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1901 and 1905: From the Unexpected to the Highly Celebrated Inaugurations of TR

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT is featuring an inaugural address by a president from the Miller Center’s archives.

Nowadays, the Presidential inauguration is full of pomp and circumstance. Inaugural balls spanning a few days and a parade accompany the official swearing-in ceremony and luncheon. But the official swearing-in of the first modern president was far from elaborate. Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt’s first inauguration in September 1901 was unexpected. As President William McKinley’s condition began to worsen after being shot by Leon Czolgosz, Roosevelt was summoned from a camping and hiking trip with his family in the Adirondacks to Buffalo, New York. By the time Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo, McKinley had already passed away. Roosevelt, now constitutionally the President of the United States, was taken to the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox. After borrowing a mourning suit from Wilcox, Roosevelt went to pay respects to McKinley’s family.

When Roosevelt returned to Wilcox’s home, other members of the Cabinet who were also in Buffalo – Secretary of War Elihu Root, Secretary of the Navy John Long, Attorney General Philander Knox, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock, Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith, and Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, along with United States District Court Judge John Hazel, New York Court of Appeals Judge Haight and New York Senator Chauncey Depew – without preparation came over to administer the oath of office.  According to Wilcox’s eyewitness account, Elihu Root requested that Roosevelt take the oath of office. Roosevelt answered:

Mr. Secretary – I will take the oath. And in this hour of deep and terrible national bereavement, I wish to state that it shall be my aim to continue, absolutely without variance, the policy of President McKinley, for the peace and honor of our beloved country.

President Roosevelt then made an announcement of his request to the cabinet to remain in office. The whole ceremony was over within half an hour after the cabinet had entered the house. Roosevelt met with the six cabinet members and requested that Wilcox bring him the “Messages and Papers of the President” - the volume containing the proclamation by President Chester Arthur of the death of President James Garfield. After taking a walk with Elihu Root, President Roosevelt drafted his drafted his proclamation of the death of President McKinley, appointing Thursday, September 19, 1901 a day of national mourning. The proclamation was issued to the press that evening. In the proclamation, Roosevelt declared:

A terrible bereavement has befallen our people. The president of the United States has been struck down; a crime committed not only against the Chief Magistrate, but against every law-abiding and liberty-loving citizen.

President McKinley crowned a life of largest love for his fellow-men, of most earnest endeavor for their welfare, by a death of Christian fortitude; and both the way in which he lived his life and the way in which, in the supreme hour of trial, he met his death, will remain forever a precious heritage of our people.

That was the extent of President Roosevelt’s first inauguration. There were no photographs of the event and the only parade was a funeral train for the fallen President William McKinley in Washington, DC. As Wilcox noted in his eyewitness account, “It takes less in the way of ceremony to make a President in this country, than it does to make a King in England or any monarchy, but the significance of the event is no less great.” But McKinley’s assassination changed everything. Mark Hanna, an Old Guard Republican and a McKinnley adviser lamented, “that damned cowboy is president now.”

In contrast to the first inauguration, President Roosevelt’s second inauguration on March 4, 1905 was held with much celebration and fanfare, and by some accounts was the largest and most diverse in memory. In response to the jubilant festivities, Roosevelt remarked that he would have been “too much elated, if I did not have a very real and ever-present anxiety so to handle myself as to minimize the disappointment that many good people are sure to feel in what I am able to do.”

In contrast to surrounding festivities, TR delivered a short inaugural address. Perhaps the most memorable theme of TR’s 1905 inaugural address is that great things are expected of those to whom much has been given:

Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither.

During the swearing-in ceremony, TR wore a ring containing a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair borrowed from Secretary of State John Hay who had served as Lincoln’s personal secretary some 40 years earlier.

Video capturing the events shows TR riding in an open landau on Fifteenth St., NW, escorted by Secret Service men, detectives and mounted Rough Riders, Roosevelt’s old Spanish-American War regiment. Wisconsin Senator John C. Spooner, Chairman of the joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and Pennsylvania Representative John Dalzell joined TR in the carriage. More than 35,000 celebrants marched in the ensuing parade, including coal miners, cowboys, and African-American cavalry troops. Most significantly, the inaugural parade featured six Native American Chiefs. When asked by inaugural committee member Woodworth Clum why he included the chiefs, Roosevelt replied simply, “I wanted to give the people a good show.” But their inclusion in the parade had another purpose – to keep the image of Native Americans alive in the public consciousness. One of the Chiefs, Geronimo, had been a prisoner of war since 1886 and also used the opportunity to appeal to President Roosevelt to return to his homeland in the American Southwest. He pleaded to Roosevelt:

Great Father, my hands are tied as with a rope. My heart is no longer bad. I will tell my people to obey no chief but the great White Chief. I pray you cut the ropes and make me free. Let me die in my own country, an old man who has been punished long enough and is free.

TR, citing his worries that tensions would erupt between Geronimo and the non-Indians who now occupied his lands, thought it best that Geronimo remain in Oklahoma.

Read TR’s full 1905 inaugural address here.

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