Inaugural Traditions: Dude, Where's My Top Hat?

Some of the justices, such as Antonin Scalia at George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005, don silk or wool skullcaps with peaked corners. The justices are generally seen in public together and in their robes only once a year at the State of the Union address or the inauguration, so they make quite a picture in their black robes and skullcaps.

When contacted by to find out which if any of the justices would be wearing caps to Tuesday's swearing-in, the court's public information office said, "It is a matter of personal preference and it is not known who will be wearing skullcaps to this year's inauguration."

Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Obama Tuesday and Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest and longest serving member of the Court, will swear in Vice President-elect Joe Biden. The Constitution does not specify who has to administer the oath of office, but the chief justice has done the honors for the president since 1797, when John Adams, the second president, took the oath of office.

During the campaign, opponents spread a rumor that Obama would be sworn in on a Koran. In truth, Obama will take the oath using the same Bible on which Abraham Lincoln was administered the oath.

Hussein Meets Lincoln

Washington's Inaugural Bible, which he kissed after the oath, has been used by four subsequent presidents including George W. Bush. Nixon was sworn in on two Bibles, a veritable stack, though it didn't seem to keep him honest.

Obama has said that he will likely be sworn in using his full name, Barrack Hussein Obama, including a middle name that was rarely used during the campaign except by his enemies.

"I think the tradition is that they [incoming presidents being sworn in] use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does," Obama told reporters from the Chicago Sun Times and Los Angeles Times in December.

There is no set rule on using one's full name. Jimmy Carter was sworn in as Jimmy Carter and not James Earl Carter, and Ronald Wilson Reagan went with Ronald Reagan. Obama's three most recent predecessors -- George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton and George Walker Bush -- all went with their full birth names.

After a morning prayer service at St. Johns Church and coffee at the White House, President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama will ride together to the Capitol.

By tradition, the outgoing president sits on the right side of the limousine's back seat and the president-elect on the left.

Historically, as president of the Senate, the vice president was sworn in at a separate ceremony inside the Senate Chamber and then delivered an inaugural address. Since 1937, the same year Inauguration Day was moved from March 4 to January 20, the vice president has been sworn in outside the Capitol along with the president and no longer makes a speech.

If past vice presidential addresses are any indication, nixing the veep's address was probably for the best.

"The most famous, or infamous, vice presidential inaugural address was Andrew Johnson's in 1865," Bendat said. "Johnson wasn't feeling well on Inauguration Day and medicine back then was different. Someone suggested he drink some whiskey to take care of his ailments. By the time he made his speech, he was drunk and rambling incoherently. No one could understand what he was saying. It was pretty embarrassing."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...