The ceremonies to be held two weeks from this coming Sunday and Monday, on January 20, 2013 (and January 21, 2013) marking the second Inauguration Day of President Barack Obama is only the seventh time in American history that the event will take place on a Sunday.
The previous such occurrences were those of James Monroe on March 4, 1821, Zachary Taylor on March 4, 1849, Rutherford B. Hayes on March 4, 1877, Woodrow Wilson on March 4, 1917, Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 20, 1957 and Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1985.
Of these previous seven events, however, those of Monroe, Wilson, Eisenhower and Reagan were also, like that of Obama, for their second inaugurations, following their re-election to a second term.
In terms of second Inaugurations resulting in some unprecedented element to inaugural history, these incidents have not been generally noteworthy. Sunday Inaugurations, on the other, hand, have led to some curiosities of historical precedence, perhaps because they are so unusual.
Only two of these Inauguration Days have been marked with only one ceremony as the Constitution mandates.
Only one of the legal ceremonies among these six inaugurations occurred at the traditional public site on the steps of the Capitol Building. The other five were held in the House of Representatives, the private President’s Room at the Capitol, and three were held in the White House, an exact location for the swearing-in and oath not being mandated by the Constitution.
Given those statistics, the odds seem good that Obama’s second Inauguration on January 20, 2013 might mark some other crinkle to convention.
There is also another curious bit of symmetry to the upcoming event. Barack Obama is the third consecutive President to be inaugurated to a second term, following those of Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997 and George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005.
The only other time this has occurred was in the earliest years of the presidency when Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated for his two terms in 1801 and 1805, James Madison in 1809 and 1813, and James Monroe in 1817 and 1821.
It also led to the nation technically having one one-day Chief Executive now entirely forgotten, President John Gaillard of South Carolina and one underage half-day Chief Executive almost entirely forgotten, President David Atchison of Missouri.
The oddities associated with the Sunday Inaugurations all largely stem from the conflict of the old separation of church and state issue. Resolution of it has been a matter of honoring cultural tradition while upholding constitutional mandate.
Public officials have generally considered the Sabbath day of Sunday a particularly sensitive day on which to conduct business. Religious Americans of the early 19th century adhered to the biblical description of Sunday as the day of prayer and rest, and a president using Sunday for his inauguration risked using Sunday for his inauguration did so at his own political risk.
Legend has it that the first inauguration day of March 4 was chosen because it was the date least likely to fall on a Sunday every four years starting with 1789, the year George Washington was inaugurated as the first President.
The last inauguration to take place on March 4 was in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first of four swearing-in ceremony.
The 1933 ratification of the 20th Amendment moved Inauguration Day of January 20.
So, in the first 144 years of the presidency, there have been four Sunday Inaugurals. In the last 80 years of the presidency, there will be a total of three Sunday Inaugurals.
Congress might consider returning Inauguration Day to March 4, given the unpredictability of the six Sunday Inaugurations preceding President Obama’s two weeks from this Sunday. An overview of those six historic occasions will follow in the days ahead.