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The Evolution Of The Inauguration

Every four years, the inauguration of a president on Jan. 20 is a sign of enduring democracy, and a source of memorable images from our past.

CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante points out a little-known fact: Until a constitutional amendment in 1933, presidents were sworn in on March 4.

To explore the nation's rich inaugural history, Plante paid a visit to one of the foremost experts on the subject, Dr. Marvin Kranz of the Library of Congress.

"All the elements that we see at the current time for an inauguration, they're there with George Washington," Kranz tells Plante. Washington started it all, Kranz says.

The first inaugural ceremony took place in 1789 at New York City's Federal Hall. General George Washington recited the constitutional oath of office over a Bible borrowed, at the last minute, from a local Masonic lodge. But Washington made one small change.

"He put his left hand on the Bible and (raised his) right hand, (and) he took the oath, and after he took the official oath he said, 'So help me, God,' and since that time, other presidents have done that and most presidents since that time have used the Bible."

Harry Truman also kissed the Bible, as did Washington.

George W. Bush wanted to use Washington's Bible at his first inauguration, Plante says, but rain and sleet threatened the old book. His father did use it, but with one snag: First lady Barbara Bush accidentally tore one of the pages.

Then, there are the speeches. Presidents labor to create memorable phrases they hope will stir the hearts of the nation. Some of them pass into legend, such as John Kennedy's, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and FDR's, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

As the Civil War drew to an end in 1865, just one month before his assassination, President Lincoln appealed for unity in his second inaugural.

"With malice toward none," he said, "with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Kranz says scholars have looked at a picture from that day carefully and discovered that eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd.

The shortest inaugural speech -- a mere 135 words -- was delivered by Washington at his second swearing in, Plante notes. The longest -- William Henry Harrison's -- which ran on for two hours on a cold March day. Harrison wasn't wearing a coat, and died of pneumonia a month later.

Weather has always played a role. The warmest January ceremony was Ronald Reagan's first; it was a balmy 55 degrees that day.

His second inauguration happened to be the coldest; just 7 degrees at noon. That forced the oath of office inside the Capitol and cancelled the parade.

Parades, which also began with Washington, these days attempt to include representatives from every state and territory. Dwight Eisenhower's parade had 73 bands, 59 floats, even elephants, and ran nearly five hours. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of participants is now limited.

Finally, the parties. Even though Washington's took place several days after the ceremony, his wife, Martha, still couldn't make it from Virginia to New York in time. Andrew Jackson's 1829 bash was the rowdiest. About 20,000 Jackson supporters stormed the White House, pulling down curtains, walking on furniture, and causing massive damage.

"The only way they got the population out of the White House," Kranz says, "was that the servants brought tubs of punch and put it on the lawn and people went out there to get the punch."

Washington's first inauguration was celebrated with fireworks, a tradition repeated this week with a huge display visible above the White House.

And one more tradition that has survived the centuries: No taxpayer money was spent on Washington's inaugural celebration, either.

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