East Tennessee History: A country boy’s inauguration
On January 20, 2021, America will inaugurate its president. This continues a tradition that has happened since President George Washington’s first term in office.
Through the years the exact date of the inauguration has changed a few times but the purpose has not. The president takes the oath of office and assumes the leadership of the most powerful nation in the world.
There is also another tradition that goes back to Thomas Jefferson. This tradition is having a presidential ball after the president has taken his oath.
The most famous of these parties occurred during the inauguration of Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was a backwoods country boy from Tennessee who made a name as an Indian fighter. He had run for the presidency in the Election of 1824 but had lost to John Quincy Adams.
Jackson had more popular votes and also more Electoral College votes than Adams. Since the votes during the election had been split between four major candidates, no one reached a majority. The election would be decided in Congress.
There, John Q. Adams won the election because Henry Clay made a bargain with Adams. If Clay helped get Adams elected, Adams would give Clay a high-level position in the new government. This was known as the “corrupt bargain.”
Most people felt that Adams had stolen the election, and when the Election of 1828 came along, Jackson won the presidency by a landslide.
When it came time to swear in Jackson as president, a crowd gathered that was unlike any Washington D.C. had ever seen. People from the backwoods of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina came in droves to watch the inauguration of “their president.”
After his inauguration, the “people’s president,” Andrew Jackson, continued another inaugural tradition that also had been started by Thomas Jefferson. He was going to host an “open house” at the White House.
After Jackson’s swearing-in ceremony and address to Congress, the new president returned to the White House to meet and greet a flock of politicians, celebrities and citizens.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to swell to more than 20,000 people, turning the usually dignified White House into a boisterous mob scene. Some guests stood on furniture in muddy shoes while others rummaged through rooms looking for the president.
They broke dishes, crystal and ground food into the carpet along the way. Some members of the White House staff even reported the carpets smelled of cheese for months after the party.
No one knew how to take back control of the White House. Finally, in an attempt to draw partygoers out of the building, servants set up washtubs full of juice and whiskey on the White House lawn.
This seemed to solve the problem, and most of the rowdy crowd made their way to the White House lawn. Jackson’s Open House had finally come to an end.
The White House open-house tradition continued until several assassination attempts heightened security concerns. The trend ended in 1885 when Grover Cleveland opted instead to host a parade, which he viewed in safety from a grandstand set up in front of the White House.
There would never be a White House party like the one at the inauguration of Andrew Jackson. When the president takes his oath of office in January 2021, he will be protected from the crowds by bullet-proof glass, armed security and snipers.
I wonder how they would have reacted to the crowd of mountaineers who recognized they were living in a moment that would never happen again. They were witnessing the moment of a president, a people’s president.