January 20, 2021: A momentous and historic Inauguration


Tess Weinreich

The Capitol on Inauguration Day.

For many of Potomac’s families, this Inauguration Day is a moment of great significance. As President Biden said in his inaugural address, “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal.” Our democracy has come through a grave challenge, and as President Biden reminded us today, the peaceful transfer of power we witnessed today is a first step towards a more perfect union for all Americans. 

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal.”

— President Joe Biden

In the weeks after the 2020 election, Donald Trump refused to concede the presidency, instead contesting the election’s results and rallying supporters to incite violence. Millions of Americans believe Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him, and our new president is illegitimate. Uniting the country will not be easy, but Biden explained why it is necessary to confront the unprecedented challenges our nation faces.

Consequently, with the air still clearing on the steps of the Capitol from the insurrection on January 6, the Inauguration necessitated unprecedented security precautions. The Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia State Police announced the closure of multiple interstates and bridges less than a week before the 20th. Numerous businesses located in Washington, D.C. boarded up while the Pentagon authorized 25,000 troops for the Inauguration.

In addition, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic brought challenges to this year’s inauguration; Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took their oaths just as the United States reached 400,000 COVID deaths. The National Mall, which was packed with a record 1.8 million people for Obama’s 2009 inauguration, was closed to the public. Time-honored traditions were replaced with Covid-conscious alternatives: the annual procession from the Capitol to the White House took the form of a virtual “Parade Across America,” and Tom Hanks will be hosting a TV special in place of the canceled inaugural ball. 

Now, the Current takes a moment to reflect on the history of Inauguration Day, leading up to 11:49 a.m. today, when Joseph R. Biden was officially inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. 

The literal “inaugural” inauguration of George Washington took place on April 30, 1789, but it was his second swearing-in, four years later on March 4, 1793, that established the date of the inauguration as March 4. This tradition would hold true until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933 which declared January 20 as the new date for all future inaugurations. The 20th Amendment was ratified as recognition that such a delayed inauguration of the next president and meeting of the newly-elected Congress had the potential to be politically dangerous, especially during a time so tumultuous as the Great Depression. 

Since that first inauguration, many presidential inaugurations have been notable, for a variety of reasons. 

  • William Henry Harrison delivered the longest Inaugural Address, lasting almost two hours 
  • Harry S. Truman was the first president to have a televised swearing-in. Lyndon B. Johnson’s iconic inauguration was the first (and only) to take place on a plane after John F. Kennedy’s assassination
  • Barack Obama repeated the presidential oath a second time on January 21 after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled over the words

The 2021 presidential inauguration was another to add to this list—this year’s inauguration and the weeks leading up to it, were far from normal. 

Biden’s inauguration is historic—it is the first time since the Civil War era that a president has skipped his successor’s inauguration. Wednesday, Trump flew home to Florida, breaking from the tradition of welcoming the next president and his family to the White House before riding to the Capitol to send off the outgoing president. 

This inauguration also marked the first time in American history that a woman, namely one of African American and Indian descent, was sworn into the vice presidency. Her swearing-in ushers in a new, more inclusive, era of politics. 

As Potomac students, we have the privilege of attending school less than ten miles from the heart of our nation’s democracy. With that privilege comes a responsibility to pay attention and to appreciate the significance of the moment. So, from all of us at the Current, happy Inauguration Day!