Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

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.