A Note About A Presidential Inaugural 216 Years Ago
When America elected her first President they really puzzled over how they might address their first Chief of State. Half of the Congress, wanting to stay as far away from another "King", simply suggested "Mr. President". Vice President John Adams had more grandiose titles in mind. He was shouted down and derided by those seeking a humbler moniker for our first President.
When Adams assumed the office he embraced the pomp and circumstance, relishing the opportunity to be regarded as "royalty".
So, when Thomas Jefferson, America's first Democratic Republican, won the Presidency in the 1800 election, Adams was so angered that he left town, refusing to even attend Jefferson's inauguration.
On Inauguration Day, the 4th of March, 1801, Jefferson chose to forego all the pomp and fancy doings. Residing at a boarding house just south of the Capital, Jefferson refused to ride in Adams silver studded fancy carriage. (He later sold that carriage and team of horses and turned the money over to the Treasury). Instead, Jefferson walked from his boarding house to the Capital. Those in attendance at Jefferson's inaugural said that old Tom spoke so quietly they had to strain to hear Jefferson's address. That first Jefferson inaugural address would be the last one he would deliver in person. Thereafter, Jefferson simply sent a copy of his speech to the Congress and, remarkably it would be many, many years before succeeding Presidents would personally delivery their inaugural address in person.
Jefferson had been outraged that Adams had been so pompous and "king-like", so enamored of the British way of doing things.
Once ensconsed in the White House, Jefferson was said to routinely meet visitors in robe and house slippers, hair askew, no more silk finery, no more royal custom. Folks invited to dinner were seated "first come-first serve", the commoner as entitled to a preferred seat as an ambassador. In fact, the British Ambassador to America filed a formal protest when he felt he was not accorded proper respect at one of Jefferson's dinners. With apologies for a little vulgarity, Jefferson "did not give a shit". He wanted to restore the American Republic to the people.
For the next eight years Jefferson did just that. He unwound many of Adams' federal power grabs, returned power to the states, submitted balanced budgets, then retired to his beloved Monticello.
In the 216 years hence, the Presidency has again assumed too much pomp and circumstance, the lives of Presidents and Congressmen as far away from the life of working Americans as one could get.
Still, we have to thank Thomas Jefferson for much more than just the Declaration of Independence. We must thank him for showing his countrymen that one can still be President without assuming the cloak of "royalty".