October 3, 2011

A Brief Look at Inauguration Customs, 1809-1909

This article really lacks focus, so I wasn't sure what to name this post.  This article, however, is still entertaining.  It starts off talking about the packing of President Theodore Roosevelt's belongings for his move from the White House, with the preparations for Taft's inauguration as a backdrop.  It also describes T. R.'s library.  Then it jumps back a hundred years to look at James Madison's inaugural in 1809, and talks a bit about a few inaugural customs from that era which did not last.  It also discusses Teddy Roosevelt's attitude regarding gifts, and at the end briefly reviews inaugural gifts given to Presidents Madison, Van Buren, and Harrison.

From The Washington Herald of Washington, D.C., on February 14, 1909:

President and His Family Preparing for Their Departure to Oyster Bay Home.

About the only visible sign that the Roosevelts are "breaking up housekeeping" is to be found in the temporary grand stands now being erected on both sides of Pennsylvania avenue in front of the White House, says the Washington correspondent to the New York Post.  From his office windows Mr. Roosevelt can see the carpenters at work and hear the sounds of their hammers and saws.  Another man, perhaps, might find these physical preparations to welcome the coming guest wearing on his nerves.  But not Mr. Roosevelt.  His thoughts are all of Africa and the wild beasts.

While the reviewing stands are going up outside the White House the packers are just as busy inside.  All the Roosevelt impediments are being put in packing cases to be sent to Oyster Bay.  The rooms used by the President are being stripped of boxing gloves, books, single-sticks, stuffed animals and birds, gymnastic apparatus, original drawings of newspaper cartoons, and presents of one sort or another from monarchs and rulers and celebrated personages.  The whole makes an amazing assortment.  The President has added to his list of personal possession since he came into the White House despite his practice of refusing gifts from persons he did not know personally.  His books, pictures, rifles, shotguns, whips, spurs, and saddles are nearly ready for shipment.

The President's Personal Library.

The books that are being taken from the shelves in the study, just across the hall from the wide stairway, will not be replaced with copies for the use of Mr. Taft.  The President's library, the one he has kept for immediate reference and reading, has been largely a nature library.  There were essays and histories and poetry and some fiction on the shelves, of course, but most of the books of this kind were kept elsewhere in the White House, for Mr. Roosevelt seemed to feel that from Burroughs and Thoreau and Wilson and Audubon and Frank Forester he could get something of the outdoor life he craved while restrained within the four walls of a room.  And so the nature books were his close companions.

The cartoons, and there must be twenty-five or thirty of them, that have had places of prominence on the tops of the low bookshelves, may have places equally conspicuous in the big room which the President has made his own and which opens directly from the main hall in the Oyster Bay home.  These cartoons are prized by Mr. Roosevelt above many of his more costly belongings.  They are among the few presents he has consented to receive.

The cartoons are original drawings and some of them were sent to the President at his request after he had seen the reproductions in the newspapers or magazines, and that all of them show evidences of having been drawn in the spirit of admiration of the President's endeavor for the "uplift."

Costly Gifts Refused.

The President has refused to receive gifts of great value since he has come into high office.  The meaning is that he has declined gifts of high intrinsic value.  Things have been given that money cannot buy, at least from him.  Many authors have sent their books with their autographs inscribed.  These almost invariably have been taken, and in nearly every case there has been a return gift of a copy of one of the Roosevelt books, generally "The Wilderness Hunter," for by this work Mr. Roosevelt sets much store.

When James Madison succeeded Thomas Jefferson as President, on March 4, 1809, the National Intelligencer, a few days before inauguration day, contained the announcement:  "The friends of the present administration are requested to meet at Mr. Semme's Tavern on next Monday evening at 6 o'clock, to take into consideration the propriety of addressing Mr. Jefferson before he leaves the District."  The Madison inauguration fell on Saturday, and subsequently the Intelligencer informed its readers that the exchange of addresses at Mr. Semme's Tavern actually occurred on the afternoon of inauguration day, and was an affair of great formality.  This is one inauguration custom long fallen into disuse, which will not be revived for Mr. Roosevelt's benefit.

Every inaugural committee tries to make the inauguration ceremonies under its control more brilliant, more conspicuous, "bigger and better" in every way than preceding ones.  A one-time Washington correspondent has resurrected a file of the National Intelligencer of 1809, and from it was drawn this account of the simple Madison inaugural.

The Inauguration of Madison.

"Mr. Jefferson arrived in the Representatives' Hall that day at 12 o'clock.  Mr. Madison had left his own house a short time before, escorted by troops of cavalry, and promptly at 12 o'clock entered the Hall, attended by several Cabinent officers and by Mr. Coles, the secretary of the retiring President.  As this group was introduced by a committee of the Senate, Mr. Milledge, the President pro tem, left his chair, conducting Mr. Madison to it, and then sat at the right of the new President.  After Madison had delivered his speech the oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Marshall.

"On leaving the Capitol, Madison found the volunteer militia companies of the District, nine in number, drawn up before him.  Their lines passed in review, and on entering his carriage, was escorted home in the same way as he came.  It does not appear that he went to the White House or that Jefferson had left it.  Nor does it appear that there was any parade down the Avenue such as now constitutes the great feature of an inauguration.  A large concourse of ladies and gentlemen, it is said, Jefferson among the number, waited upon the new President, and refreshments were liberally distributed.  The company then called on Mr. Jefferson to take a last farewell before his departure.  This was presumably at the White House.

Most Brilliant Function.

"In the evening a great inaugural ball was held in Long's Hotel, described by the Intelligencer as the most brilliant and crowded function ever seen in Washington.  To it the late President, as well as the newly installed one, and the foreign ministers were invited, those present reaching, according to the veracious Intelligencer, the terrible number of 400.

"That enterprising journal recorded that Mr. Madison was dressed in a full suit of clothing of American manufacture, made of the wool of merinos*  raised in this country.  His coat was from the manufactory of Col. Humphreys, and his waistcoat and small clothes from that of Chancellor Livingstone, the clothes being, we understand, severally presented by these gentlemen.  Here is another inaugural custom which has passed out.  The old Presidents received inaugural gifts.

The carriage in which Van Buren in 1837 was driven was made out of the old frigate Constitution, and presented by the Democrats of New York.  At William Henry Harrison's inauguration, in 1841, the general insisted upon riding on his own white charger, instead of using an elegant coach which had been presented to him by the Whigs of Baltimore.  It is doubtful if any article of Mr. Tafts will be the gift of anybody.  The public is very much more sensitive regarding such things now than it was in the days when Daniel Webster profited so greatly from the benefactions of his friend Corcoran."

*a particular breed of sheep

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