Africa: Inauguration Celebrates Continuity of American Democracy

Washington — When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 21, 2013, it will mark the 57th time that a U.S. president has been sworn in for a four-year term since 1789, when George Washington first took the same oath.

During that period, eight presidents died in office and one resigned; each time, the vice president took the same oath, and completed the four-year term.

Obama actually will have been sworn-in for a second term a day before the public ceremony. As has become tradition when the constitutionally mandated swearing-in, January 20, falls on a Sunday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court will administer the oath of office privately on January 20, then perform it in front of the crowd on the Capitol steps the next day.

Many inaugural events have been added since 1789, but the steps that the president-elect follows to take the constitutionally mandated oath of office, the central event of the inauguration, are essentially unchanged.

The oath will be administered at the U.S. Capitol, in a ceremony on the west front of the building, overlooking the National Mall, as it has been since 1801 when Thomas Jefferson was sworn in there. The Supreme Court chief justice first administered the oath in 1797 to John Adams.

The swearing-in ceremony -- televised since 1949 -- will be attended by Obama's family, past and future Cabinet members, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Supreme Court justices and many invited guests.

Joe Biden will be sworn in as vice president prior to Obama taking the oath of office. The vice presidential oath has been part of inauguration ceremonies only since 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt's second inauguration. Previously, the vice president was sworn in at a Senate ceremony because the Constitution designates the vice president as president of the Senate.

On January 21, Obama will stand before a judge -- in this case Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts -- and swear the 35-word oath prescribed in Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1933, sets the time and date for the presidential oath at noon on January 20. In the early days of the nation, when wintertime travel was difficult, inaugurations were held in March.

As in previous inaugural ceremonies, going back to that of George Washington, after taking the oath President Obama will give an inaugural address that outlines the themes for his second four-year term in office.

OTHER INAUGURAL EVENTS

Many elements have been added to the inaugural program over time. President Obama's inauguration will follow the trend of recent years and feature several days of dinners, balls, receptions and other events focused on the theme of "Faith in America's Future."

Following the noon swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, Obama will deliver his inaugural address.

The president and vice president then will make their way from the Capitol back to the White House, where they will view a traditional parade that begins at the Capitol and follows a 2.7-kilometer route up Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House.

In the evening there will be formal inaugural balls, a few of which the Obamas will attend. Typically, the first lady's gown for this evening is big news in the fashion world; the dress eventually will make its way into the Smithsonian Institution's collection of inaugural gowns.

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