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Who Is at the Inauguration?

Photo of President George H.W. Bush
Justice William Rehnquist administered the Oath of Office to George H. W. Bush in 1989.

The United States presidential inauguration on Capitol Hill is a huge event on the political calendar. It only happens every four years as presidents are sworn in for their first or next term. It can be fascinating to watch everyone take their seat and fulfill their assigned roles. So, who is in attendance at the inauguration?

Inauguration Attendees

The list of attendees at the inauguration is fairly extensive. There are crucial roles to fulfill to ensure that every ceremonial aspect of the day goes to plan. This means having the right people there to swear in the president and vice-president and someone to lead prayers. Additionally, you have invitees of the new leaders, former presidents, and some performers. The event is also a public occasion and televised globally. 

Who Attends the Presidential Inauguration?

The President-Elect

Naturally, there would be no inauguration without the newly-elected President of the United States. They are there to take their oath of office, be officially sworn in, and then deliver their address to the nation. This speech lays out their plans moving forward and can be lengthy. George Washington only said 135 words, but some can go on for more than an hour, such as William Henry Harrison, who spoke for around 1 hour and 45 minutes at his inauguration in 1841. 

The Vice President-Elect

Some people forget that this is a ceremony for both the president and their running mate because so much emphasis is placed on the country’s new leader. The vice president is sworn in first so that they are ready to get to work as soon as the ceremony is over. It is something of a pre-show to the main event but is still symbolic and essential. 

Family Members

There are usually several president and vice president family members in attendance on inauguration day. Spouses will often accompany newly elected officials onto the balcony. It is a great way for the public to see their new first lady – or potentially a first gentleman. Children may also be in attendance for those big on family values. 

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

The inauguration isn’t possible without the president swearing the oath to make the affair official. This process requires a qualified figure in the legal world, and there is none better than the incumbent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

The Outgoing President

Typically, the outgoing president will be there alongside the new president as a gesture of goodwill and a symbolic passing of the torch. Their time officially ends the moment the new president takes power at noon. However, this isn’t always the case.

Photo of Air Force One
Donald Trump departed Washington D.C. on Air Force One during his final moments in office.

In 1921, President Woodrow Wilson was unable to be present for Warren G. Harding’s oath due to health concerns. President Trump used his final moments in office to fly out of the capital on Air Force One following a departure ceremony. 

Other Former Presidents

One of the interesting aspects for those watching the ceremony is seeing how many former presidents are in attendance and how they interact. Some ceremonies have witnessed all living former presidents take their seats together. Poor health prevented Jimmy Carter from attending in 2021.

Dignitaries, Officers, and Other High Ranking Officials

The spaces on the balcony are reserved for those with other roles to fill or those with special invitations. The president-elect can invite a range of people that have been selected for the new Cabinet, were part of the campaign, or high-ranking figures that supported them. 

Someone To Lead the Prayer

Prayers have been a common part of the inauguration day ceremony since 1937 and require someone from the church to lead them. 

Someone To Sing the Anthem

There also has to be someone to sing the national anthem to signify this massive occasion. It is common to see superstars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga offered the honor. 

Poets and Other Public Speakers

The speech given by the president is not the only oration at the event. It is not unusual for poets to address the audience and recite a piece of work with deep significance for the people at large. Some of the best examples are Robert Frost at John F Kennedy’s inauguration and Maya Angelou at Bill Clinton’s.

Sketch of President John F. Kennedy
Robert Frost’s recitation at JFK’s inauguration was the first by a poet at the ceremony.

Public Attendance at the Inauguration

It isn’t just those that are part of the ceremony that attend the inauguration. There is also a large public presence at the event. People can apply for tickets via their representatives’ office to get a place close to the action. Anyone else can attempt to get close or just enjoy the atmosphere in the city.

This public attendance has led to some controversy in recent years. The number of attendees is used as an indicator of the new president’s popularity. There was a notable difference when President Donald Trump was sworn in compared to President Barack Obama and a low number for President Biden. However, 46th president Joe Biden’s inauguration took place under Covid protocols. 

The Inauguration Is Also a Televised Event

The ceremony is broadcast worldwide via major global networks so anyone can view proceedings from the comfort of their homes. This is a great way to catch all the speeches, performances, and grand entrances. John F Kennedy had the honor of the first broadcast in color television in 1961, while President Bill Clinton was the first to also have his broadcast on the internet.

Photo of President Barack Obama
Barack Obama enjoyed a huge crowd at his inauguration in 2009.

Not All Presidents Get This Grand Ceremony

There have been times when this lavish occasion wasn’t possible, and barely anyone attended. This happens when a vice president must take over suddenly following the president’s death. Calvin Coolidge was sworn in at his family home by his notary father, while Lyndon B. Johnson took his oath on Air Force One following JFK’s assassination.

The general make-up of the proceedings and attendees hasn’t changed over the years and is unlikely to in 2025. There will be personal choices on the guest list and performers, but there is always the same expectation on who should be there and what they need to do. 

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