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Inauguration Day is January 20, every 4 years after the U.S. presidential election. It is the day on which the newly elected President of the United States is sworn in and takes office.

If January 20 falls on a Sunday, the President is usually administered the oath of office in a private ceremony on that day, followed by a public ceremony the following day.

Inauguration Day is a Federal holiday observed by federal employees who work in and around the District of Columbia.

On Inauguration Day, after a morning worship service, the President-elect and the outgoing President will proceed together to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremonies. The oath of office is traditionally administered on the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The Vice President takes the oath first. At exactly noon, the President takes the oath of office, traditionally administered by the Chief Justice of the United States.


The Presidential Oath of Office

"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."

—  Article II, Section 1, United States Constitution



Immediately following the oath, the bands play four ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief”, followed by a 21-gun salute from howitzers of the Military District of Washington.

According to tradition, President Washington added the words "so help me God" when reciting the oath in the first inaugural. The words “so help me God” have been repeated by several presidents including all since Franklin D Roosevelt.

After taking the oath of office, the President delivers his Inaugural address on the west front of the Capitol. Most Presidents use their Inaugural address to present their vision of America and to set forth their goals for the nation.

After the President has delivered his Inaugural address, he and the Vice President will attend the Inaugural Luncheon, sponsored by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. While this tradition dates as far back as 1897, when the Senate Committee on Arrangements gave a luncheon for President McKinley and several other guests at the U.S. Capitol, it did not begin in its current form until 1953.

After the luncheon, it is tradition for the president to parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. The President and First Lady, Vice President and his wife, and special guests will then review the Inaugural Parade from a specially built stand in front of the White House.

Inauguration Day concludes with the Inaugural ball.



Hail to the Chief

Performance by The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band

Origin of "Hail to the Chief"

In its original form, James Sanderson's "Hail to the Chief" was a setting of a portion of Canto 2, in Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."  Apparently Sanderson borrowed this setting from its use in one of the several dramatic versions of the poem which appeared shortly after Scott's epic was written.  In November 1810, Scott wrote to a friend that "The Lady of the Lake" was being made into a play by Martin and Reynolds in London and by a Mr. Siddons in Edinburgh.  Presumably the music was written sometime between 1810 and 1811.  In that time frame, Scott received a letter from a friend and army officer who ended his note with a copy of the music of the Boat Song, "Hail to the Chief."

The music and a version of the play soon appeared in this country.  The first performance of the play in New York City, for example, was given on May 8, 1812.  One of the earliest copies of the music found in the Military District of Washington's collections was probably printed during 1812.  Many other printers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore also published versions of "Hail to the Chief," not to mention numerous parodies.  One of them, for example, is "Wreaths for the Chieftain," written by L.M. Sargent, Esq. and sung by Mr. Huntington, in the Stone Chapel, Boston, at the celebration of peace with Great Britain, and the birthday of Gen. Washington, Feb. 22, 1815.  Adapted to a favorite air of Sanderson, from "The Lady of the Lake" by F. Granger. Boston, G. Graupner (before 1820).

Judging by the song's frequency in the performances by songsters, it sprang almost immediately into wide, general popularity.  The song maintained its popularity well into the 1840's, both in its original form and in that of various political and patriotic parodies.

Because of its martial character and the appropriateness of its title, gradually there was a transition of "Hail to the Chief" from just a popular tune of the day to a march which has enjoyed "official" status.  When the tune was first used for a presidential inauguration is unknown.  Contemporary accounts of the inaugural ceremonies unfortunately do not mention any particular musical compositions which may have been performed.

No doubt, during the period of the song's greatest popularity, many band leaders thought it would be appropriate to greet the appearance of some political figures with the well-known strains.  Later, by a process much too gradual to call for special mention, it was reserved entirely for Presidential appearances.

*Sanderson, James, 1769-1841 March and chorus, in the dramatic romance of the "Lady of the Lake," composed by Mr. Sanderson. Philadelphia, Published by G.E. Blake (ca. 1812).

Source: The Military District of Washington






For information on Inaugural Events and History, visit the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website.


Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents - Provided by The Avalon Project at Yale Law School


Presidents of the United States - pictures and brief biographies of all of the US presidents (The White House)


Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies (Library of Congress)


Presidents of the United States - Background information, election results, cabinet members, notable events, and some points of interest on each of the presidents. Links to biographies, historical documents, audio and video files, and other presidential sites are also included. (The Internet Public Library)




Hail to the Chief (The U.S. Army Ceremonial Band - 0:59/1.0MB)


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