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A president hasn’t refused to attend the inauguration of his successor in 152 years. Donald Trump will change that


JANUARY 8, 2021

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as president, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. – Evan Vucci, AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — By skipping President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, President Donald Trump will break from White House tradition, but won’t make history, when he misses the ceremonial peaceful transfer of power.

Trump will become the first outgoing one-term president to refuse to attend the inauguration of his successor since 1869 when President Andrew Johnson stayed in the White House as Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as the 18th president. He would be the fourth president overall to skip the ceremony.

One-term presidents John Adams in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1829 also chose not to attend the inaugurations of the presidents who replaced them, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively. Both left Washington before the ceremonies.

“It’s crucial for the peaceful transfer of power. It’s about respect,” said presidential historian Kate Andersen Brower. She pointed to the nation’s last two one-term presidents, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, who both attended inaugurations after losing elections. Brower said they took their losses “very personally, but there’s always an understanding that the country is more important than your ego. That’s obviously not the case here.”

President Andrew Johnson is the last president to choose not to attend the inauguration of his successor. – Library of Congress, Prints & Ph

Trump confirmed he won’t attend the Jan. 20 inauguration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a Tweet Friday. It was no surprise after Trump spent the weeks since his Nov. 3 election loss leveling false claims of voter fraud to try to overturn the election.

“One of the few things he and I’ve ever agreed on – him not showing up,” Biden told reporters. Conversely, he said he would welcome Vice President Mike Pence’s attendance and would be “honored to have him there.”

1869: The Johnson-Grant feud

Like Trump, Johnson’s decision came less than a year after he was impeached by the House. Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, and Grant, a Republican former Civil War general, despised each other. Grant supported Johnson’s impeachment.

While Grant was sworn into office in front of the Capitol, Johnson met with Cabinet members and signed bills, according to the Washington Post, following a last-minute decision not to attend.

For his part, Grant refused to ride in the same carriage as Johnson from the White House to the Capitol. The plan was for them to ride in separate carriages. But when Grant showed up at the White House 30 minutes before the ceremony, Johnson did not come out.

“At noon, (Johnson) stood up and shook hands with his Cabinet members,” the Post’s historical account says. “As he headed out the door for the last time, he said, ‘I fancy I can already smell the sweet mountain air of Tennessee.’ ”

Trump’s move comes despite “ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition” and calling for “healing and reconciliation” just one day earlier as he finally conceded the election. Trump faces the possibility of a second impeachment led by Democrats in response to pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol as Congress counted electoral votes Wednesday confirming Biden’s victory.

“I think this tweet today is not at all surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the way Trump speaks and behaves,” said Brower, author of author of “Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump.”

1801 and 1829: The Adams situations 

John Adams’ decision followed the election of 1800, when electors voted for two individuals for president. The person receiving the most votes took the presidency and second most took the vice presidency.

Jefferson tied Aaron Burr, putting the U.S. House of Representatives in charge of selecting a winner. Jefferson sought Adams to interfere but he did not, according to Thomas Balcerski, associate professor of history for Easter Connecticut University. He left at 4 a.m. the morning of the March 4, 1801, inauguration.

“By avoiding Jefferson’s inauguration, Adams was perhaps motivated by a desire to cool the political temperature in the capital,” Balcerski wrote in a column for CNN.


Twenty-eight years later, Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, left Washington the day before Jackson’s inauguration. The 1828 election was a contentious rematch four years after Adams defeated Jackson.

A fifth outgoing president missed the inauguration ceremony of his successor but under different circumstances. In 1921, President Woodrow Wilson did not attend the inauguration ceremony of Warren G. Harding because of poor health. But Wilson traveled to the Capitol with Harding by automobile in a showing of the peaceful transfer of power. Wilson was not coming off an election loss; he was term limited.

In 1974, Nixon – who had just resigned – was not present while President Gerald Ford was sworn in inside the House.

Presidents saluted predecessors in other inaugurations

In recent American history, one-term presidents have respected tradition.

At Carter’s 1977 inauguration, Carter thanked Gerald Ford for attending. “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land,” Carter said.

In 1993, Bill Clinton kicked off his inauguration speech acknowledging Bush.

“On behalf of our nation, I salute my predecessor, President Bush, for his half-century of service to America. And I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness and sacrifice triumphed over Depression, fascism and Communism.”

Trump, though, has never been one to put aside grudges, nor has he cared much for many Washington traditions.

During an interview for her book, Brower said she asked Trump in 2019 whether he would attend the opening of former President Barack Obama’s presidential library, as is customary for past presidents.

“He said, ‘No I wouldn’t,'” Brower said, ” And then thought for a minute and said, ‘Why would he even ask me?'”

Courtesy/Source: This article originally appeared on USA TODAY