Americans underestimate this aspect of our national life. Before George Washington stepped down at the end of his second term, such transitions from one executive to the next were virtually unprecedented. Okay, there was Diocletian, the Roman emperor who retired from power. But he sticks out like a sore thumb, nestled as he was among a string of emperors who were offed and replaced in violent coups.
By the way, there was one factual error at the beginning of tonight's show. The outgoing First Lady asked her husband whose idea it was to have an inauguration ceremony outdoors in January in a country north of the Equator. Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlett said that it was Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin.
That's wrong on several counts:
- Jefferson wasn't at the Constitutional Convention, which created the presidency and established when inaugurations would happen. At the time, he was representing the country in France.
- There is nothing in the Constitution mandating an outdoor ceremony.
- Franklin Roosevelt was the first president whose term began with an Inauguration on January 20. His second term began on that date in 1937. Until that point, the usual date for the ceremonies beginning presidents' terms was March 4. (Because of the lateness with which the Constitution was ratified, George Washington's first term began on April 30, 1789.)