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

Inaugural Memories from Our Oral History Archives

Ronald Reagan delivers his first Inaugural Address.

A view of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, as he delivers his Inaugural address from a specially built platform in front of the Capitol during the Inauguration Day celebration. PD.

One aide to George H.W. Bush called the Inaugural the “biggest day” of any commander in chief’s life. From the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program archives, we bring you some inaugural memories. These excerpts also appeared in the Washington Post on January 11, 2013.

President Jimmy Carter discussed the legislative horse-trading on his 1977 Inauguration Day:

I had several meetings with the Georgia [congressional] delegation, either private breakfasts at the White House or even before I went to the inauguration. We had a tacit understanding that if I really needed them on an issue of importance that I would let them know directly and they would make every effort to support me, even though it was damaging for them at home. But if I didn’t really need them, they would vote in accordance with what they thought was best for them and their own constituents.

Frank Moore, Carter’s congressional liaison discussed picking an office at the White House:

I remember [John F. Kennedy aide] Larry O’Brien telling me when I asked him about it. He said it was the damnedest thing: All of them ran from the inaugural platform to the White House. . . . Guys were moving desks because nobody made any assignments. He saw that all the offices on the ground were going to be taken, so he ran up the steps to sort of an attic, where boxes were stored. . . . He said it worked out great. In fact, he advised me not to get on the first floor. I asked why. He said: “Well, you have tourists and people coming in, plus you can’t have a beer or take your shoes off down there. You guys will get back from the Hill late at night, and you will want to take your tie off and sit around and talk, and it’s hard to do that downstairs. You’ll always get interrupted.” And he was right.

Michael Deaver, deputy chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, discussed his first impressions of the Oval Office:

Walking into that office with [Reagan] — he sat down behind the desk . . . and before he opened that drawer that had Carter’s note in it, he looked over at me. He had both his hands on the desk, and he looked at me and said, “Have you got goose bumps?”

Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel to Carter, discussed the final moments of the Iran Hostage Crisis. American hostages in Iran were released shortly after Reagan’s 1981 inaugural speech:

I don’t think I went to bed from sometime on Sunday morning until Tuesday after the day of the inauguration. After [President Carter] had gone with the Reagans up to the Hill and the actual inauguration ceremony had begun, I was still sitting on that telephone waiting for the final word on when the [American] hostages’ plane had actually taken off from Tehran. . . . About 1:30, finally, with something under each arm and a couple of other people helping me carry things out as I walked out of that West Wing basement, something caught my eye. Instead of the photographs that I was accustomed to looking at — [Carter] with the pope, meeting with Brezhnev in Vienna, et cetera — there were photographs of Ronald Reagan and his dog. By 1:30 on January 20, the transition had happened, the new photos were up, everything was ready for the new president to return to his White House.