WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is aiming to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln when he is sworn in as president Tuesday.
The American people will be able to see him raise his right hand and put his left hand on the same Bible Lincoln used to take the oath of office in 1861. Obama will also be taking the same route his fellow Illinoisan chose that year: a train ride that will go through Philadelphia and Baltimore to the capital.
Donald R. Kennon pointed to those similarities in a talk at the Foreign Press Center Wednesday.
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society vice president for scholarship and education said Obama's inauguration will be: the 70th time the oath of office has been taken,the 56th quadrennial inauguration since President Washington,the 51st in D.C.,the seventh on the Capitol's West Front and the first time a black man will take the oath.
Another link to Lincoln and the bicentennial of his birth is the inaugural theme the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies chose,”A New Birth of Freedom.”
In the Gettysburg Address,Lincoln expressed his hope that a “new birth of freedom” for the nation would rise,brought about by the sacrifices of those who had fought and died in the Civil War to preserve the United States.
The President-elect will wait in the new Capitol Visitor Center before going outside for the swearing-in.
The ceremony will be held at noon Tuesday. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution,adopted in 1933,set Jan. 20 for inaugurations. Before that,inaugurations were held in March.
The Constitution,in Article 2,Section 1,prescribes the 35-word oath: “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.”
Most presidents have added a phrase at the end: “So help me God.” Historians don't know who said it first,but Kennon said many believe it was George Washington.
Kennon said the oath “is a transcendental ritual in American democracy,and it gives stability,continuance and permanence to an American system,” adding it is also “a peaceful change in government.”
But there is no limit for the length of the inaugural address. In 1841,William Henry Harrison gave the longest speech,with 8,445 words and lasting two hours. George Washington gave the shortest,135 words,in 1793.
Obama will have a luncheon in Statuary Hall in the Capitol after he is sworn in,and he will head to the White House at the head of the traditional inaugural parade,which he will watch from a viewing stand on the North Lawn.
Presidential inaugurations have fallen on a Sunday six times. The Presidents-elect took the oath of office privately on Sunday and then publicly on Monday. That happened in 1821 (James Monroe),1829 (Andrew Jackson),1877 (Rutherford B. Hayes),1917 (Woodrow Wilson),1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower) and 1985 (Ronald W. Reagan).
Over the years,new technologies have been incorporated as part of the ceremony or news coverage: the telegraph (1845),photography (1855),film (1897),amplification systems (1921),radio (1925),television (1949),color television (1961) and webcasts (1997).
“The best inaugurations seem to have come in times of crisis,” Kennon said.
“The theme ‘Forward Together' used in 1969 by Nixon,is pretty much what all presidents try to achieve,” he said.