Top Inaugural Gaffes

Obama recited his oath without a hitch. Other presidents were not so successful.

January 21, 2013, 9:34 AM

Jan. 21, 2013 -- intro: At Sunday's official inaugural ceremony, President Obama recited his oath without a hitch. Unfortunately, other presidents were not so successful at their inaugurations. From drunken brawls to electrical fires, these men faced tough situations in the first hours of their terms.

Take a look at some of the most uncomfortably funny inaugural gaffes, and cross your fingers that today's ceremony goes smoothly.

Tune in to the ABC Live page on Monday morning starting at 9:30 a.m. EST for all-day live streaming video coverage of Inauguration 2013: Barack Obama. Live coverage will also be available on the ABC News iPad App and mobile devices.

quicklist: 1title: Andrew Jacksontext: Andrew Jackson's inauguration seemed to set the tone for his eventful presidency. America's first "Frontier President" welcomed ordinary citizens to celebrate his inauguration with him and his family at the White House. Predictably, the celebration turned into a rambunctious brawl.

Margaret Smith, a Washington socialite at the time, described her first hand account of the inaugural festivities: "Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe."

Do we consider Jackson's inauguration quintessentially presidential? Probably not. Is it entertaining? Definitely.


quicklist: 2title: John F. Kennedytext: Historically, JFK is associated with a number of important events, but somehow we hardly hear about his messy inauguration.

First, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson botched his oath by saying, "without any mental reservation whatsoever," instead of saying, "without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion." Then, while the cardinal was delivering the prayer, the podium caught fire due to an electrical short in the system.

Then the inaugural poet, Robert Frost, called President Kennedy by the wrong name. And Frost could not read the special poem he wrote for the occasion because of how brightly the sun was reflecting off of snow that had fallen overnight. Vice President Johnson attempted to use his top hat to shade the poem, but it did not work. Frost ended up reciting a different poem from memory.


quicklist: 3title: Ulysses S. Granttext: Famous Civil War General-turned-President, Ulysses S. Grant was unlucky enough to have his inauguration fall on an extremely cold day. It was even more unlucky that someone forgot to turn on the heat in the hall where the Inaugural Ball was going to be held.

However, the temperature did not dissuade people from attending the ball, which was surely an entertaining scene. People were said to be freezing while trying to dance in their heavy winter coats and eating cold food.

Although Grant was unlucky to have his inauguration remembered this way, some involuntary attendees were even less lucky; about one hundred canaries were supposed to serenade the guests, but unfortunately, the birds froze to death before being able to perform.


quicklist: 4title: James Buchanantext: Historians are often unkind to James Buchanan, citing him as one of the least important American presidents. Sadly, Buchanan was treated similarly during his time in office, and his inauguration was no exception.

The front page of the New York Times featured a headline that read, "Narrow Escape of the President Elect from a Violent Death," and focused on the president suffering from a bout of diarrhea throughout his inauguration.

While it is true that Buchanan required a doctor with him at all times on inauguration day because of his diarrhea, the publication of such sordid details is hardly the way any president would want to be remembered on his big day.


quicklist: 5title: William Henry Harrisontext: William Henry Harrison's inauguration is known more for tragedy than gaffe, despite having occurred largely from his own choices. Harrison was depicted as a war hero in his presidential campaign, and wanted to carry that image through the inaugural ceremonies, ignoring the many health risks he encountered along the way.

Harrison took his oath of office on a cold and wet day, and refused to wear a coat and hat. Additionally, he refused to ride in the closed carriage provided for him, instead choosing to ride by horseback to the inaugural ceremony. If excessive exposure to wind and rain weren't enough, Harrison then delivered the longest inaugural speech in history. The speech took more than two hours to read and was 8,445 words long. After the ceremony ended, Harrison returned to his horse and proceeded to ride through the streets to greet his constituents.

Shortly after the inauguration, Harrison came down with a cold which then developed into pneumonia. He died after serving only 31 days in office on April 4, 1841.


quicklist: 6title: Andrew Johnsontext: Not to be outdone by the highly revered Abraham Lincoln, Vice President and future commander-in-chief Andrew Johnson took his inauguration very seriously...or not.

The morning of the inauguration, Johnson was not feeling well and felt nervous about giving his speech on the front terrace of the Capitol. Johnson decided to calm his nerves with some liquid courage, and drank a few glasses of whiskey to get through the day.

By the time he was called upon to make his speech, it was obvious to everyone that he was very drunk. He slurred his speech, rambled incoherently, and refused to step down from the podium until someone pulled him away by the coattails.


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