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Military Inaugural Support Has Long Tradition

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2001 – Think of the president's inauguration as Americas ultimate change of command ceremony.

At noon on Jan. 20, the United States does more than inaugurate a new president. The country also replaces the militarys commander-in-chief.

The military has been involved in helping inaugurate the president and commander-in-chief since the beginning of the Republic. When George Washington left his home in Mount Vernon, Va., to travel to the then-seat of government, New York City, local militias along the way escorted him. Upon his arrival in New York, soldiers escorted him to his inauguration. Period engravings show Washington surrounded by the soldiers.

Since Washington, the military has had a role in almost every inauguration. The role has certainly grown since the early days of the United States.

One reason the United States revolted against England was the British practice of quartering soldiers in citizens' homes. Quartering was so despised the newly free colonies would specifically ban it in the 3rd Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

So the nation started life with a distrust of standing armies. It kept the U.S. Army small and concentrated on the frontier. The military presence at early inaugurals, then, came from local militia companies that took it upon themselves to escort the president.

In 1801, a militia company in Charlottesville, Va., escorted Thomas Jefferson to Washington. Jeffersons inauguration was small. He arrived at the ceremony unescorted and, after a short speech and some patriotic airs, was escorted to the White House.

When James Madison was sworn in to succeed Jefferson, local Virginia militia companies again took it on themselves to escort the new president. The first inaugural parade began as another seemingly spontaneous event when Virginia militiamen escorting James Monroe staged a parade in his honor.

Active duty forces based in Washington started playing a larger role in succeeding inaugurations. The Marine Band -- the Marine Corps' oldest unit -- has participated in every inauguration since Jeffersons. Ship crews in port at Washington Navy Yard also participated in some early inaugurations.

When Abraham Lincoln came to Washington in 1861, the military took on another role. The country was being torn apart over states' rights and slavery. Several states had seceded from the Union. Threats against Lincolns life led to the military's assuming a security role during his inauguration.

During Lincoln's second inauguration in 1865, the military maintained a security role. With the Civil War all but won, military bands and troops had time to take part in inaugural activities. Some of those same soldiers, sailors and Marines would participate in Lincolns funeral just over a month later.

The West Point Band first participated in an inaugural when academy graduate Ulysses S. Grant assumed the presidency. The band -- and those of the other service academies -- have been a fixture ever since.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, military units continued to play prominent inaugural roles. When Theodore Roosevelt took office in his own right in 1905, his paraders included the Rough Riders, the unit with which he rose to fame during the Spanish-American War.

During William Howard Tafts inauguration in 1909, the 7th New York Militia missed the parade because of bad weather. They refused to leave Washington until they paraded before Taft. Taft, therefore, had two inaugural parades.

The military continued to participate in inaugurations through the 20th century with little change. In 1933, however, the military again assumed a security role when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office. The Great Depression was at its height and there were threats against the president.

Roosevelt turned the economic situation around, relegating the military mission mostly to ceremonies by his second inauguration in 1937. Roosevelts fourth inauguration in 1945 was sedate. America was still at war and marked the occasion with a small ceremony and parade.

After the war, during the 1950s, demands on the military in Washington were centralized in the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. This temporary, joint military command forms every four years solely to coordinate DoD support to inaugural activities. It works with the Presidential Inaugural Committee and Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, coordinating the participation of military units and escorts and some transportation and medical services.

The inauguration of George W. Bush will continue the long tradition of military support to the commander-in-chief.

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Related Sites:
Armed Forces Inaugural Committee


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