Transitions of power have always had the capacity to fascinate us, and today’s inauguration is no exception. Washington D.C. is expecting an influx of 4 to 5 million people trying to get close to the action, and many more of us (including in the Central Library’s own Microsoft Auditorium) will be watching the ceremony on live TV.
We’ve come a long way since George Washington relinquished his presidency to John Adams in 1797, our first presidential power transition. President Obama will use the same Bible that Lincoln used for his swearing in (the first president since Lincoln to do so). Lincoln is, of course, a great source of inspiration for Obama. They share a gift for oratory; the book Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural by Ronald C White is worth reading to get a sense of the range and greatness of the earlier president. To get a sense of our new president, you need look no further than his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
This inauguration will also be unusual in that it will feature an inaugural poem, by Elizabeth Alexander. President Clinton also had an inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, written by Maya Angelou. The venerable Robert Frost wrote a poem for Kennedy’s inauguration, but was prevented by the weather from reading it; instead he recited his “The Gift Outright” from memory, and some feel it was the perfect choice. Our library has the official program of Kennedy’s inauguration– check it out!
The internet is a great source of inaugural miscellania. You can read the inaugural addresses of the presidents, or check out the YouTube video, called “39 Words That Make a President“, which shows (in 10 minutes) every president since Franklin Roosevelt taking the oath of office? There’s also an official video from the U.S. Senate called “So Help Me God.” How about inaugural history and trivia? Lots of that at this site, and at this one.
The presidency is also a compelling subject for fiction. Shelley’s Heart by Charles Mc Carry, is a political thriller which tells the tale of a president who finds out just before his inauguration that his aides may have taken illegal measures to assure his victory. In Andrew Greeley’s lively The Bishop in the West Wing, the title character, Bishop Blackie Ryan, is called in to help the president get rid of the poltergeists which are plaguing the White House shortly after his inauguration. If you like parody, you can’t do any better than Christopher Buckley, who has turned his keen eye on the CIA, the Supreme Court, and of course the presidency, in The White House Mess. Thomas Tucker’s first task on his inaugural day is to get Ronald Reagan to actually leave the White House, and it only gets more zany from there. Also, insider Margaret Truman (president Harry Truman’s daughter) wrote a series of very popular mystery novels set in Washington D.C. and involving the highest levels of government, as well as a book on White House pets.