Jan 14, 2013
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When presidential inaugurations go very, very wrong
By NCC Staff | National Constitution Center
As Constitution Daily counts down to Inauguration Day, we look back at three presidential ceremonies from the 1800s that ended very badly.
1829 The Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson
After a bitter campaign against John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson was elected President. He would be the first ‘Frontier President’; the first president who did not come from the east-coast elite. His victory was seen as a triumph for the common man and for democracy. President Andrew Jackson would also be the first President to hold his inauguration outside at the Capitol of Washington. It was an opportunity for ordinary citizens to celebrate a Presidential Inauguration.
The two men, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, had ‘butted heads’ in the previous election in which John Quincy Adams was declared the winner by the House of Representatives. During the 1828 campaign, both candidates agreed on the political issues of the day. The campaign was going to be more of a personality contest and Andrew Jackson was in the lead. The campaign became ugly when Adam’s supporters slung charges of adultery and bigamy against Jackson and his wife. The slanderous attack hastened Jackson’s wife’s death just before Christmas. He won the election, but lost his wife.
On the day of the inauguration, President Andrew Jackson took the oath, read his speech, and bowed in parting to the people. Approximately 20,000 people attended the inauguration and they were all eager to shake the hand of the President. Their eagerness suddenly turned into a mob. Fighting broke out and some of the crowd smashed objects inside the White House.
President Andrew Jackson escaped and organizers placed free booze out on the lawn to lure the mob out of the White House.
1841 The Inaugural of William Henry Harrison
President William Henry Harrison is famous for delivering the worse ever inaugural speech, but did it lead to his death less than a month after being inaugurated? Harrison was 68 years old when he became President. He delivered his speech during a snowstorm and those attending were freezing. Nevertheless, Harrison continued his two-hour speech with no hat or coat.
He then attended a parade and three inaugural balls still wearing the soggy suit he had worn during the inauguration. Inevitably, Harrison caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. Within a month he was dead. Some say President Harrison had pre-existing conditions that were aggravated by his actions at the inaugural.
President William Henry Harrison was the first president to die in office. He was succeeded by the vice president John Tyler.
1857 The Inaugural of President James Buchanan
President Jame Buchanan became very ill at his inauguration. It is highly speculated that he was poisoned. Rumors spread that Buchanan had died, but he recovered after spending the first weeks of his presidency in bed.
Several people that attended the inauguration also became ill and 36 people died, including some of Buchanan’s relatives.
There were many conspiracy theories, but today it is believed that the poisoning came from inadequate sanitary conditions at the hotel where the inauguration reception was held.