Saturday, January 20, 2018

Inauguration Day: March Fourth

It’s widely known that inauguration day occurs on January 20 every four years.  But perhaps less recognized is that inaugurations up through 1933 took place on March 4, on the day that the U.S. government was officially launched in 1789. It was changed as a result of the Twentieth Amendment,  the ratification of which came too late to affect the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected president on November 8, 1932. 

Travel considerations were at least partly to blame for the lengthy gap between the election and inauguration.  But it can’t be overlooked that the interregnum created difficulties, especially when the nation was in crisis.  That certainly was the case in 1860-61 as newly-elected Abraham Lincoln was powerless to deal with the rush to secession by southern states between December and February.

The problem also was acute during the long period between the defeat of Herbert Hoover in 1932 and inauguration of Roosevelt.  The outgoing administration tried to address some of the deep challenges of the Great Depression, but the incoming president was unwilling to work with them.  FDR, showing the political acumen—or political manipulation—that he would practice so skillfully in the White House, did not want to share any credit or blame with Hoover and preferred to begin the New Deal with a clean slate. 

Roosevelt was formulating his plan while Hoover pursued his futile effort.  A major architect of the early response of the new administration was William H. Woodin, a successful train foundry entrepreneur from Pennsylvania.  Woodin was an intriguing figure, a Republican who had multiple interests, including being a musician and a prominent numismatist.  He worked tirelessly on banking and monetary issues for about a year as treasury secretary before dying in May 1934.    

Oh, the first president, George Washington—unique in presidential history is so many ways—was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.

Here’s the “Franklin D. Roosevelt March,” composed for the inauguration by the musically-talented Woodin (from my collection).  It is quite lively.

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