time, in every government and every age have most generally been epochs of confusion, villainy and bloodshed. In this, our happy country, this takes place without any species of distraction or disorder.

So this sense of a peaceful transfer was understood for the very first one. But then you had the same party for a while. And then Andrew Jackson gets elected.

INSKEEP: 1828.

ROBERTS: And John Quincy Adams asked his Cabinet whether he should go to the inauguration or not. And they said, basically, no. And so he said in his diary, it was a warm, spring-like day, and I rode on my horse into the city. And he rode and rode and rode.

INSKEEP: And just kept going and left Andrew Jackson to be inaugurated on his own.

ROBERTS: By himself.

INSKEEP: Wow. Here's another question now from our audience.

ADAM HANNA: Hi, I'm Adam Hanna from Edwardsville, Ill. Has the chief justice of the United States always administered the oath of office at inauguration?

INSKEEP: Which is what we would expect from John Roberts on Friday with Donald Trump.

ROBERTS: We will. But the first two, George Washington's first two inaugurations, were not the chief justice. The first was the chancellor of New York, which was the highest judicial post.


ROBERTS: The second one, an associate justice - but from John Adams on, except when there's been an extraordinary incidence, like an assassination or a death, the chief justice has administered the oath. But, Steve, that also can represent a transition of power. When Thomas Jefferson took the oath, John Adams just the night before had made John Marshall chief justice. And Thomas Jefferson hated his cousin, John Marshall. And then when Abraham Lincoln took the oath, his chief justice was Roger B. Taney, who had handed down the Dred Scott decision.

INSKEEP: Which reinforced slavery in the United States and Lincoln was so against, sure.

ROBERTS: And there was Lincoln, a minority president elected with only 30-some percent of the vote. He was so unpopular that there was tremendous concern about whether he would survive Inauguration Day. And so the military was out in force. This is nothing new, to have a very unpopular president take office.

INSKEEP: One more question now.

COLLEEN GOLDSMITH: Hi, Cokie. My name is Colleen Goldsmith (ph). And I'm calling from San Diego, Calif. My question is, when, why and how did the inauguration become such a big extravaganza?

ROBERTS: The truth is, it's really always been a pretty big deal. People marched with George Washington to Federal Hall in New York. And then as the years went on, more and more military people marched. The parades got bigger. Balls started with Dolley Madison. And they were stopped briefly by Woodrow Wilson.

The businessmen of Washington were furious because the ball paid for the inauguration. But Congress felt that some of the dances that had been at inaugural balls were not good. They were trying to outlaw grizzly bear gyrations, the bunny hug and all similar forms of convulsive movements.

INSKEEP: Well, you know, I mean, everybody's against grizzly bear gyrations really, when you get right down to it. Cokie, thanks very much, as always.

ROBERTS: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And Cokie Roberts joins us Wednesdays to answer your questions about how Washington and politics work. So you can tweet us at MORNING EDITION with the hashtag, #AskCokie. Or email us if you'd rather, askcokie@npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.