It was precise and orderly, with a sense of Cold War automatism. It was modern and moved along smoothly.
It was the Mid-Century version of the Sunday Second Inauguration and it started and ended without a glitch.
In fact, from the first organization of receptions and parties for special constituencies to multiple Inaugural Balls, this Sunday Inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower for his second term, on January 20 and January 21, 1957 became the template for all since then. The standardization was a result of it finally being systematically coordinated into a uniform process by passage of the Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies Act five months earlier, on August 6, 1956.
The Act gave the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee (meaning it was composed jointly of Senate and House members) the power to “provide for the maintenance of public order and the protection of life and property in connection with the presidential inaugural ceremonies.”
It wasn’t so procedural, however, that it lost the personal touch of the President. Deciding to continue the precedent set by Woodrow Wilson to go ahead and take his oath of office on the day he was supposed to (after the 1933 Inauguration the designated date was permanently changed from March 4 to January 20), Eisenhower ended up establishing yet another new precedent.
Since Ike would still have the public Monday ceremony at the Capitol hosted by the legislative branch, he decided to hold the private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday at the White House itself.
He wasn’t the first to take the oath there. Hayes did that on Saturday, March 3, 1877, a day before his legal one.
F.D.R. held the last of his four inaugurations there, on the South Portico on January 20, 1945.
When he died, less than three months later on April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry Truman took the oath in the West Wing later that afternoon.
Citing world crises, Eisenhower thought it best not to leave any gap of time between the end of his first Administration and beginning of his second, so he took his oath in a simple East Room ceremony on January 20, 1957, witnessed by only a handful of friends, family and some officials.
At the last minute he asked that his thirteen-month old granddaughter Mary Jean be present for the historic occasion, even though she would not be able to personally recall it. Afterwards, guests were served coffee and cake in the State Dining Room.
At his first Inaugural, Eisenhower had composed a “Little Prayer of My Own,” as it came to be called, which he repeated at the ceremony. He had also followed the custom of some predecessors by attending a worship service before the ceremony.
In 1957, since he and his wife went on many Sunday mornings to the Presbyterian National Church, they attended a morning service before his White House swearing-in ceremony.
Neither Protestant or even pointedly Christian in tone, the sermon of “A Nation Under God” focused on the inter-denominational “Almighty,”as Eisenhower usually did in his own speech references. but could also well qualify as Cold War political propaganda.
Nothing more starkly contrasted the “godless” Soviet system of enforced atheism and worship of “the state” than did emphasizing freedom of religion and a national culture which believed in a universal “Creator.”
The next morning, at the public Monday Inauguration ceremony at the Capitol, diversity of faith in the U.S. was also made visually overt by Eisenhower’s inviting the nation’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Michael to deliver the invocation. There was an extra punch to Moscow in Ike’s choice: the Archbishop, well-known as leader in the struggle against communist insurgents in Greece.
The post-ceremony luncheon in the old Supreme Court chamber of the Capitol Building, a tradition only begun at Ike’s first Inaugural, was a buffet with two long tables forming an open “V” shape and two massive ice blocks sculpted into the names “Ike and “Dick.”
Unlike modern Inaugural luncheons where all guests are assigned seats at tables, this one had everyone including the President waiting on the buffet line.
Even the menu, however, conveyed a purposeful symbolism: along with Fifties comfort foods like macaroni-and-cheese casserole and Sloppy Joe-like spiced beef on rolls, there was now a place on the national buffet table for Jewish gefilte fish, Italian minestrone and Greek salad, dishes which reflected the sizable immigrant populations that had now been Americans for several generations.
If Pravda and Khrushchev failed to get that message, there could be no misunderstanding of what they and the whole world saw on television of Eisenhower’s Inaugural Parade, following the Monday swearing-in ceremony.
The menacing imagery of Cold War weaponry’s missiles, rockets, fighter jets, and nuclear submarines paraded for prideful inspection by an American President and Vice President who stand in the formal parade reviewing box on Pennsylvania Avenue seems like a Yankee version of the Politburo doing the same thing in Red Square.
The jargon of banners identifying the artillery is almost as startling as the sight of it all. The “Redstone Missile,” for example, was touted as “The Army’s Newest, largest Supersonic Weapon.”
There were lighter moments as well, such as the appearance of an elephant, symbol of the Republican Party, raising his trunk for Ike in the review stand.
In fact, for three hours, Eisenhower remained standing, applauding in appreciation, nodding in acknowledgement, occasionally swigging on a hot coffee.
This too was an important visual cue to the nation. Despite being 66 years old and having suffered a heart attack while President just three years earlier, what the public saw of his stamina was encouraging.
Perhaps more reassuring was that, during the entire day, a much younger and vigorous man was always at his side, his Vice President for both terms, Richard Nixon. In fact, never before had a Vice President ever been so greatly emphasized and constantly a presence at the side of the President as was Richard Nixon at the 1957 Inauguration.
In the past, other than the drive back from the Capitol and the reviewing of the parade, Vice Presidents were rarely heard from, let alone seen.
But Nixon, who had traveled the globe as Eisenhower’s personal emissary to foreign leaders, had played more of a direct role on both domestic and foreign legislation than any of his predecessors.
He also played a discreet and modest role at the time of the President’s heart attack convalescence, which Ike appreciated.
In fact, for the only time in presidential history, the face of the Vice President was joined in partnership with the President on the cover of the Official Program of the 43rd Inauguration, in a dual portrait sketch by Norman Rockwell.
It was not only Nixon but his wife Pat who received an enormous amount of media attention. Certainly the fact that the Vice President was only 44 years old and his wife had a youthful appeal put them in good stead for all the early speculation which had, naturally enough, already begun about the next election’s likely presidential candidates from both parties.
At that night’s Inaugural Ball, the most prominent guests from the loyal opposition were Senator and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Despite his failed attempt to essentially run against Nixon for the Vice Presidency, JFK had not gained his party’s nomination for the second-slot in 1956.
As for Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, she had been a single, working reporter four years earlier, writing a feature story about the outgoing Bess Truman and incoming Mamie Eisenhower.
For over 110 years the cost of an Inaugural Ball ticket had remained $10, but in 1957 it shot up by fifty percent, now costing $15 a ticket.
Naturally lacking was the excitement of a new era dawning which always animated first-term Inaugurations.
It was palpable in the uninspiring coverage of what always becomes an Administration icon from a first, but never a second Inauguration – the clothes worn by a First Lady.
Newspapers carried details and drawings of Mamie Eisenhower’s lilac outfit for the daytime event, but seemed almost disappointed by her shoulder-less “citron” Ball gown.
It was basically a yellow version of her first Inaugural Ball gown which had become such a legendary overnight sensation that it launched her favorite shade of what was soon dubbed “First Lady Pink” as practically the national color of he 1950s.
Reaction to the “citron” one proved that it wasn’t the design but the color which had worked so well the first time.
The greatest political legacy emerging from the 1957 Inauguration, however, would not be apparent for another eleven years.
During the Inaugural Parade, the President had been joined at the front of the grandstand by his two eldest grandchildren, Anne and David, while the Vice President called forth his two daughters, Tricia and Julie to come up.
After looking at pictures in the next morning’s paper, the entire nation was briefly amused by the seeming look of love at first sight that David had for Julie, and then moved on with their days.
The union came at an opportune time for just one month later it was now Richard Nixon who was being inaugurated as President.
Former President Eisenhower was too ill to attend either the wedding or the inauguration and, in fact, would only live three months beyond the latter event.
Integrated into President Nixon’s public family events, however, the visibility of David’s grandmother Mamie as First Lady of a previous Administration, fortified the political legacy of Eisenhower-Nixon as the last bastion of moderate and progressive Republicanism in the 20th century.
In a day when the federal government was first getting into the film business, it made a color movie of the 1957 Eisenhower Inauguration and it is quintessentially Fifties, soundtrack included. At 26 minutes, the narrated film moves at a fast clip through all the day’s events. You can watch the entire movie right here:
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Categories: Dwight D. Eisenhower, First Daughters, First Families, First Ladies, History, Individual Presidents, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Presidential Grandchildren, Presidential Inaugurations, Presidents, The Eisenhowers